Wednesday, April 18, 2012 Center for Brand & Product Management Blog
Better Family Vacations: Customer Groups Demand Collective Solutions by Amber Epp

Did you enjoy a spring vacation with your family in March or April? Fun and relaxation are part of the plan for most family getaways, but what are the underlying goals for these family units? And are vacation industry firms providing products and services to meet these group goals?   

One of my research interests involves the relationship between group decision-making and marketing. Recently, my co-author (Linda Price) and I published an article in the Journal of Marketing (DOI 10.1509/jmkg.75.2.36) that examines families as a type of customer network: a group of individuals who make joint purchase and consumption decisions. We conducted a study of families who had recently taken a family vacation. We interviewed the families to learn about the goals they held for their vacation experiences and to determine how well these goals were satisfied by the companies with which the families interacted during their vacations.

We found that many companies, including those in the vacation industry, have developed solutions that respond to individual pursuits and experiences but fail to address the “collective” (group) and “relational” (a subset within the larger group) goals held by the family unit. This can lead to a mismatch between the solutions offered by the company and those that the customers seek. As a result, companies may miss opportunities to offer better-designed solutions and customers may feel frustrated because the available choices did not fully respond to their collective goals.

For example, one family in our study visited a theme park with the collective goals of reasserting their family identity and enjoying a final family holiday before their eldest child started college. But the theme park offered many individually-focused activities that appealed narrowly to one family member or to a subset of the family (such as rides that were open only to older children; “princess autographs” that interested the youngest child; etc.). As a result, the family shared little time together at the theme park despite their desire for a collective holiday experience. To compensate for the lack of group-focused activities at their primary destination (the theme park), the family sought products and services from other companies that were more responsive to their collective and relational goals.  

Our research suggests that companies may benefit from gaining a better understanding of the range of group and sub-group goals held by their collective customers (such as families, teams, or organizational departments). This improved understanding may uncover opportunities to revise their value propositions, for example by adjusting their mix of offerings or forming new partnerships with other firms.