Research data that tech companies have about their users can often lead to good opportunities for press releases. They can also lead to surveys to learn more about customer preferences and to use for press releases. In either case, such data is a good way to secure media coverage if the results find something intriguing or controversial. But, there is such a thing as data that should be used internally and not divulged, no matter how interesting it may be. It may bring the controversy you don’t want.
This is what Orbitz found out this week. A story in the Wall Street Journal points out that Mac users on the Orbitz site tend to spend more money on hotels compared to PC users. And, as a result, the story states the online travel agency is starting to show Mac users different, and sometimes costlier, travel options compared to Windows visitors. Orbitz has obviously been criticized for this in many media stories. Even their competition has jumped on the opportunity to dig Orbitz into a deeper hole.
It’s interesting that Mac users tend to spend more on hotels. However, Orbitz should have evaluated not just the results they came up with but also, their actions to show Mac users different options before going public with the details. From the outside looking in, it certainly appears that publicizing the results and their actions would lead to controversy. Any company should consider if a public reveal about their data or a survey would lead to controversy. Often, this is the desired effect of a survey and its promotion. But, sometimes it may not be the desired outcome and it appears it was not what Orbitz wanted.
If I Could Do it Again
This is a case where they could have used the data to instead survey their Mac-based users. From the stories read, I don’t believe this was done. A simple survey should have revealed to those being surveyed that Orbitz has found that Mac users tend to spend more on hotels. The line of questioning should have then centered on whether or not Mac users want different search options as a result: do you prefer we first show you costlier but better hotels than other users; do you tend to stay at hotels that cost more over ones that cost less; etc.
Orbitz could then have married their data with survey results. More importantly, they may have gained insight that Mac users may pay more but don’t want to and have saved themselves from scrutiny. Let’s assume this would have been the result – that Mac users pay more but, don’t really want to. The Orbitz press release could have then promoted the results that Mac users pay more but, based on our survey they don’t want to and we have not optimized our search options as a result. The press release would have still gotten decent media coverage. But – Orbitz having gained the insight on Mac user preferences from their survey – the company probably would not be under scrutiny since it would have had the foresight not to differ search results.