The Alaska Region of the National Park Service sought to create an awareness of, and compelling interest in, Alaska National Park areas using inspirational and innovative interpretive techniques. This front-end evaluation targeted current and potential visitors to Alaska's national parks. Researchers used three theories: push/pull motivation theory, means-end theory and interpretive theory and two orienting concepts - adventure and authenticity - as the basis for interviews that were conducted in the Anchorage, Fairbanks and Kenai Fjord regions in August 2008. Data was analyzed to identify (1) "means-end chains" of attributes, consequences and values that respondents associate with Alaskan destinations, and (2) "ladders of meanings" that reflect the tangible, intangible and universal concepts that respondents associate with resources found within destinations. Results of the study led to recommendations of a media plan for non-personal interpretive services (e.g., video, web, pod-casts, cell phones, signage, print, and indoor/outdoor exhibits) and set the stage for subsequent formative and summative evaluation efforts.
Researchers conducted onsite interviews with 113 current and potential visitors at various locations within Alaska during a two week period during summer 2008. Researchers used a means-end approach to identify attributes-values and consequences (ACV) and tangibles-intangibles-universal concepts (TIUS). The means-end chain and interpretive ladder of meanings data identified by respondents was analyzed with respect to respondents' adventure and authenticity orientations. Hierarchical value maps were constructed for each adventure-authenticity orientation and an overall hierarchical value map noting ACVs/TIUS across all orientations was also developed. Results revealed four values or universal concepts, eight consequences or intangibles and six key attributes or tangible level meanings.
In addition to qualitative data collection and analysis, participants responded to seven scaled questions related to adventure and authenticity, and nine questions related to frequency of technology use. This quantitative data was analyzed using SPSS 17.0. One-way ANOVAs were conducted for each of the seven adventure-authenticity scaled questions to compare means of respondents in the four adventure-authenticity orientations. Results revealed significant mean differences between respondents identified in the four adventure-authenticity orientations at the p> 0.05 level for each of the seven questions. High adventure-high authenticity respondents' means were significantly greater than low adventure-high authenticity respondents and low adventure-low authenticity respondents, but results for the high adventure-low authenticity respondents proved inconclusive for six of the seven questions.
The results of this study show that while visitors can indeed be stratified II across four adventure-authenticity orientation concepts, that there are also universal themes or values that can be used to broadly market to all four groups. The emergence of individual ladders for each orientation shows pathways that managers can use to effectively develop themes and interpretive products within the framework of adventure and authenticity. Although the products and delivery system may vary across orientations, key ACV/TIU ladders should assist product developers in making informed decisions about preferred images, messages and themes.
This study contributed to a better understanding of the process by which to develop an interpretive marketing strategy using theories from interpretation and marketing. While this study was conducted specifically as a front-end exploratory study to meet the needs of the Alaska National Parks, the process of conducting laddering interviews, the development of a decision making tool (HVM) and the overarching theoretical framework could potentially be used by other heritage and natural resource sites to develop interpretive marketing products and other media. The recommendations for product development in the current study was made using specific ladders created by interviewing visitors in Alaska, however the process could be replicated at other National Park Service sites. Future research should focus on the effectiveness of the approach outlined in this study as well as methodologies for implementing and evaluating interpretive marketing strategies.