Understanding Your Consumers through Behavioral Mapping

Article excerpt

Behavioral mapping or tracking means following people around during their routines, watching their various activities, and observing the other people with whom they interact. It is a special application of an observational technique concerned specifically with people's behavior. Behavioral mapping involves an actual chart or plan of an area on which people's locations and activities are indicated. This technique has practical relevance in settings such as parks, visitor centers, museums, attractions, or any field where consumers' physical movements are of interest, such as graphing individuals with disabilities in classrooms and outdoor settings.

Behavioral mapping is a direct observational technique in which the observer is physically present and personally monitors what takes place. The behavioral map is an empirical document which describes what behaviors actually occurred rather than what was planned for the space. Behavioral maps can be place-centered or person-centered. A place-centered map shows how people grange themselves within a particular location. A person-centered map shows people's movements and activities over a specified period of time. The choice of mapping procedure depends on the researcher's objectives; in tourism, recreation, and parks, a combination of a person- and place-centered map is most useful.

To construct a place-centered map, draw a replica diagram of the site. Station observers in a particular location to watch the action in a particular spot or general location at the site. Depending on the place, the observer may be required to move around and "follow" the subject. Recording the events of the person requires researchers to determine, ahead of time, what behaviors they will record and how they will record them. For example, R for reading, TO for touching, and TK for talking. All foreseeable behaviors should be categorized before observation takes place.

A person-centered map does not use a diagram; rather, it uses time slots to record what the subject person is doing at that time. The first task in a person-centered map is to identify the person and obtain his or her cooperation. Person-centered maps have been used in observational studies of children at play. Children notice the observer at first, but soon they return to their usual patterns of behavior. Observations can be continuous or periodic. The continuous method involves following an individual over a period of time, say eight hours. Periodic observations involve observing the same individual at intervals throughout the day.

An example of the use of behavioral mapping in a touristic setting was completed at the Homestake Natural History and Cultural Center in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The study determined the traffic pattern, length of stay and length of exhibit viewing at a newly constructed visitor center/museum.

The Homestake Natural History and Cultural Center (HNHCC) is a combination visitor center, exhibit center and restaurant. It was built to replace a landmark restaurant and to commemorate the mining history of the Black Hills. The structure is built completely of logs and is located at the junction of the Spearfish and little Spearfish canyons, along a national scenic highway. The center opened in September 1990. The exhibits in the visitor center tell the story of gold mining in the Black Hills. Most of the exhibits are photographs of the times, while a few exhibits are artifacts from the gold rush days.

The HNHCC was designed to be a stopping place for tourists and local residents driving along the Spearfish Canyon. The restaurant and gift shop are leased to a concessionaire. The HNHCC is open seven days a week, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Since the HNHCC had just opened, administrators deemed it necessary to understand visitor patterns. If the staff learned that visitors were not receiving the full benefit of the center, they would change things. …