Part Three: "Exit Through the Gift Shop"
Applying theme park principles to corporate events.
By Doug Binder, Sr. Creative Director, InVision Communications, with Jimmy Verrett, Sr. Creative Strategist/Sr. Creative Director, InVision Communications
The journey continues. The story that started with the promise of the excitement continued through the gates and throughout the property and its many attractions. In the final post of this series, we blend even more imagination with the realities of time and money. At the risk of letting our cynicism show, money is the reason theme parks and corporate events exist at all. And we’re really glad they do!
Theme parks, similar to large events, entail a good amount of “down time.” How do organizers take advantage of the lulls to keep users engaged during “every moment,” with an eye towards more profitable events? Let’s take a closer look through the lens of amusement parks.
Full Sensory Immersion
“What does your brand smell like?”
Earlier, we talked about the Promise that theme parks make in their promotions and how they deliver on them at a whole different level when you visit. Imagine if you drove all the way to Sandusky or San Antonio, with the family in tow, and all you found were pictures and videos of the epic adventures you’d been promised? Pretty disappointing!
Instead, thankfully, you find that the Promise is delivered through all five senses and across the third and fourth dimensions. There’s the taste of Butterbeer, the silky feel of a sea lion’s skin, the incessant aromas of cuisines from around the world. These full-sensorial details aren’t always obvious, but they’re there, adding sub-conscious spice to the visceral feast unfolding.
Now put yourself in the shoes of your attendees. Imagine their sacrifices to get to your event only to discover flat Powerpoint presentations, sterile trade shows, cookie-cutter breakouts and rubber chicken piccata. (Of course, I am not describing YOUR event. Totally not yours.)
We tend to concentrate on two main senses: sight and sound. That means there’s 60% more we can be thinking about.
Deliver a truly immersive – and unique – brand experience by playing to all five senses. Ask yourself these awkward questions:
- What does my brand smell like? It might be zesty, sweet, spicy or minty, or just about anything else.
- Same, with flavor: What does your brand taste like? This can become a huge differentiator for your brand experience.
- What does it feel like to the touch? E.g.: Soft, hard, rough, sleek, curvy, rigid, ticklish.
Time is Precious
“Make every moment matter.”
Here’s a hypothetical timetable of a generic theme park visit: A guest spends 10 hours inside the park, partakes in 10 rides (each an average of 3 minutes), takes in two 15-minute shows, has two 30-minute meal breaks and one 30-minute shopping excursion. That’s about 2½ hours – or 25% — of her visit spent on actual, engineered “engagement.” The other 75% likely was spent walking, waiting and wandering – the 3Ws.
Theme parks make the 3Ws matter. These periods can yield some of the most meaningful and memorable moments of the visit. Let’s look at each W in context of a theme park, as well as in corresponding moments at an event.
- Parks have plenty of sensory stimulators, so long walks can be enhanced by any number of fun distractions.
- Most parks also employ a legion of broom-wielding custodians. Turns out their main job is not sweeping, it’s being available to guests for directions, advice and human interaction.
- Attendees can easily clock 10+ miles of walking in some of the bigger venues. Treks from room to room can be a mile long down a series of sterile hallways.
- Consider adding some “love” along the way: small recharge lounges, sponsored F&B and pop-up activations, a great soundtrack and lots of personable greeters (employees a plus!) to cheer them on.
- The term “queue line” has long been synonymous for boredom and wasted time. No more!
- Attraction designers now use the queue time as a threshold for story immersion, employing video, performers and other technologies to captivate the eager throngs. Of course, many of these moments also include sponsor messages too.
- How much time to attendees spend waiting at your events? Maybe at registration and probably in anticipation of doors opening for show floors, keynotes, breakouts and meals.
- This is a great time to delight them with roving entertainers and more F&B. Even better, what about surprising them with a
- VIP/executive “drive by” to selfies and high-fives. It’s also a great time to gain some anecdotal insights into their experience so far.
- Even the most time-obsessed park guests can savor a few periods of down time. Park designers provide them with serene vistas, shaded parks and quiet cul-de-sacs that let them feel unplugged without disengaging entirely.
- All of us crave a little “me” time -- no matter how driven we like to appear. Rather than losing attendees to their hotel rooms or outside the venue, give them what they need as part of your journey design.
- It can be as simple as lounge seating tucked at the end of a hallway or as sophisticated as organized yoga or sensory-deprivation chambers.
- When we wander, we often discover, so there’s a good chance attendees will encounter your brand and their community in new and unexpected ways.
- And remember to offer a few extra-long breaks here and there.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Finally, the theme parks industry is very, very good at finding ways to provide opportunities for guests to SPEND. MONEY. Sure, they want you to have fun in the parks, be thrilled, bond with family, create memories and enjoy yourself so much that you come back again, but all of this is in pursuit of immediate and future financial transaction. It’s not a bad thing, it’s business—and the way they achieve this is often thoughtfully designed and executed.
Most interesting, and perhaps also most applicable to the corporate event space is the idea of “exiting through the gift shop.” In practice at the theme park, this means that your kids are bombarded with “Mom-I-have-to-have-this-or-I-will-DIE!” Princess Elsa merchandise IMMEDIATELY following the Frozen Ever After ride, before ever leaving the actual attraction. Sound familiar? Yep. You’ll find this approach everywhere at theme parks. Why? Because it works.
Just as theme parks service a primary goal (driving revenue) through the creation of engaging opportunities and points of transaction for guests, the corporate event designer has an opportunity to drive event or program goals (advocacy, engagement, behavioral) through thoughtful experience planning.
If you’re able to clearly and concisely articulate what it is you want your conference attendees to do differently tomorrow, next week, and next year, not only will your conference content be more focused and effective, you’ll be able to have your attendees take a strong first step on that journey immediately by “exiting through the gift shop;” leaving with content of value and extending the impact of the event investment. Simple examples of this include provision of the guest keynote speaker’s book, copies of breakout presentations, supplemental reading lists and event tchotchke, or even simple thematic photo engagements for social media posting. What can you think of?
This is no Mickey Mouse Business.
But in a way, it is!
We who work in the corporate event industry are, in-effect, theme park designers. We’re attempting to transport individuals and audiences out of their mundane day-to-day, and into the realm of imagination and possibility. Out of the reality of a long commute, endless meetings and pressing deadlines to the utopia that tomorrow represents.
This is a noble and exciting challenge.
In fact, is there any job more fun than this? Let’s make your next corporate event the happiest place on earth. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more!
If you missed the first parts of this series, be sure to check those out: