Development and validation of cognitive causal mapping as a place marketing management tool

Alamanos, Eleftherios, Dennis, Charles, van Rekom, Johan , Jayawardhena, Chanaka and Melewar, T.C. (2014) Development and validation of cognitive causal mapping as a place marketing management tool. In: 1st Symposium on Managing & Marketing Places, April 14 – April 17, 2014, Corfu, Greece.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
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Cognitive causal mapping is a method that aims to elicit those attributes that people believe to be inherently core to a brand. The technique aims to elicit the causal relations that people perceive to exist between a brand’s attributes. A causal map shows how and to what extent consumers perceive other attributes to flow from core attributes. The method demonstrates how people view those attributes that make a brand more authentic than attributes that have a less central position in their cognitive causal map. These central attributes may be identified as unique for a specific brand. The technique has been used successfully in eliciting the essence of brands (e.g. van Rekom et al., 2009; van Rekom et al., 2006; Ahn, 1998). This study aims to develop and validate cognitive causal mapping by offering respondents a full range of causal options at once, rather than one-at-a-time, aiming to reduce interview length such that it is practicable to employ intercept sampling.
Two different procedures for causal mapping were compared in a demonstration study aiming to build the brand of The Fens, a naturally marshy region in eastern England. Most of the area was drained several centuries ago, resulting in a flat, damp, low-lying agricultural region. The Fens are a fertile arable region for grains and vegetables, containing around half of the grade 1 agricultural land in England. Despite years of promotion, the Fens are still to develop a positive destination brand and the economic impact of tourism is low. Of 34 visitor attractions in the Fens, only four have attendances over 60,000 per year. The study examined the attributes of the Fens that form its essence in tourists’ ‘eyes’, which will facilitate the positioning of the proposed area as a destination.
A pre-study was conducted in which twenty respondents (a convenience sample drawn from visitors selected by intercept sampling at two major visitor destinations: Springfield Shopping Centre, Spalding, in the heart of the Fens; and in Lincoln, a popular tourist destination at the northern edge of the Fens) were asked which attributes come to mind when thinking of “The Fens” as a destination. These served as input for the questionnaires for the main study, which assessed the relations among the attributes.
A self-completion questionnaire was distributed via face-to-face interviews to visitors of the two areas by employing intercept sampling (n = 400 total; 200 at each). Following a pilot survey, the final questionnaire included 26 questions structured in two alternative layouts. Both questionnaires measured the perceived (by the respondents) causal status of each of the 10 attributes. The first layout listed the 10 attributes twice in random order in two columns on the left-hand side and on the right-hand side of a page. The participants were asked to draw an arrow from each of the attributes on the left-hand side to those attributes on the right-hand side that they thought has caused and respectively prevented the attribute on the right-hand side. This layout was used in a total of 200 cases, 100 at each of the specific locations in Spalding and Lincoln.
The second layout listed the 10 features in a circular order, with the questioning feature on top. The participants were asked to select the features which cause and prevent the feature on the top and draw an arrow ending to the feature on top from the remaining nine attributes. The feature on the top was rotated in different versions of this layout of the questionnaire. In order to reduce the overall length of the questionnaire and increase the response rate, only one feature was questioned in this layout at a time. Hence, nine different designs, each with one of questioning feature on top (one attribute, ‘cathedrals’ was dropped as not making sense as being caused by the other attributes), were created. This layout was also used 200 times, 100 times in Spalding and 100 times in Lincoln, although each specific attribute was on top in only one-ninth of the total questionnaires (rather than the planned one-tenth as ‘Cathedrals’ had been dropped). The questionnaires also included questions measuring the perceived necessity of each attribute for the essence of the Fens brand.
The findings were mainly consistent between the two methods. The main attributes identified by participants as most characteristic of the Fens are: agriculture, countryside, big skies and flatland. The participants like most the features countryside, big skies, flatland, relaxed and friendly whereas they do not like a boring atmosphere. The causal relations that achieved a statistically-significant net proportion of agreement were plotted on a cognitive causal map. The most significant include:
• The Fens are not boring because they are friendly and have shopping and cathedrals
• The Fens have big skies because they have countryside and flatland
• The Fens are relaxed because they have countryside and big skies.
The cognitive causal maps can facilitate the design of campaigns to attract more visitors in the area. For example, the feature ‘boring’, which is not liked by visitors, can be mitigated by marketing communications indicating that the Fens are not boring because they are friendly and have shopping and cathedrals.
Marketing communications can be designed to emphasise the most characteristic features of the Fens that are most liked, for example demonstrating that the Fens have big skies because they have countryside and flatland; and are relaxed because they have countryside and big skies.
In conclusion, both questionnaire types can be applied via intercept sampling to distil the essence of a service brand, with useful managerial implications. In a departure from the traditional delivery method, where respondents consider only one caused attribute at a time, equivalent results can be obtained by presenting all causal options at the same time. This is important, as in our trial, 200 ‘all options’ completed questionnaires were obtained in approximately the same amount of time as needed to obtain 20 responses using the traditional ‘restricted options’ approach. This demonstrates that the cognitive causal modeling technique can be successfully adapted for intercept sampling use.

Keywords:Cognitive causal mapping, place marketing management, destination brand
Subjects:N Business and Administrative studies > N500 Marketing
N Business and Administrative studies > N800 Tourism, Transport and Travel
Divisions:Lincoln International Business School
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ID Code:14143
Deposited On:27 May 2014 19:46

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