I have questions about visitors, clients and customers. Who are they? What do they want to do? What do they enjoy? What kinds of experiences appeal to them? Is it enough to know their age group or their family status?
Many planners have spent many decades developing visitor experiences with market segmentation approaches that are easy to understand but do not really inform the planning process. Classifying people as seniors, empty nesters, families, yuppies, tweeners, and the like will give some general information about them. It does not necessarily suggest what interests them, or what types of experiences they prefer.
In recent planning workshops, we’ve been introducing participants to the Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter study by John H. Falk, Eric M. Reinhard, Cynthia L. Vernon et al. This report uses motivations to determine market segments at interpretive sites. Although it’s certainly not the only way to look at market segmentation, and not the only one we use for every project, this is one approach that might useful in thinking about facilities and programs being planned for some situations. The segments, in the researchers’ words, are as follows.
“Explorers” are curiosity-driven and seek to learn more about whatever they might encounter at the institution – might spend more time and get more involved – potential volunteers often come from this group.
“Facilitators” are focused primarily on sharing the experience with others – parents and grandparents bringing children, locals bringing friends from out of town.
“Professional/Hobbyists” feel a close tie between the institution’s content and their professional or hobbyist passions – might enjoy going “behind the scenes”.
“Experience Seekers” get satisfaction from the fact of visiting this important site – often want a photo taken of the guest with the resource behind her or him.
“Spiritual Rechargers” seek a contemplative and/or restorative experience – may want to just sit or walk and enjoy without interpretive signs or messages.
Susan Cross, a very experienced planner in the United Kingdom, shares her thoughts on segmentation in TellTale, her planning blog’s article, “A simple, successful approach to visitor segmentation at heritage attractions.” Susan credits the research behind the approach to Morris Hargreaves McIntyre – Lateral Thinkers, a cultural heritage consultancy group that suggests using a motive-based segmentation approach with categories similar to that suggested by Falk’s zoo study.
Sensualists seek emotional and spiritual rewards – For Sensualists ‘just being there‘ is enough. ‘Taking in the view‘, ‘becoming one with the past‘,’ finding peace and harmony in nature‘, ‘experiencing beauty’, ‘finding inspiration‘ are the rewards these people want from their visit.
Intellectuals want to find out more. They hear or do things that relate to their interest and probably talk to people who share their interest and can answer their questions. Intellectual Visitors want to pursue an interest. They may be novices or experts but they are interested. They wish to learn more, increase their knowledge, improve their skills, see, hear or do things that relate to their interest and probably talk to people who share their interest and can answer their questions.
Social Visitors are building relationships and want to spend enjoyable time with family and friends in a pleasant and interesting environment. They like sharing experiences, talking to each other, finding new things to talk about, conversations with other people, and good visitor facilities.
Exploring Families are adults visiting with children. They too want to spend quality time together. It important that this includes shared activity and some discovery and learning.
If you were to correlate the categories across the two approaches, you might find that “intellectuals” seem similar to “professional/hobbyists.” “Sensualists” seem similar to “spiritual rechargers.” “Exploring families” seem to include the “facilitators.” “Social visitors” remind us of the “experience seekers,” although Falk’s study mentions that the social aspect of the visit may be secondary to having the experience. The in depth “Explorer” motivation in the zoo study is not in the four categories of the British segmentation. I still like it to describe that person who will take the behind the scenes tour, sign up to visit a paleontological dig or become that devoted volunteer.
We led an ecotour to Tanzania in 2010 and we were examples of all of the categories at various times. Some times we were “experience seekers” or “social visitors” just taking a quick look at the Oldupai Museum where we took photos of ourselves with the exhibit that showed the original trackway that so intrigued the Leakeys, or sat around the campfire sharing stories from earlier that day with fellow travelers. We had brought Lisa’s mom (age 81) and my grandson (age 14) along to share the experience, and so we could very often be considered “exploring families” or “facilitators” since we had taken this trip once before and were eager to provide tips to enhance their enjoyment. We became the “professional/hobbyists” or “intellectuals” when chatting with facility managers or biologists along the way. Certainly, everyone on this kind of safari in the Serengeti is an “explorer.” It is expensive and has some elements of danger so those without the explorer interest are more likely to catch it on the Nat Geo TV show of the same name from the safety of their armchairs. When time permitted, we turned into “sensualists” or “spiritual rechargers.” It was great to sit for two hours by the hippo pool and just enjoy their unique social interactions, sounds, and smells. No explanation was necessary to be completely engaged by the zen of hippo watching.
I tell this story of our Tanzania tour to make the point that no matter which nomenclature you choose to use, people don’t always fit into neat categories. One person may be one type of visitor with certain interests or motivations in one setting, while having completely different interests or motivations in another. Similarly, groups of people probably have a blend of these category types within the group at any given time. Hippo watching recharges some people, while others become bored and drift away from the group to engage in a different conversation or activity.
As a planner, thinking about motivations of a visitor allows you to think about visitor experience design with these motivations in mind. Some places are just beautiful enough that they need no interpretive signs to make them better. In fact, the sensualists or rechargers will like it better if such places remain uncluttered with media. That behind the scenes tour may attract explorers or intellectuals to learn more. We can even design places for the “experience seeker” or “exploring family” to have their picture taken with a great cultural artifact or giant clamshell. It is often more challenging to design a compelling experience for a 50 to 60 year old African American female from a city who makes $65,000 a year. We usually find that some combination of geographic, demographic, and psychographic information in a market analysis provides better information with which to make informed decisions about the proposed experiences. But each planning situation is a little different and which market segmentation approach is most appropriate for which situation will depend on a variety of factors.
Whether these two segmentation approaches represent convergent evolution in planning or a situation of having read each other’s studies, the fact that both have emerged as planning tools is a good thing. Our guests do not represent only age groups or economic groups. They are real people with interests that may change even in the middle of an experience. And if we’re paying attention, we can plan ahead to accommodate that.
– Tim Merriman