The importance of building a story brand and including narrative into marketing campaigns has been discussed for decades. The idea has made a resurgence recently and is more important than ever to stand out in a world that is full of ever increasing noise. I recently had the opportunity to interview Scott Swenson about his new book, “Follow The Story”. The book is a step-by-step guide on how to build story into every part of your attraction. Scott has been creating story driven attractions for over 30 years and was part of the team that created the Howl-O-Scream Halloween event at Busch Gardens Tampa. He discusses how to weave the story through every part of your experience, from marketing to merchandise. Although the conversation centered around themed attractions and haunted houses, the story brand framework can be applied to other industries as well.
“Follow The Story” is a great companion piece to “Building A StoryBrand” by Donald Miller. Donald helped bring back the concept of using narrative and the hero’s journey to the marketing zeitgeist. The book was first recommended to me by Cedar Fair’s CMO, Kelley Semmelroth, during a brainstorming session at Knott’s Berry Farm about expanding our Season Passholder base. Donald Miller’s content is highly actionable and helped clarify us clarify our messaging to both internal stakeholders and customers. I highly recommend the book for any marketer struggling with messaging, which is all of us at one point in time. Here’s the official description: “Donald Miller’s StoryBrand process is a proven solution to the struggle business leaders face when talking about their businesses. This revolutionary method for connecting with customers provides listeners with the ultimate competitive advantage, revealing the secret for helping their customers understand the compelling benefits of using their products, ideas, or services.”
The good and bad part about marketing, especially digital marketing, is every time I begin to feel comfortable with my knowledge of the latest marketing trends, the entire industry seems to change. Although that can be frustrating, it also keeps me energized and focused on continued education. Since I started my career 15 years ago, trends have come and gone, and even come back again. The past few years have seen the biggest changes as digital marketing spends have begun to eclipse traditional marketing.
There’s a delicate balance between wasting your time chasing the latest trends and ignoring the future altogether. I have seen great marketers needlessly pivot from one fad to another, abandoning their strategy, and driving their teams crazy in the process. I have also seen the opposite, companies and individuals, ignoring industry progress and keeping their heads in the sand until the world passes them by. My preferred approach is the one utilized by companies including Coca-Cola and Leo Burnett; continued experimentation through trial and error using 10% of my annual budget to test out new media partners, strategies, and technology.
Below are a few of the resources I utilize to keep up with the latest marketing trends.
Subscribing to marketing newsletters is my favorite way to quickly follow the latest marketing news. They provide a curated sample of industry headlines that you scan through in a matter of minutes. Unlike social media, you can read them in a distraction free environment and not worry about going down a rabbit-hole of Internet surfing.
Experiential marketing experiences are increasing in number and complexity. Some experimental marketing campaigns are nearly identical to paying attractions like pop-up museums, haunted houses, festivals, and carnival walkthroughs. How can the attractions industry and other types of companies use experiential activations to drive brand awareness, connect with consumers, and ultimately drive sales? Philip and I discussed the opportunities of this burgeoning medium in episode 29 of the “Marketing Your Attraction” podcast.
Experiential Marketing Podcast
Have you taken part in a great marketing activation or experiential experience that we didn’t discuss on the show? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. We are particularly interested in examples of theme parks, amusement parks, museums, and other types of attractions utilizing this type of marketing for discussion in a future episode.
“What about live streaming?” I said. Sean wasn’t sure what I meant. “Live stream the opening speeches during the event? We can easily do that.” he said. “No, live stream from the actual roller coaster train.” I replied. There was silence on the other end of the phone. A few weeks later, thanks to the help of over a dozen talented people, we were live streaming to multiple news broadcasts from the new HangTime roller coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm. Here’s how we did it:
During my four years at Knott’s Berry Farm, I have worked together with Sean Teegarden and his production team on dozens of photo and video shoots. From rides to water slides to food, we have captured the charm of Knott’s Berry Farm, but we had never live streamed from a coaster before. My main motivation for live streaming was to be more efficient during the hectic media events that would accompany the HangTime roller coaster opening. Our previous setups involved awkwardly swapping the SD cards out of the cameras (Usually GoPros) throughout the media events and sending over only the basic reverse point-of-view videos. That process was slow, clunky and often error-prone. We knew there had to be a better way.
The first challenge was mounting a camera on HangTime. Instead of opting for a small GoPro, Sean recommended using the much larger Panasonic GH5. The quality of the image from the GH5 is much better than the GoPro, especially in low-light night situations, and has removable lenses. The camera was the perfect choice to capture HangTime’s incredible LED lighting package. The next step for the live stream was figuring out how to mount the camera, batteries, microphone and wireless transmitter onto the coaster train.
I wrote this article about creating memorable moments for the June 2018 edition of Seasonal Entertainment Source (A free industry magazine for professionals in the seasonal attraction industry).
Create Memorable Moments – Elevate Moments At Your Attraction Into Memories
The most successful attractions in the industry are able to create memorable moments that frequently become lifetime memories for guests. What’s the special alchemy for turning memorable moments into lifetime memories? Prolific business writers Chip and Dan Heath explore this question in their latest book “The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact”. This article combines research with my real-world examples from the attractions industry.
One of the main methods the writers recommend for crafting these types of moments is called elevation. Elevation refers to experiences that rise above the routine to make you feel engaged, joyful, or motivated. Elevation is a natural component for attractions to lean into. Picture a heart monitor and imagine the jagged line on the monitor as your customer’s journey at your attraction throughout the day. So, how can you take your guests’ natural peaks and elevate the highlights of their day even higher? Attractions can raise elevation and create more memorable moments by boosting sensory appeal, raising the stakes, and breaking the script.Continue reading →
Theme Park Podcast For Attractions Industry Professionals
Philip Hernandez and I have teamed up to launch a new theme park podcast for professionals in the Attractions Industry, including owners, operators, marketers and more. Our goal is to make the “Marketing Your Attraction” theme park podcast essential listening for professionals from every part of the industry, including theme parks, haunted houses, escape rooms, family fun centers and more. Every episode starts with the news of the week before taking listeners on a deep dive into a different marketing topic and how it applies to the Attractions Industry. Philip and I have spent over a decade in the industry and bring a total of over 20 years of combined marketing experience to our conversations. Listen below or subscribe today using your favorite podcast player. I would really appreciate any and all feedback plus ideas for future show topics through Twitter or email.
Episode 7: The Impact of America’s Evolving Demographics
One of my favorite conversations from the podcast was from a recent episode about the evolving demographics of America. For the first time in human history, by 2035, people aged 65 and older will outnumber children under age 5 in the United States, according to U.S. Census projections. What does America’s evolving demographics mean for theme parks and the attraction industry? Philip and I discussed challenges and opportunities that these new demographic milestones will bring to the new industry. Will the young adults that make up the majority of guests at pop-ups, concerts, haunted houses and more continue to look for similar experiences when they are older? Will Museum of Ice Cream type pop-ups be created that appeal to adults that are 65 or older? I can easily imagine an “I Love Lucy” pop-up being incredibly successful in 2018 if executed correctly.
What’s it like working at Knott’s Berry Farm in Marketing? I was recently asked that question and more during an interview for the Berry Vine, Knott’s Berry Farm’s newsletter for associates. As the Digital Marketing Manager for the Knott’s Berry Farm Resort, I have the great opportunity to oversee a number of exciting new areas for the company. I am responsible for leading the creation and execution of the digital strategy for the entire Knott’s Berry Farm Resort including the Knott’s Berry Farm theme park, Knott’s Soak City Water Park and Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel. My responsibilities include overseeing digital content creation, digital PR, social media, website content creation, mobile app content, digital ad buys and digital analytics. Many of the areas that I work on didn’t even exist a few years ago. The everchanging landscape of digital marketing is both exciting and challenging at the same time.
Justice League: Battle for Metropolis Opening At Six Flags Magic Mountain
Six Flags Magic Mountain debuted the innovative new Justice League: Battle for Metropolis on July 11 with an event that would even impress Bruce Wayne. I first met Connie and Jerry from the Magic Mountain marketing team last summer at the Midsummer Scream Halloween Convention. They were incredibly gracious to extend an invitation to the grand opening to myself and the Knott’s Communications Team. I live and breath theme parks whether at work or at home on the weekends so being able to experience the latest cutting-edge dark ride was a dream come true.
In today’s post, I take a closer look at how the different parks in the Cedar Fair chain contribute to the company’s overall revenue and EBITDA. As both a fan and member of the amusement park/theme park industry, I am always searching for ways to learn more about the many incredible companies that operate parks all over the world. Although I enjoy putting on my “fan hat” from time-to-time to read speculation and theories about new rides, I find the most interesting insights come from looking at each business holistically. At the end of the day every park is a business, a fun business, but still a business that is best understood by analyzing it through such a lenses.
There are very few resources to turn to for coverage and data about the inner workings of the industry. The Global Attractions and Attendance Report compiled by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and AECOM is one of the best resources available. Unfortunately, even that report relies on unofficial guesstimates and is considered by many in the industry, including myself, to be directionally, but not completely accurate. The most accurate sources of information are the earnings calls, SEC filings and investor presentations that the major public companies in the amusement park industry release on a quarterly basis. Unfortunately, public companies only release tidbits of financial information that typically focus on the overall company and not specific parks or areas of the business. Large conglomerates such as Disney and Comcast provide less data as the theme park business only accounts for one part of their overall companies. On rare occasions, companies will provide more insightful and complete information about how their business operates at the park level.
Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure At Shanghai Disneyland
One of my favorite theme park industry events is the annual Themed Entertainment Association’s Summit (AKA TEA Summit). The TEA celebrates the themed entertainment industry’s greatest achievements from the past year by bestowing THEA awards to the most prestigious new projects and attractions from all over the world. The award recipients are invited to share the story of the development and construction of each project. This year, Shanghai Disneyland received numerous awards, including best attraction for the jaw-dropping new Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Sunken Treasure. The Disney Imagineering team that worked on the attraction shared behind-the-scenes information and fun facts about the project’s development and construction:
A gigantic traditional model of the ride was created to help pitch the attraction. The team credits the model with helping Disney executives visualize the concept and approve construction.
The decision to base the entire attraction about the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise was made because of the huge popularity of the movies in China.
The “big idea” of the pitch was the giant battle between the two boats that surrounds guests using mixed media.