For a long time, products and services themselves were sufficient. But today, the rise of competition has fundamentally altered the marketplace. As innumerable products and services vie for our attention and our custom, novel experiences have emerged as one of the primary ways for brands to differentiate themselves.
Waiting for your car to be repaired? Step into our wifi-equipped waiting room where an attendant is baking fresh cookies. Picking up some milk and a dozen eggs? Wander through the aisles as we tempt you with kiosks offering samples of our latest products. Getting your teeth fixed? We’ll give you a back rub and let you catch up on your favorite Netflix shows. These additional experiences have a profound cognitive impact, and can quickly become a topic of conversation, generating highly prized word-of-mouth recommendations.
But experiences can be much more than simple add-ons; some businesses build their brands on physical and emotional experiences. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is known for offering the most comprehensive vacation experiences, with no detail left unattended. Build-A-Bear created a brand out of the experience of crafting stuffed animals. iPic has transformed movie theaters into lounges with full-service bars and upscale food, turning a night of popcorn and soda into an evening event. The video game industry is being transformed as a new generation of virtual reality experiences become available from companies like Oculus Rift. If your brand can be part of a sensual or emotional experience, you may be able to create a significant point of differentiation in the mind of your customers.
Years of event planning experience made Stephanie an expert in getting people where they need to go and creating exceptional experiences for them once they arrive. But when she decided to create her own business, she wanted to do something a little bit different. She decided to combine her event planning expertise with the function of a travel company to create “Stephanie's Staycations.”
Getting to a destination can take a day. Add another day to travel home, and you've used up two vacation days before you even begin enjoying yourself. With the hectic pace of modern life, some people can only take a couple of days off before they have to get back to work. For these folks, Stephanie provided a wide range of comprehensive vacation-type experiences that transformed local venues into extraordinary weekends.
“The Good Old College Daze”
For those who reminisce fondly about frat houses and football games, Stephanie created weekend packages to recreate days of youth gone by. On home-game weekends she rented an entire local bed and breakfast and festooned it with pennants and tacky party decorations. Beer and wine were liberally provided (upscale versions of the swill we used to drink in college — some things are better left in the past) and raucous music played until the wee hours. In the morning, breakfast was provided and then everyone was herded onto chauffeured buses and transported to a specially designated tailgate party set up in the stadium parking lot. Tickets to the game were included as part of the package. When the game was over, guests were returned to the bed and breakfast to sleep off the effects of the long party.
“I’m Going To Run Away and Join the Circus!”
We’ve all felt the need to flee; to run away from our problems and start a new life. Stephanie decided to create an experience for staycationers who want to escape into a completely new identity — at least for a few hours.
After arriving at a hotel ballroom reserved for the event, guests were paired with clowns who taught them how to paint their faces and provided them with costumes and props — everything from squirting flowers to glitter guns. The entire troupe was then driven by “clown car” to a nearby hospital where they visited children staying in the pediatric wing. Afterwards, guests were returned to the hotel where they changed back into street clothes. That evening, a four-course dinner was served in the round while acrobats performed feats of flexibility and strength. Guests were able to watch the performance up close and learn how these remarkable athletes train and master their skills. After a good night’s sleep, guests were provided the opportunity to train with trapeze artists at a nearby gym.
“Science Camp for Adults”
Stephanie partnered with a nearby university to create a series of tours of various labs engaged in all sorts of cutting-edge research. First, guests were shown the latest advances in robotics and nanotechnology and given a brief lecture on how these programs might change everything from medicine to manufacturing. As part of this exhibit, guests were allowed to “talk” to one of the prototypes to understand how scientists are learning to program the nuances of human speech.
Lunch was served in the chemistry department. A local chef — a specialist in molecular gastronomy — was brought in to show off his skills and explain how each course was the product of both chemistry and artistry, and how the senses of taste and smell could work together to create a profound sensory experience derived from elements found in nature.
An afternoon in the physics department explored the dimensions of time and space that most of us fail to understand. Some cutting-edge experiments in quantum mechanics were described by university professors and their ramifications explained by scientists working in the university’s quantum computing department. Guests then went to the planetarium to watch a program on astrophysics. By this time, evening had arrived and the entire party moved outside to enjoy wine and fine food on picnic blankets spread out around the quad. University musicians serenaded the group while dinner was served.
The university benefited from the increased exposure, and attendees were encouraged to donate if they felt so inclined.