Understanding Our Markets: Ways of Segmenting

This is the third piece in a series of instalments about social science for interpreters, and interpretive planners, and visitor experience professionals. Find the first instalment here. 


There are many ways of understanding our audiences and segmenting them into groups. Do these look familiar to you?

Demography: What life stage are your visitors (age, family and marital status)? What is their education level? What is their income? What language do they speak? What is their cultural background? What is their physical ability?

Geography: Where do they come from? Where do they live? While this is less important for those of us who manage the on-site experience—you’re interacting with them at your site, not at their home—it becomes crucial when you discover that there are more of these people out there, just waiting to hear about what your site has to offer, and you want to contact them where they live.

Geography is also an important key to broader market research. Much of what we know about our public is linked to their geography; we organize much of our data by postal codes. More about that later.


Group compositionDo they tend to travel with a spouse? A tour group? Children? An extended family? Visiting friends and relatives?

Activity: Perhaps you can lump a group as cyclists, picnickers, mountain climbers, equestrians, birders.

Reasons for travel: Are they traveling for business? Recreation? Education? A wedding? A conference? To visit family? These factors strongly influence a public’s needs, interests and behaviours.

Psychography: What is the way to their heart? Are they seeking authenticity, or perhaps familiarity? Are they interested in a spiritual connection? Are they facilitating someone else’s learning, and hoping you can help them? Do they just want to have fun, or are they life-long learners? Values may be the most powerful motivators of all.  ”What is the way to their heart?” is the single most important question you can ask when creating visitor experiences for your target market.

Psychographics: the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria, especially in market research.

Note that you can segment by any of the above criteria.

Typically, segmentation starts with demographics. Tilley hats are for older seniors. Hog motorcycles are for male baby boomers. Skateboards are for youth. But you can segment by any of the above criteria. Let’s say your local bicyclists have an interest in you, and you want to investigate them as a possible target market at your site. Can you have a market segment simply called “cyclists?”

Of course you can… provided that you can work that group up into a full profile. You can start with an activity descriptor—cyclists—but you’ll soon discover that cyclists come in many different flavours, and your designation isn’t very useful all by itself. Are your cyclists young students from Japan renting bikes for an afternoon together (activity + life stage + geography + group composition)? Are they local seniors out for a romantic ride on a Sunday morning with their spouses (activity + geography+ life stage + values + group composition)?  Are they fit young professionals looking for a serious workout with their colleagues? All of the pieces of the segmentation puzzle need to fall into place before you can confirm that you have a target market—a group of people with common needs and interests, who have the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship with you.

Mmm, delicious cyclists.

Likewise starting with life stage, for that matter. You may have noticed that your nature centre or historic site has a particular appeal for mothers with pre-school children. By all means, then, use that as a basis for segmentation. But what do you actually know about your young mothers? What do they have in common? What distinguishes them from the non-mothers in your public? (Because if they think and behave exactly like your non-mothers, you don’t need to single them out as a target market.) When are your young mothers likely to arrive? How much time do they spend at your place? Do they have special logistical needs while there? Are your young mothers well-educated? Do they have a lot of disposable income? Do they tend to live in a certain part of town?

Most importantly, what are their values? What benefits are your young mothers seeking at your site? What is the way to their heart? Are they seeking interaction with their fellow moms? Educational experiences for their children? Time alone with their child in a quiet place?

Next: Values are the most important criterion of all. 

Editor’s note: this article is the third in a series about meeting your goals by better understanding your audiences. Feel free to subscribe to my monthly mailing list to be alerted to future instalments. I never sell my mailing list nor spam my readers.

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