The point of market segmentation is not to make visitors unwelcome; it is the opposite.
This article is part of a series, Understanding Our Audiences, on market segmentation for interpretive planners and other visitor experience professionals. You should probably start at the beginning, here.
Managers and boards of directors are sometimes reluctant to focus their investments in a handful of target markets (some businesses focus on one market alone; some identify as many as 12.) What happens to the people who slip between the cracks? What about those North Korean grandmothers and Saudi princes and other groups you disqualify as priority markets? Are they no longer welcome at your site?
Of course they are. This is tourism. There will always be anomalous visitor types showing up among your mainstream clienteles. And your staff will, as always, bend over backwards to meet their needs and interests. They will do their best to match those visitors to the products you offer: your reception desk, your interpretive programs, your exhibits, et cetera, just as they always have.
The point of market segmentation is not to make visitors unwelcome; it is the opposite. The idea is to fully understand your visitors so you are are able to accommodate them on their terms—to provide experiences that surprise and delight them and meet their specific needs and interests, while not squandering your resources on trying to be all things to all people (see Spray and Pray Planning, below) or endlessly creating visitor experiences for people who are just like you (see Planner as Artist, below.)
If you or your staff feel that there is a visitor group going unserved, use is as an opportunity to investigate them as a new market. If they meet the five qualifying criteria, consider them a priority market and incorporate them into your product development and promotions programs accordingly. If they don’t qualify as their own target market, allow your staff to match them to existing products, as they always have.
The Opposite of Market Segmentation
Attractions that don’t practice market segmentation often fall into two categories:
1. Spray and Pray
Those who practice the spray and pray method create a great diversity of products, and hope that their visitors will find something of interest among them. They choose their promotions channels and media mixes arbitrarily, either investing in those with the widest possible distribution, or those with most affordable rates. They tend to believe that their attractions should have something for everyone, and are constantly trying something new.
2. Planner As Artist
Planners-as-artists create their art (visitor experience) without regard to target audiences. They tend to create products that they feel are right; that meet their own aesthetic; that they themselves would be delighted to attend. If the work has quality and integrity, they reason, their markets will come to them eventually. That’s how art works.
Ultimately, this is its own form of market segmentation: these planners end up doing quite well at attracting a single segment—usually people just like them. If that meets the organization’s goals, then so much the better. But it usually doesn’t.
Yes, planners are artists, without question. Visitor experience is 70% art and 30% science. But it is an applied art, a mission-driven art form, not a pure one. Planners must acknowledge the needs of their organization, and the needs of their visitors, first and foremost. The real art lies in creating meaningful, powerful visitor experiences within these confines.
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