From Cocoons to Mud Huts – Psychographics and Why It’s Key to Travel & Tourism Marketing

When segmenting your audience and positioning your brand in travel and tourism marketing, psychographics is key and in particular how values and personality manifest themselves in ‘preferred level of cultural immersion’.

I described what I regarded to be the key segmentation criteria in travel and tourism marketing in brief in a previous post. I now want to delve a little deeper into one of those in particular which I consider to be absolutely key – psychographics.


The whole area of psychographics, a phrase that describes values, personality and lifestyle, first became of practical rather than theoretical use to me when I was at Simply Travel, especially when comparing and contrasting the brand with it’s ‘sister’ brand in TUI’s Specialist Sun Division, Magic Travel Group (rest in peace).


I’d had passed on to me via a colleague that one of the TUI senior management had described the only difference between the 2 brands as distribution (Simply was mainly direct and Magic mainly trade) but I regarded this as a misguided observation. The distribution difference was a manifestation of the core difference between the 2 brands, and that was the ‘level of cultural immersion’ the 2 brand’s customers preferred – a manifestation of their values and personality.


(Pricey) Dining in St Marks - Heaven for Cocoon Travellers

(Pricey) Dining in St Marks - Heaven for Cocoon Travellers

Simply core customers were very much at the ‘live like the locals’ end of the spectrum. For them, the sight of more than a small gaggle of fellow British tourists was a cause for dispair. Local people, local fare and ‘authentic’ lodgings (or their perception of authentic) was at the heart of their ideal holiday experience. By contrast, Magic core travellers preferred to ‘observe’ rather than ‘interact’ and it was more about ‘show’ than ‘do’ – they’d be the sort you see dining in one of the overpriced restaurants in St Marks in Venice, doing organised excursions to see the major sites or going to the local ‘cultural’ show in their 5 star hotel.


I also felt these differences in approach were reflected in their purchase behaviour – Simply customers searching out the experience provider direct, Magic ones taking the ‘safer’ route of relying on their trusted travel agent.


Understanding where along this ‘cultural immersion’ line our customers sat helped inform our product strategy, our service strategy  and our marketing strategies. For example, Simply properties had to be away from mainstream foreign tourism and feel authentic whereas Magic’s properties were more showy and in the mainstream destinations, particularly the ‘places to be seen’. Magic reps were smartly uniformed whilst Simply’s wore their own clothes to blend into their environment and create a ‘traveller to local’ rather than ‘tourist to rep’ style relationship.


The Self Challenger's Dream

The Self Challenger's Dream

I came across the best formal segmentation model for this theory a couple of year’s later whilst doing a consultancy stint at APT. It was produced by Tourism Australia, was entitled ‘In it for the Long Haul’ and mapped 5 major groups. 2 were inexperienced traveller groups that had yet to settle on a preferred type of travel. The other 3 were Cocoon Travellers (take me to the main sites with all the comforts of home), Comfort Adventurers (I want to interact with the locals but I’d like to stay somewhere comfy too) and Self Challenges (show me where the mud huts are, I’ll sleep on the floor like the locals). I’ve attached a link to this excellent piece of research which although 6 years old still makes for interesting and relevant reading (In it For the Long Haul – Tourism Australia).


The particularly interesting thing was that these ‘psychographic characteristics’, although they had some demographic biases, were observed across all age groups and lifestages.  It’s for this reason that I believe that when positioning your brand, this key psychographic dimension should be at the top of your list.


For example, if you’re a destination specialist and want to develop your business, you should look to what experiences you need to offer to those not catered for in your existing offering.  If you’re only offering self drive, you may be missing out on a market that wants to be more cocooned and would prefer an inclusive touring experience.  Conversely, if you cater for one of these psychographic groups only, then a more relevant growth strategy may be to spread your offering geographically, as Simply and Magic did, to attract more business from your existing customers but to new destinations.


Even if you’re a tourism attraction, you need to remember that some will feel uncomfortable with activities that require them to ‘get involved’ whereas others will get frustrated with an experience which is all about observing. To maximise satisfaction, you have to cater for both audiences.


That’s not too discount other segmentation criteria.  Lifestage in particular is also a very important variable and I do think that people can ‘subsume’ their psychographic preferences to a degree when thinking of the greater good, especially when kids are involved.  However, it’s likely the ideal will be combine both their lifestage requirements and their required level of cultural immersion. I’m off to Lefkas in a couple of weeks – authentic, unspoilt Greece, albeit in the grip of a financial crisis.  But my compromise is heading for a cluster of villas around a pool where other families go and where my little boy can mix and play with kids of his own age. I’d probably rather be in the heart of Africa sleeping with the locals in a mud hut but it could be worse – I could be at Butlins.

What No Celebrity Marketers?

Smarting at the lack of ‘celebrity marketers’ – here’s 2 we can adopt as our own.


OK – let’s be honest, marketers have not quite joined the ranks of celebrity chefs, interior designers, antiques valuers and other ‘experts’ that have carved out a niche on our television screens. Philip Kotler and perhaps Seth Godin are the closest we get but there’s a large swathe of our own fraternity that haven’t even heard of them (hence links supplied…).


However, there are 2 established experts in other fields who would qualify as ‘celebrity marketers’ who I’d encourage you to watch if you don’t already – Gordon Ramsey and Mary Portas.


Unwinding in front of More4 after a long day’s work, I’ve often been hynotised into a later bedtime then planned by the marketing nous Ramsey displays on “Kitchen Nightmares”.


I’m not a fan of the guy’s confrontational style, but his approach is always marketing-led. Understand the demographics and competitive offering in the locality and identify the gaps, combine that with the (sometimes hard to spot) strengths of the hapless restauranteur and you have a marketing strategy that gives them the best chance of success.


Mary “Queen of Shops” Portas is the same. She segments us all into fashion tribes, takes her time to understand what “tribes” are most prevalent in the troubled shop’s locality and then ‘tailors’ the shops offering to the most appropriate of them.


Gordon Ramsay Celebrity Marketer?

Gordon Ramsay - Celebrity Marketer?

Both have a deep understanding of their trade – be it Portas’s grasp of merchandising or Ramsey’s grasp of the commercial side of the restaurant business – but beneath that veneer of fashion and food lie the hearts of true marketers.


So rather than smarting at the lack of recognition the media gives to those of our craft, let’s adopt these 2 as our own and start looking down at those other professions (celebrity accountant anyone?) who have no entertainment value to exploit.

Back to Basics – Market Segmentation and Targeting

We all say we’re customer-centric, but we often forget what it means when the commercial pressure is on. Staying true to your marketing credentials is the best way to succeed when there’s pressure for results, with a dose of good old segmentation and targeting.


We’ve all fallen into the trap – we rush out of the trading meeting with a sense of purpose and urgency because we have bed nights/cabins/seats to shift or visitors to increase and start implementing a whole raft of activity without giving a single thought to what sorts of customers we’re going to ‘shift’ this product to.


To me, this is a sales mentality (give me the product and I’ll sell it to whoever) rather than a marketing one (who’s going to want to buy this product) and a surefire way to fritter your marketing budget away.


Market segmentation and targeting is right at the heart of marketing theory and practice so it’s worth going back to basics on this one. Let’s start with some definitions:


A market segment is a group of people or organizations sharing one or more characteristics that cause them to have similar product and/or service needs.”  (Source: Wikipedia)


“Targeting is the selection of the appropriate market segment(s) to direct your efforts towards and tailoring your mix as appropriate.” (Source: Me)


In addition to the shared characteristics, a market segment has to be actionable (you can reach these people) and profitable (otherwise why are you bothering).  Theory also states that the segment has to be substantial, but profitable would override substantial in my book as my work at the luxury end of the market has convinced me that they are plenty of profitable segments of one.


Segment characteristics i.e. those shared factors that bind a segment together and differentiate them from other segments, can be divided into 3 main groups:


  • Behavioural – product usage, benefit sought etc


  • Geo-demographics – where you live, occupation, socio-economic group, lifestage, ethnicity etc.


  • Psychographics – personality, values, attitudes, lifestyle etc.


My experience has taught me that the best segmentation models include a flavour of all 3 groups.


From a behavioural perspective, benefit sort and timing is important – our whole brand’s ‘raison d’etre’ should be focused around a benefit or benefits sort – a need or desire our offering is designed to serve.  Some marketers advocate stopping there when it comes to segmentation – I disagree.  Timing is also key – whatever anyone says about the demise of the 2 week break, the rise of the spontaneous short break etc, the timing of our breaks (and therefore the timing of their booking) is still largely predictable. And again, if we’re prepared to delve a little beyond the behavioural, a whole pandora’s box of opportunities can open up.


  • From a geodemographic perspective lifestage and geography are key – lifestage determines if they’re just thinking about themselves, trying to balance the needs of a partner or trying to keep the kids happy as well (and woe betide the marketer who lumps “married with kids” into one homogenous segment). For tourism attractions, geography determines catchment, and unless you’re located in one of the UK’s tourism hotspots, most visitors are going to sourced from the locality as defined by an acceptable journey time.


  • But it’s psychographics that interests me most, particularly how personality, values, personality and lifestyle are reflected in the desired level of cultural immersion – do your customers want to watch, get involved or get immersed. I’m convinced psychographics should play a key part in any travel or tourism segmentation model.


OK – I think that’s enough for starters. This is a complex subject so more articles on it soon.