Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cognitive Distance Friction

There is a consumer behavior to which we all can relate. It’s called by various names including "cognitive distance friction." It is what we all experience when it seems like it takes forever to get somewhere but time of travel seems much shorter on the way back.

It greatly impacts visitors to a community because, as researchers in Australia have discovered, a mile when we are traveling at home or in familiar surroundings seems like 20 miles when we’re away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings.

People who develop shopping malls adapted research on this behavior years ago to help determine how far malls need to be apart before it makes sense for a department store to have multiple locations without cannibalizing itself. I remember, in the early days, that it was something like 15 minutes or 15 miles, because after that point, it took a very exclusive product or an incredible sale to pull people any further.

Lots of things intensify or exaggerate distance friction, and Durham has them all… e.g., irregular road patterns, hills and dales with no dominant geographic features, heavily wooded etc. The Internet has also intensified the effects of distance friction. Consumers now have the option, for a small shipping fee and a brief delay, of avoiding the logistics of a trip to the store or to a store in another community.

Distance friction is why so few people visit "regions" unless they happen to be centered around one dominant place. It’s definitely why so many traveling to either Durham or Raleigh elect not to combine a visit to both communities on the same trip.

Destinations like Durham with ample things to see and do over several days are also learning that it irritates visitors when they encounter distance friction, and the best way to overcome it is to simplify their itineraries… better directions and easier-to-read, accurate maps, the ability to select things to see and do within 10 miles, a distinct sense of place with good way-finding (road signs, banners, markers, gateways, corridors etc.) and most of all, very informed residents and frontline staff in hospitality businesses.

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