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Lessons From The Holiday Inn Express Showerhead

Holiday Inn Express Has The #1 Guest-Rated Showerheads. Why? Because They Constantly POINT AT THEM!!!

Holiday Inn Express Has The #1 Guest-Rated Showerheads. Why? Because They Constantly POINT AT THEM!!!

Holiday Inn Express Has The #1 Guest-Rated Showerheads. Why? Because They Constantly POINT AT THEM!!!

Do You Ever Feel Like The “Best Kept Secret”?

How To Use Confirmation Bias To Your Advantage In Contractor Marketing.

By Rich Harshaw

A few years ago, my wife and I decided to put our sanity to the test by embarking on (what turned out to be) a 4,975 mile cross-country trip in a silver Chevrolet fifteen-passenger van with our six lovely children. Yes, it’s true—in an era of shrinking family sizes and conveniently pre-packaged vacations, we have bucked all trends by not only churning out six of the little dickens, but also by having the courage to venture on a cross-country vacation Clark Griswold-style in the family truckster.

While the kids labored through at least 179 DVDs and countless hours of video games (whatever happened to the license plate game or the “A-B-C game”???) I found myself discovering interesting marketing principles all the way from Southlake, Texas to Meridian, Idaho and back again. I recently told you the lesson I learned about the role of repetition in marketing while driving through South Dakota, and in an upcoming article I’ll teach you a principle of perspective I learned in southern Colorado. For now, let’s go to the Beehive state.

After two relatively uneventful days of driving, we were descending out of the mountains into the little community of Ogden, Utah and started looking for a hotel. As fate would have it, the first place we found was a Holiday Inn Express. It met our basic requirements—relatively new, breakfast included for free, and a swimming pool.

As we checked in, I couldn’t help but notice a sign on the counter showing that Holiday Inn Express was the home of the “Stay Smart” Showerhead by Kohler. The sign showed a picture of a giant showerhead that appeared to be bigger, badder, and bolder than any regular showerhead could ever hope to be. I didn’t pay that much attention—just another sign on another counter—no big deal.

When we got to our rooms, the kids immediately started jumping between the beds, turning on the TV, and generally causing a ruckus. Next to the TV on the dresser was another sign showing the picture of the hulking showerhead and inviting me, at my earliest convenience, to check out the “Stay Smart Bathroom,” featuring the “Stay Smart” Showerhead by Kohler.

Okay, I’ll bite.

As I walked into the bathroom and flipped on the light, I was met by another sign—the third one now—on the counter informing me that the “Stay Smart” Bathroom had more pleasant surprises, including a bowed-out shower curtain rod, plush, oversized towels, designer toiletries (i.e., fancy soaps, shampoos, and lotions)… and of course, the centerpiece of the entire bathroom, the “Stay Smart” Showerhead by Kohler.

I turned to behold the “Stay Smart” Showerhead in all its glory and splendor… but couldn’t see it because the bowed-out shower curtain was closed. As I opened it to steal a glance, I could hear angels sing and bright lights coming from the heavens as I witnessed the beauty and splendor of… the “Stay Smart” Showerhead by Kohler. Wanna know how I knew it was the “Stay Smart” Showerhead by Kohler?

They put a sign on it—just to erase any doubt:


This is the actual picture of the actual “Stay Smart” Showerhead in my room in Ogden, Utah. As you can see on the sign, the showerhead provides three gourmet-sounding settings, including “Invigorating,” “Revitalizing,” and “Rejuvenating.”

I considered my options: I locked the door, stripped, turned on the water, and set the showerhead to Rejuvenating. I’m not going to lie to you: it was delightful.

Until my wife started banging on the door, telling me that the kids were starving and destroying the room… and to get my butt out of there and do something with them! So I ensconced myself in the luxury of an oversized, 100% cotton towel, got dressed, and took the kids to Pizza Hut.

So what’s the bright idea here? And how does this all relate to YOUR marketing?

This marketing campaign works on a principle called “confirmation bias,” which means that people tend to seek out and believe evidence that supports their existing beliefs, and they tend to ignore or minimize evidence that goes against their existing beliefs.

Confirmation bias is what causes a naive mother to believe her beloved teenage son when he claims that the marijuana found under his mattress “must have been a friend of a friend of a friend’s that he barely even knows and who he’ll never invite over to the house again.” Yea…. Right. If you’re convinced that vitamins make you feel better, you’re going to feel better when you take them—and you’ll feel bad when you don’t. We’re going to believe what we believe and we’ll interpret evidence however it best supports our belief.

That’s confirmation bias.

Here’s what’s interesting: in business, you can set your prospects’ beliefs for them, then supply them with the evidence to support those beliefs. That’s what Holiday Inn Express does. They tell you their showerhead is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Then when you actually get in shower, you not only notice the showerhead (when under normal conditions, it would go completely and utterly unnoticed), you also interpret the evidence (large size, gourmet sounding settings, high pressure) as proof that that sucker is indeed bomb-diggity. You NOTICE it and you LIKE it.

So here’s what you should do: Point to your showerhead. Yea, I know you don’t have a showerhead in your business, but you probably have something that’s at least semi-awesome. Or, hopefully, something that’s REALLY awesome. Figure out what it is and point like crazy. Then customers and prospects will begin to believe that it really is great, and find evidence to support that it’s everything you’ve made it out to be. To make this work, it’s requisite that whatever you’re pointing at to be fairly impressive. What if you hopped in the HIE shower—after all the hype on the signs—only to find a dinky, calcium-encrusted showerhead with no water pressure? Kinda ruins the effect.

Let me give you two real-world examples of this principle at play in marketing. The first comes from the early 1900’s from advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins, from his book called My Life in Advertising. When Hopkins was called in to help Schlitz beer increase its market share, each beer manufacturer was claiming that customers should drink their beer because it was “pure beer.” The problem was, nobody knew what exactly “pure beer” was. Sure they knew what “pure” meant, but what exactly was “pure beer”?

Hopkins visited the Schlitz manufacturing plant where he was shown the beer making process. The water for the Schlitz plant came from 4,000-foot deep artesian wells, which guaranteed its purity. Special wood pulp filters took out all the impurities of the brewed liquid. Special rooms were filled with filtered air so that the beer could be cooled without impurities. Pumps and pipes were cleaned twice daily to avoid contamination. The glass beer bottles were even steam cleaned four times before being used!

Hopkins was fascinated by both the complexity and quality standards of the whole process. He asked the Schlitz executives why they didn’t tell people about all these things they did to make their beer so pure. The Schlitz executives—decidedly unimpressed with their own processes—replied that they didn’t think it was important because every beer manufacturer made beer the same way.

Hopkins countered, “Yes, but the others have never told this story,” and went on to create an advertising campaign that explained every step Schlitz took to make their beer so pure. In other words, he pointed at the showerhead! The brand went from fifth place in the market to tied for first in less than a year.

The next example of confirmation bias comes from the roofing industry. One of the biggest challenges facing good roofing companies and their marketing is the bad reputation of the industry as a whole. People don’t know how to judge a good roofing company from a lousy one, and as a result, many people tend to be skeptical of all roofers. To combat this, we put together a program called the “Code of Ethics and Competency For Roofers” and delineated all the things that a consumer should look for in a good roofer. Things like proof of insurance, job cleanup rosters, 500 references, financial stability letters from banks and suppliers, bid specification standards, and more.

In marketing (including roofing contractor marketing), victory goes to the one with superior forces at the point of contact. So for the roofer, the first place we put information about their “Code of Ethics” was in yellow pages ads, their website, and the roofer’s PPC campaign. Next, we put together a twenty-four-page printed report that detailed each of the points of the Code. The report was sent to all prospects BEFORE showing up to their home for the sales meeting.

Now take note of what started to happen. Just like Holiday Inn Express with their fancy showerheads and bowed-out shower curtain rods, this roofing company started POINTING at all of the things that they did well. And low and behold—prospects started to notice—and believe them! It’s a simple execution of cognitive confirmation bias.

The prospects started to notice that each roofer had a photo ID name badge with a certification level on it—because we told them to look for it. They started to notice that the jobsite was cleaned up on a daily basis—because we showed them our daily twelve-point jobsite cleanup roster. They noticed that salesmen weren’t pushy and overbearing because the company produced a signed document that promised they wouldn’t do that. They started to notice that the workers did not use foul language, pee in the bushes, or play their music too loud—because we showed them the personal conduct agreement that each worker signed as a condition of employment.

So what’s the bright idea here? And how does this all relate to YOUR contractor marketing efforts?

“My sales manager is now commonly greeted on the first call in a friendlier way… sometimes in a ‘relieved’ sort of way—the customer says they feel like they have someone they can trust. They actually talk about our marketing when they call, and in person—it’s really amazing! Customers regularly tell us that we’re by far the most professional company they’ve seen. It feels good. Everyone in the company has a new focus and can feel the positive momentum of this since we started the marketing.”

All that might just sound like you garden-variety testimonial letter. But look a little closer—and you’ll see the important part. The roofing company isn’t doing anything any differently than they did before! They always cleaned up after jobs, treated their customers with respect, had a good reputation, were financially stable, and everything else that they were now touting in their marketing. This roofing contractor always had a really cool showerhead, they just never bothered to point at it before!

Last footnote on the roofing contractor. An unexpected benefit of their using the marketing program invoking the power of cognitive confirmation bias was the precipitous drop in customer complaints. Complaints went DOWN by a whopping 88%. Again, realize, that the company had not changed the way they did business. They just changed their customers’ perception of them. Now when one of the workers got caught peeing in the bushes (hey, it happens), the customer decided it must have been an exception—and quickly rationalized it away as an anomaly.

Remember the definition of confirmation bias— people tend to find evidence to support their existing beliefs, and ignore or minimize evidence that goes against them. The negative evidence called “a guy peeing in the bushes” gets interpreted as not being such a big deal when the customer is also noticing—and interpreting—the fact that the same worker isn’t smoking, swearing, drinking, or playing loud music. And since that same worker is uniformed, has an ID tag, no visible tattoos, and seems to clean up the job each day after working, the minor peeing infraction can be overlooked. Pretty clever, huh?

So what can you “point at” in your business? What’s your showerhead? If Holiday Inn Express can attach such great importance to the under-normal-conditions lowly showerhead, then you can certainly find something to point at, can’t you? It doesn’t have to be big and grand. As long as it’s at least “good,” it doesn’t have to be the most innovative thing in the world. But don’t forget to point—or customers won’t notice anything. And you become just another provider—nothing special.

By the way, everything we’re talking about here is the essence of IDENTITY… do you realize this? Finding what makes you great, then articulating it in a powerful, precise, and passionate way… then putting that information in ALL of your roofing, home improvement, or plumber marketing efforts. From your website, to mailers, to TV & radio, to home show displays… and everything else.

Happy marketing!

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© 2014 – 2016, Rich Harshaw. All rights reserved.

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