Values are the most important criterion of all.
This is the fourth instalment in an ongoing discussion on social science for interpretive planners and visitor experience professionals. Part one is here.
The last few years have seen a real shift among market researchers away from simple demographics toward psychographics: identifying segments of society by their identity-based social values. This is based on the idea that different groups of people share common, fundamental values, priorities and motivations that tend to stick with them throughout their lives. These values, more than any other factor, tend to shape the decisions people make regarding where they travel and what they do at their destinations.
(For an absolutely fascinating introduction to mapping social values, read Fire and Ice by Canadian Michael Adams, the founder of Environics Research. He contrasts diverging values between Canadians and Americans, and as he makes his case, he explains how he plots dozens of different social values along two axes and documents how they change over the years. It’s fascinating stuff.)
In the informal learning sector, John H Falk’s research has identified identity-based segments among visitors to museums, aquaria, zoos, historic sites, parks and other free-choice learning institutions. “Explorers” are driven by curiosity; they are active learners wherever they go. “Facilitators” are there to help someone else have a good experience. “Professional/Hobbyists” are those who are highly knowledgable about a site’s subject matter, and feel a strong affinity to it. “Experience Seekers” are there for the experience of “being there, doing that”, and need to be able to tell others about it afterwards. “Spiritual Pilgrims” are seeking a contemplative, feelings-based experience when they visit. For an in-depth understanding of the ramifications this research has for us in the interpretive and visitor experience world, you must read The Museum Experience Revisited by John Falk and Lynn Dierking.
In a recent post, I outlined some fascinating research done in the late 1990s among senior citizens who travel.
The Canadian Tourism Commission, working with Environics Analytics, have divided all travellers into nine “Explorer Types”. Gentle Explorers, for example, like to be enveloped in a bubble of familiarity wherever they travel; the cruise ship industry is made for them. Authentic Experiencers, on the other hand, might go stir crazy on a cruise ship, but would be happy poking around a small town where few others have visited.
Let’s go back to our young mothers. If they turn out to be facilitators, then the way to their heart is in creating experiences that enrich their children. But if they are spiritual pilgrims, their time at your site might be much more about simply being in a quiet, beautiful space with their child. If they turn out to be Gentle Explorers, you’ll want to ensure that your staff know them by name, and offer them a comfortable, unchanging environment when they arrive.
You can see the power of understanding your visitors’ values. If you can align your visitor experience products with the benefits your visitors are seeking, you have a winning relationship.
…but values alone aren’t enough
Note, however, that segmenting by values alone won’t cut it, any more than segmenting by life stage alone. This is an important point: segmentation systems that acknowledge values alone, such as Explorer Quotient, won’t give you a fully fleshed-out picture of your target markets. Recently in Canada, we’ve latched on to Explore Quotient and other psychographic tools like kids with a new toy, and I worry that were not going to get the results we need with them alone.
Think about it: not all “Gentle Explorers” are created equal. A wealthy Gentle Explorer does not have the same barriers to travel as a poor one; a young one will have a considerably different set of motivators than an aged one. A Rejuvenator who doesn’t speak much English will have different needs than one who does. Without knowing your market’s geography, language, age, group composition, reasons for travel, et cetera, you won’t be able to anticipate their needs, interests and behaviours. You need to fully understand your target markets: demography, geography and psychography.
Yes, values are the most important thing. Just don’t forget that they’re not the only thing.
Next: A quiz. Are these potential target markets?