Experience-based internet marketing: An exploratory study of sensory experiences associated with pleasure travel to the Midwest United States

Tags: experience, sensory experiences, sensory information, sensory input, smells, domains, sensory inputs, lake breeze, trip experiences, sensory cues, exploratory study, cluster analysis, tourism products, embodied cognition, tourism experiences, factor analysis, autumn leaves, Midwest United States, functional attributes, Journal of Business Research, tourism marketing, travel information, scent, Midwest, visual cues, sensory aspects, traditional counterparts, tourism information, Cluster, consumers, real world experiences, tourism experience, experiential nature, Internet Marketing, cognitive approaches, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Information Search, Digital Experience, References Biocca, Destination marketing
Content: Experience-based Internet Marketing: An Exploratory Study of Sensory Experiences Associated with Pleasure Travel to the Midwest United States Ulrike Gretzel Daniel R. Fesenmaier National Laboratory for Tourism and eCommerce University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA {gretzel, drfez}@email.edu Abstract Destination marketing Websites remain largely focused on the communication of functional attributes such as price, distances, and room availability. However, it is argued that a model of embodied cognition, which assumes that consumers derive experiences largely from patterns of sensory input, better reflects the actual construction of tourism experiences in the minds of consumers than these purely cognitive approaches. Acknowledging the importance of senses for human cognition has implications for marketing real world experiences as well as creating experiences online. The paper presents an exploratory analysis that investigates whether information about colors, scents, and sounds expected during vacations in the Midwest United States can be categorized and bundled in meaningful ways, and consequently used in the context of online destination marketing. Keywords: tourism experience; embodied cognition; sensory information; Internet marketing 1 Introduction Marketing researchers and economists alike have drawn attention to the experiential nature of goods and services (Holbrook, 2000; Pine and Gilmore, 1999). Their findings related to hedonic values and emotional responses to consumption situations are especially relevant for marketing tourism given the inherently experiential nature of tourism products and services. Both consumption and decision making processes related to tourism are to a large extent driven by hedonic and emotional aspects (Vogt and Fesenmaier, 1998; Vogt et al., 1993) and memories of trips are a function of triprelated experiences and the stories we construct from them (Fesenmaier and Gretzel, 2002). This recognition of the experiential nature of tourism and of new consumer trends calls for marketing approaches that make use of innovative ways for communicating tourism experiences (Schmitt, 1999). Emerging technologies increasingly afford sensory information to be communicated to users in online environments. Pictures with vivid colors and high resolution as well as high quality sounds are widely integrated into today's Websites. Technology that
conveys tactile and olfactory experiences is currently being developed and promises even more immersive experiences to be possible on the Web. Nevertheless, destination marketing Websites remain largely driven by database structures (Manovich, 2001), focusing on communicating lists comprised of functional attributes such as price, distances, and room availability. Their design is based on a model of a rational and information seeking consumer which often results in simple activitybased descriptions that reflect the supply side (reflected by computer programmers and/or marketing managers) rather than an actual consumer's perception of tourism experiences. It is argued that this lack of an experiential mindset within the tourism industry is due largely to a lack of understanding of the nature of tourism experiences. Purely cognitive models of consumers can provide only limited explanations for holistic and often largely hedonic consumption experiences. What is needed is an extended model that takes sensory experiences and emotions into account. Such a model is often referred to as a model of "embodied cognition" (Malter and Rosa, 2001) and assumes that consumers construct experiences largely from patterns of sensory input (Biocca, 1997). It is the aim of this paper to explore whether people actually create coherent structures/themes out of sensory experiences that can be used for the purpose of experience-based destination marketing on the Internet. 2 The Role of Sensory Information in Communicating Tourism Experiences Contrary to the current simplified, activity and/or amenity-based representations of tourism experiences on the Web, real world vacations are complex experience structures that involve cognitive and sensory stimulations as well as affective responses to certain events. Due to this multi-sensory nature of tourism products, textual and pictorial ways of describing vacations are very limited in terms of conveying a complete picture that can be used to formulate correct product expectations. Even word-of-mouth, the dominant informational strategy in the tourism domain, faces constraints with respect to the communication of first-hand embodied knowledge. Yet, creating an informed opinion based on these forms of information is essential to the potential consumers of tourism experiences. In this respect, tourism constitutes an interesting exception on the search versus experience good continuum (Nelson, 1970) as most of its attributes are not searchable and at the same time not accessible/assessable through actual product trials. Product trials have been identified as extremely powerful sources of information for the formation of brand beliefs and attitudes since they involve an experience of the product through multiple senses. Kempf (1999) found that the affective response to such trials is especially influential in the case of hedonic products. Whereas marketing strategies for traditional consumer goods such as cars, cosmetics, and food products have long acknowledged the importance of actually touching and, if applicable, smelling and tasting a product, tourism marketing has widely neglected the significant role of olfactory, haptic, gustatory, and auditory sensations during consumption experiences. When sensory information is communicated, it is usually
presented in isolated form, i.e. either smell, taste, touch, or sound, and is often simply translated into visual cues. The dominance of visual (and to some extent auditory) information in tourism marketing appears to be largely driven by the limited affordances of the traditional media used. However, other marketers have found very creative solutions to overcome these limitations, e.g. through scented pages in fashion magazines. Another reason for the lack of a broader range of sensory cues in tourism marketing appears to be the subtleness with which embodied cognition works. Sensory information is usually processed on a subconscious level, and thus is often less prominently mentioned by consumers. However, its influence on decisionmaking processes has been widely shown, especially in research related to retail environments (Morrin and Ratneshwar, 2000). Whatever the reasons are for the current absence of sensory information in the communication related to tourism products, its inclusion will become more and more important as tourism marketing increasingly uses experiences as the foundation for defining its products. New technological developments promise inexpensive and readily-available substitutes for real world product trials (Klein, 1998). Virtual tours, for example, have become a popular means of communicating tourism related information in a way that resembles an actual visual experience (Cho and Fesenmaier, 2000). Further, streaming video allows for a quick and cost-efficient representation of the visual as well as auditory aspects of a vacation experience. However, in terms of their experiential content, these current modes of communicating tourism information are only marginally more "real" and effective than their traditional counterparts. Compelling and engaging digital experiences require immersion in a rich set of data that captures all of the human senses; consequently, it is expected that an increasing amount of research will be devoted towards the development of sensors for taste, smell, and touch (Jain, 2001). These efforts will eventually result in commercially available products waiting to be taken advantage of by consumers and marketers alike. Whether sensory tourism information is communicated through these emerging technologies or using traditional forms such as metaphors and narratives, a richer understanding of the various sensory domains and the way in which they are bundled to form holistic tourism experiences is needed. This lack of information regarding the consumers' perception of the sensory dimensions of vacations was addressed in a recent study conducted by the National Laboratory for Tourism and eCommerce. The following presents the results of an exploratory analysis of certain sensory aspects associated with travel experiences in the Midwest United States. 3 Methodology The findings presented in this paper are based upon a survey of 3,525 randomly selected persons who had requested travel information from a Northern Indiana tourism office during Summer and Fall, 2001. data collection was conducted during a 2 month period (November, 2001 ­ December, 2001). The survey was administered
following a three step process: 1) An initial survey kit, which included a cover letter, a 12-page survey, an insert with an invitation to enter a drawing and a description of the prizes offered, and a postage-paid return envelope, was sent to each person in the sample on November 6, 2001; 2) One week later, each person was mailed a post card to remind them to complete and return the survey and/or to thank them for participating in the effort; 3) Three weeks later, a second survey kit with an invitation to enter into a second drawing was mailed to all non-respondents. This effort resulted in 1,436 completed responses (an additional 111 were returned with bad addresses or insufficient responses) for a 42.1 percent response rate. The survey included a section that asked respondents to write down the feelings, experiences, tastes, colors, scents, and sounds they associate with desired experiences when traveling to a Midwest destination. More specifically, respondents were asked to imagine a trip to a destination in the Midwest United States and report the colors that dominate their mental image, the scents they would like to smell, and the sounds they expect to hear. The survey respondents used a variety of words to describe the different sensory inputs they expect from a vacation in the Midwest. Although most descriptions were single-word concepts, some respondents used combinations of words such as "maple leaf red", "smell of home cooking", or "sound of water lapping onto lake shore" to describe favorite or expected colors, scents, and sounds. This complexity of the descriptions and the large amount of text to be transformed into numeric values, as well as the idiosyncrasies in the usage and spelling of words turned the development of a classification scheme into a rather time-consuming task. In an effort to make the classification process more efficient, a preliminary analysis of the text data was conducted using CATPAC II (Woelfel and Stoyanoff, 1993). The resulting neural network output was used to identify the words that were most frequently mentioned to portray desired sensory experiences. Frequent cooccurrences of words as displayed through short distances in the graphical representation of the network were analyzed to determine whether certain sensory concepts warranted a separate category. For instance, "lake" and "breeze" emerged as very frequently combined words; thus, a "lake breeze" concept was included among the scent categories. A total of 11 color, 10 scent, and 14 sound categories were identified (see Table 1). The small number of categories reflects the fact that the concepts are rather broadly defined; as a consequence, the color categories are comprised of various shades of a specific color; and scent and sound concepts include several related yet not identical olfactory and acoustic experiences. The "Green" category, for example, includes shades of bright grass green as well as forest or pine green. The "Blue" category is dominated by sky/light blue and lake or water blue but also includes more unique shades such as azure and medium blue. The "Food" scent category is comprised of barbeque smells, baked bread, festival/fair food scents, and special scents such as fish boils, scotch, and fudge. Animal sounds include mainly bird calls and cricket chirps; however, other animal sounds such as dogs barking and frogs croaking were also assigned to this category. Although broader definitions lead to a loss of detail and
therefore potential misinterpretations, this categorization strategy was selected because subsequent analyses were expected to provide implications as to whether such global classifications can, nevertheless, lead to useful definitions of specific vacation experiences. The underlying assumption is that experience is a function of the combination of certain sensory inputs, and that finer distinctions become visible and interpretable when several sense categories are bundled together. Descriptive analyses, factor analysis, and cluster analysis were used to investigate the relationship among the different sense categories and to explore how respondents combined sensory experiences into coherent bundles. 4 Findings Several interesting findings emerged from the analysis of the sense categories that were derived from the initial text data (see Table 1). On average, 1.6 color types, 1.8 scent categories, and 2.1 sound concepts were mentioned, implying a rather uniformly colored imagery with more complex combinations of smells and especially sounds. Green was the most frequently mentioned color category (49.5 percent of the respondents reported green to dominate their imagined trip), followed by blue with 44.2 percent (see Table 1). The most frequently reported smell was "lake breeze" (47.2 percent), and autumn leaves were mentioned by 23.4 percent of the respondents as being a scent associated with a pleasure trip to the Midwest. Animals (66.1 percent) and music (28.4 percent) were the most frequently mentioned sounds.
Table 1. Frequencies of Sense Categories
Lake breeze
Autumn leaves
Fresh air
Pine trees
Factor analysis with a varimax rotation was used to investigate whether certain patterns emerged from the data with respect to "sensory domains", i.e. colors, sounds, and smells that were frequently mentioned together. A nine factor solution was
identified as fitting the data best and at the same time leading to meaningful combinations of sensory experiences (see Table 2). Factor 1 includes sensory experiences related to the fall season, with red, yellow and orange displaying the highest factor loadings. Factor 2 is defined by colors, sounds, and smells related to water, with blue and lake breeze contributing the most to this domain. Factor 3 describes a noise theme with country smells which could be interpreted as a country music/fair experience. Factor 4 is comprised of outdoor/camping sensory experiences and is mainly defined by autumn leaves scent and campfire sounds. Factor 5 may be best described as an "indulge" factor as it is comprised of food smells, people sounds, gambling and shopping sounds, the smell of antiques, music, and the color gold. Factor 6 refers to country-related experiences. The color brown, which was several times used in the sense of earth or weathered wood, largely defines this factor. Factor 7 is defined by very "happy" sensory experiences such as colorful and pink settings, flower, grass, and food smells, as well as children and horse and buggy sounds. Factor 8 describes a more scenic nature experience and Factor 9 a peaceful experience with almost no sensory input and fresh air being the dominant sensory cue. The factor loadings are generally rather low ­ a finding that is expected given the broad definitions of the sense categories and the resulting overlap between certain sensory domains. However, the findings of the factor analysis indicate that associations between colors, sounds, and smells exist and, most importantly, that meaningful sense packages can be derived from the rather broad classifications.
Table 2. Description of Sensory Domains Derived from Factor Analysis
Factor # 1 Autumn Factor # 2 Water Factor # 3 Noise Factor # 4 Outdoors Factor # 5 Indulge Factor # 6 Country Factor # 7 Happy Factor # 8 Scenic/Nature
Colors Red, Yellow, Orange, Gold, Brown Blue, White, Not Green Green Gold Gold, Brown, Sand Pink, Colorful Green, Blue, Sand
Scents Autumn leaves, Campfire & smoky smells Lake breeze Grass, Country Lake breeze, Country, Autumn leaves Food, Antiques Country Flowers, Food, Grass Pine trees, Flowers
Sounds Water, Children, Traffic Traffic, Music, People Animals, Campfire, Music Music, People, Money Wind, Animals Children, Animals, Horses Animals, Trains
Factor # 9 Peaceful
Fresh air
Quiet, Wind
The nine sensory domains identified through factor analysis were then used as the basis for a cluster analysis to investigate the diversity of "bundles" created from the
sensory domains involved when thinking about pleasure trip experiences in the Midwest United States. A K-means cluster analysis was conducted using the factor scores of the nine sensory domains. A solution with seven clusters was identified as the most suitable as it resulted in meaningful cluster sizes, a high within-group coherence and between-group difference. A discriminant analysis with cluster membership as the grouping variable and the nine factors as independent variables was conducted to test the quality of the clustering solution. The results were highly significant and showed a high discriminating power of the cluster groups (with 94.5 percent of the cases being correctly classified). Table 3 provides a short description of the factors defining the seven "experience bundles". Only those domains are presented that display relatively large positive values for the respective factor scores. For example, Cluster 1 describes a group of respondents that construct their trip theme entirely based on sensory information related to water. In contrast, respondents in Cluster 2 combine water related sense categories with the colorful, intensive smells, and animal and children sounds of the "Happy" sense domain. It is important to note that four of the seven groups combine different sensory packages when thinking about a Midwest travel experience but that only certain combinations occur and that the one-factor groups are consistently larger except for Cluster 7, which basically describes respondents that prefer minimal sensory inputs (the final cluster centers indicate that Peaceful, Scenic, and Outdoors are the only, and yet not very strongly sought after sensory domains for this group).
Cluster 1 (n=261) Water
Table 3. Factors Defining Experience Bundles
Cluster 2 (n=110) Water Happy
Cluster 3 (n=47) Autumn Country
Cluster 4 (n=202) Autumn
Cluster 5 (n=32) Outdoors Country
Cluster 6 (n=110) Indulge
Cluster 7 (n=452) Not Autumn Not Water Peaceful Scenic Outdoors
5 Discussion The findings of this exploratory study suggest that certain sensory domains exist and are often bundled following specific patterns of associations. It is important to note that all sensory domains are comprised of at least two different senses and that, consequently, no single sense seems to dominate. More specifically, the existence of cohesive sensory domains implies that the different senses are supportive of each other, and that their combination represents a meaningful way of revealing nuances in the structure of broad sense categories. Further, it appears that these sensory domains, or combinations thereof, can be used to define coherent experiences sought after by certain groups of travelers.
An important limitation of the study is that information about the specific colors, scents, and sounds imagined by the survey respondents can not be generalized as it is to a great extent influenced by the context of the study (i.e., the survey referred specifically to travel within the Midwest United States and was conducted during the fall). The analysis presented in this paper was only concerned with structural questions rather than the actual content of the sensory domains, and thus was not constrained by these limitations. However, research in the area of embodied cognition as it relates to tourism should ultimately be concerned with the construction of sensory-based experience typologies. The latter requires the collection of sensory information independent from the setting of a specific study. Further, the current study only took three types of sensory experiences into account. There is a need for expanding the scope to tactile and gustatory experiences and to establish linkages to emotional components of trip experiences. Since consumers seem to associate certain sensory themes with certain trip experiences, it appears to be important for destination marketing to integrate sensory domains into its communication strategies. It follows from the current analyses that sensory experiences are complex but not idiosyncratic and can be used to communicate certain tourism experiences to specific groups of travelers. The results of the current exploratory study have important implications for user modelling strategies, especially in the context of tourism recommendation systems. Although a myriad of visual, olfactory, and auditory sensations are potentially associated with a vacation, the use of broad sense categories seems to be sufficient in describing desired experiences as long as different senses are taken into account and sense categories are combined into larger domains. It is argued that questions related to these sense categories could easily be integrated into current user profiles or query structures and could greatly enhance the traditional activity-based approaches. Especially for Internet-based tourism marketing, these initial findings indicate that the integration of sensory information on Websites may play an important role in supporting information search and decision-making processes by providing the sensory cues essential for the conceptualization and evaluation of vacation experiences. Thus, future studies should focus on the relative impact/role of sensory information as compared to functional attributes in tourism-related information search and decision-making. It is posited that the current and future research will help create the foundations for building alternative and potentially more effective approaches for Internet-based communication of trip experiences. References Biocca, F. (1997). Cyborg's dilemma: Progressive Embodiment in virtual environments. Journal of Computer Mediated-Communication, 3(2). Cho, Y. & D. R. Fesenmaier (2000). A conceptual framework for evaluating the effects of a virtual tour. In Fesenmaier, D. R., Klein, S. & D. Buhalis (Eds.), Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2000, pp. 314-323. Wien: Springer Verlag.
Fesenmaier, D. R. & U. Gretzel (2002). Searching For Experiences: The Future Role of the Consumer in the Leisure Experience, Proceedings of the Leisure Futures Conference, Innsbruck, Austria, forthcoming. Holbrook, M. B. (2000). The millennial consumer in the texts of our time: Experience and entertainment. Journal of Macromarketing, 20(2): 178-192. Jain, R. (2001). Digital Experience. Communications of the ACM, 44(3): 38-40. Kempf, D. S. (1999). Attitude Formation from Product Trial: Distinct Roles of Cognition and Affect for Hedonic and Functional Products. Psychology & Marketing, 16(1): 35-50. Klein, L. R. (1998). Evaluating the Potential of Interactive Media through a New Lens: Search versus Experience Goods. Journal of Business Research, 41: 195-203. Malter, A. J. & J. A. Rosa (2001). E-(Embodied) Cognition and E-Commerce: Challenges and Opportunities. Paper presented at the Experiential E-Commerce Conference at Michigan State University, East Lansing, September 27-29, 2001. Manovich, L. (2001). The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Morrin, M. & S. Ratneshwar (2000). The Impact of Ambient Scent on Evaluation, Attention, and Memory for Familiar and Unfamiliar Brands. Journal of Business Research, 49: 157-165. Nelson, P. J. (1970). Information and Consumer Behavior. Journal of Political Economy, 78(2): 311-329. Pine, J. & J. Gilmore (1999). The experience economy. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Schmitt, B. (1999). Experiential Marketing. New York: The Free Press. Vogt, C., Fesenmaier, D. R., & K. MacKay (1993). Functional and aesthetic information needs underlying the pleasure travel experience. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 2(2): 133-146. Vogt, C. & D. R. Fesenmaier (1998). Expanding the Functional Tourism Information Search Model: Incorporating Aesthetic, Hedonic, Innovation and Sign Dimensions. Annals of Tourism Research, 25(3): 551-579. Woelfel, J. & N. J. Stoyanoff (1993). CATPAC: A Neural Network for qualitative analysis of text. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Australian Marketing Association, Melbourne, Australia, September 1993.

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