A Motivation by Any Other Name

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?

My grandson, Tim, explores the jumping dance with the Maasai.
My grandson, Tim, explores the jumping dance with the Maasai.

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.


Lisa shares the Serengeti experience with Lou, her mom.
Lisa shares the Serengeti experience with Lou, her mom.

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.


Lisa enjoys the "sensualist" or "recharger" time in Ngorogoro Crater with an old bull elephant.
Lisa enjoys the “sensualist” or “recharger” time in Ngorogoro Crater with an old bull elephant.

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.

Mealtimes are great social times to get to know fellow travelers from Czech Republic.
Mealtimes are great social times to get to know fellow travelers from Czech Republic.

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.

Experience seekers want those special photos that remind them of the unique place and time.
Experience seekers want those special photos that remind them of the unique place and time.

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.

Tim and Tim, grandfather and grandson with a lion in background, a memory for both of us we will not forget.
Tim and Tim, grandfather and grandson with a lion in background, a memory for both of us we will not forget.

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

Published by heartfeltassociates

Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman are married and serve as Principals of Heartfelt Associates. They write fiction and non-fiction, raise miniature horses and consult with parks, zoos, museums, historic sites, nature centers and aquariums on heritage interpretation and visitor experiences.They live on the Big Island of Hawaii on a small Kona coffee farm overlooking Kealakekua Bay.

8 thoughts on “A Motivation by Any Other Name

  1. Visitor segmentation typologies are fascinating to explore. The two models you’ve cited are what I consider behavior/motivation-oriented, and an added layer of complexity would include considering the ‘practical’ aspects of the visitor experience e.g. duration of visit, mobility/accessibility concerns. I love your point about using restraint in developing interpretive products based on the nature of the experience — and the person — you’re targeting. In an age when many organizations are trying to be all things to all people, targeting key products/services and matching them to specific visitor demand is a really good way to develop more meaningful, higher-quality experiences.

    1. Thanks for comments, William. He does not mention it, but he is the exhibits manager for a new museum – The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, which offers many unique experiences. William recently returned to the U.S. after working several years in a similar role in New Zealand.

  2. Hi Tim, nice post and many thanks for the thoughtful and accurate mention.

    I am very interested to read your thoughts on this. I have been conscious that there are other segmentation systems around, in particular Falk’s which I have been trying to swot up on.. Like you I see some differences in detail but many more similarities. In case you or anyone else is interested, I would clump Falk’s Experience Seekers and his Hobbyists into the MHM Intellectual category. But the most important thing here is that that really doesn’t matter. I think we are cutting the same cake (or grain of insight) into different slices. The whole cake is the same.

    It is probably less important just how we think about the different segments – the important thing is that we do think about them. This gives us tools for planning for disparate visitors in a disciplined way. It at least gives us 4 or 5 persona to work with rather than just a projection of our own preferences, which I still encounter too frequently.. At it brings to en end nearly two decades of my puzzling over what someone’s postcode tells me about how to provide a great visit for them.

    I think the thing that is in Falk’s model that is not in MHM’s is the Facilitator. I agree with you that there is a considerable element of the Social Visitor here but I think Falk’s twist that the Facilitator’s satisfaction derives primarily from the companion’s visit. is important. I can see that this can be a sharing, as in your example, but I think it can also take the Facilitator into visits they would never do in any other circumstance e.g. my going to an exhibition of fashion photography with my daughter – and having a great time. I am sure Faciliatators are quite frequent. My question is whether there is anything the interpretive planner can do to improve the Faciltator’s visit – or whether catering well for the person they are accompanying is the best way of rewarding the Facilitator too. What do you think?

    All interesting stuff.

    1. Thanks for the great comments on the article, Susan. I appreciate your perspective on the similarities and differences. Lisa and I chatted about this and some thoughts on how you can plan for the facilitator are:
      • Be sure you have the text in multiple languages for foreign guests with local friends.
      • Train interpreters to be respectful of guests who seem to be doing the interpretation for their children or friends. It is a reasonable thing for them to do.
      • Administratively we can do what Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum does well, which is package some guest tickets with a membership to encourage people to bring their out of town friends and families.
      • Social network sites like a Facebook page give visitors a chance to chat with their friends and families about what they like about your site.
      • Multi-layered text for different age groups will allow all to understand what is written.

      Facilitators are often taking them on a very specialized tour of things they value – “You’ve got to see this. It’s cool.” These are all very random suggestions that will not be appropriate at every site. As Lisa so often says, “It depends . . .” Good planning is always going to be unique to the site, audiences, management objectives, etc.

      I enjoy your blog articles very much and will stay tuned.


  3. Thanks for that really interesting and helpful response, Tim and Lisa. I thought they were great practical suggestions.

    Since I wrote my first comment, I have been struck by an insight that was probably blindingly obvious to everyone else. When I want with Hannah to the Tim Walker fashion photography exhibition, I might have been the Momma, the older person, the interpretation expert and all that jazz – but that didn’t make me the Facilitator. Hannah was! Oops! See what I mean about how easy it is to only see visits from one perspective? I shall no longer assume that it’s the older person who is showing the things they value – it could easily be the kid who ‘dragged’ the parent along who makes that adult’s visit special by acting as Facilitator.

    1. That’s an important observation. When I managed a nature center, we often had families out on weekends brought by a child who had recently visited on a field trip. The child would show parents and siblings the Raptor Center where they saw an eagle, take them on the river trails, etc. I think it’s wonderful that it works multiple directions.

  4. Hi Tim (and Susan)- I find the two different ways of looking at visitor motivation really interesting. They are really useful and I can see how they will help in planning in so many ways. I agree that it is definitely possible (indeed most likely?) that an individual will be a blend of these motivations- perhaps looking for two or more or them in the same visit or even at the same time! And in a group visit, who are traveling round a site together, there will equally be several motivations active at any one time. I would be interested in any research (or indeed doing some) on the motivations to see how people see themselves and if the different types ring true. But that doesn’t negate the importance of trying to tailor interpretation – if anything it means we need to be surer of what we are trying to achieve where and what might motivate people to engage more with what’s on offer.

    1. Thanks for comments, Jim. Parks Canada has taken this a step further. Their Explorer Quotient at http://www.pc.gc.ca/voyage-travel/qe-eq/qe-eq_e.asp has you take a quiz and then they identify you with one of nine different categories. They are very similar to those in both segmentation approaches in my article. They simply have become even more specific and they analyzed their sites to suggest to a “free spirit” or “cultural explorer” what they might do that matches their interests and motivations at specific parks. As you might expect, you might land in a different category if taking their quiz in a different mood. It’s an interesting system and worthy of some study by those of us who do planning as consultants.

      I think the Explorer Quotient name is a bit unfriendly but the EQ Quiz and experience opportunities offered by their systems is fun and interesting. Take a look and tell us what you think. Tim

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