Tuesday, May 1, 2007

5 Ways to Design an Experience

Recently I went on a trip to Memphis Tennessee, the largest city in the state of TN right on the muddy waters of the Mississippi river home of Elvis and The Peabody Hotel, a masterpiece of elegance combined with historical richness. At the time I was at the hotel there were 5 special guests staying there with a rooftop palace all to themselves. I didn’t have the pleasure of staying at The Peabody but I did get to visit the roof top palace of those 5 special guests, oh did I forget to mention those 5 special guests were Ducks?

Not just any ducks mind you they are The Peabody Ducks. These ducks draw a crowd of amazed and delighted guests twice a day in a time-honored tradition dating back to the 1930s. What makes these Ducks special is that they march to the tune of John Philip Sousa's “King Cotton March” from the elevators to a fountain in the grand lobby down a red carpet which was rolled out by the duckmaster himself who also provided a small set of steps for the ducks to waddle up and jump in the fountain for a swim. The scene that was created for the crowd of spectators was akin to a paparazzi event with velvet ropes to keep the crowd at bay, that is the crowd that was by the elevators, not to mention the in the lobby itself surrounding the fountain and even the crowd looking down from above, in the balcony.

These feathered friends as well as the experience itself all played a part in making the brand come alive as the duckmaster performed what was essentially a show both visually and verbally he explained that in1932 the Peabody general manager, a passionate sportsman returned empty-handed from a weekend hunting trip. The general manager and a hunting buddy had a bit too much Tennessee sippin' whiskey, and decided to play a prank and put their duck decoys in the fountain of the hotel's Grand Lobby. The reaction from the guests and the owner was one of delight and from that this ritual was born.

It is the duckmasters responsibility to train and care for the ducks. Each duck team lives in the hotel for only three months before being retired from their Peabody duties and returned to a farm to live out the remainder of their days as wild ducks. How’s that for a likeable brand, animal lovers feel good about the kind heartedness of the hotel and if management treats their ducks with such respect and care imagine how it treats human guest and employees. That’s the kind of brand extension that pays big dividends. By designing an experience around this tradition the hotels brand accomplishes a few key things that make it stand out among a sea of other ordinary hotels.

Here are 5 ways design can be used to create an experience?

1. Create Rituals

The Peabody has created a unique ritual of the marching ducks that it shares with its guests. By surrounding that ritual with the drama of theater and props like the red carpet, the fountain, velvet ropes and the small set of duck steps it becomes larger than life and draws more importance. There’s a lesson here that all brands can learn from, don’t take things for granted, there are rituals surrounding your brand right now, which ones can you turn into a theater to create an experience for your customers?

2. Storytelling

Your story should be authentic much like the Peabody story that was born out of a silly prank but it’s true and intuitively we collectively tap into that truth. In a world of cluttered advertising messages people are starved for authenticity.

3. Merchandising

By tying in the Ducks with the brand image the next logical step is to monazite that experience and extend it into other channels like memorabilia. Several duck related items lined the shelves of the Peabody gift shop. From a brand experience perspective once the crowd was satisfied with a good story why should their experience end? Merchandising offers an opportunity for everyone to take home a bit of that experience so they can remember it and tell the story to others with a prop of their own.

4. Word of Mouth

People love to hear and tell stories, they create emotional reactions which help spread the story. A customer is not going to tell his or her friends and family about a product without a story wrapped around it. But to have that word of mouth really take off it has to be good. What can you frame around your brand story so that people will spread it with word of mouth marketing?

5. Experience

All communication like a good joke comes back to how you tell it. Although born out of haphazardness the Peabody story was indeed designed for an experience. Every element from the props to the cast of characters was designed around an experience to delight and create emotion.

To learn more about Experience Design read The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage

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