By Pamela Kleibrink Thompson
Entertainment Centers (EC) may sell birthday packages, food and beverage, and tickets for rides, but their business is really creating memories. EC operators, regardless of industry segment, offer an experience that people remember.
In a presentation about the memories business mindset at the inaugural F2FEC conference held in February in Phoenix, Dr. Lori Sipe pointed out that in the amusement business, a memorable experience goes beyond good, or even great, service. Sipe is a founding member of San Diego State University’s hospitality and tourism management program, and before teaching in that arena, she was an executive for Sea World. Her expertise and research focuses on innovation and strategic leadership in organizations whose main economic offering is an experience, such as entertainment centers.
Sipe explained how operators can embrace the memories business mindset. The organization must deliver experiential offerings that engage customers in a memorable way. Customer interaction with employees, the environment and experiential activities co-create the experience. Employees are an integral part of the economic offering, and experiences must be designed to be memorable and shared. At the F2FEC conference, the offerings were designed to be memorable as attendees shared their experiences in the industry.
Entertainment centers are not just offering a chance for families or friends to get together. They provide experience.
The experience “is co-constructed by the guest, interactions with employees, and the environment. The power of providing unique experiences resides in the organization’s ability to create a strong emotional bond with customers, resulting in a greater likelihood of customer loyalty and premium prices,” Sipe said.
“The most memorable experiences are multi-sensory. We tend to remember experiences that engage all five senses in an emotional way,” Sipe said. Sensory triggers could include the odor of popcorn (smell), nostalgic music (sound), lights (sight), or temperature (feel). Some emotional connections are thrill, joy, or nostalgia. “People also tend to remember social interactions, the moments when they engage in some way with other people. Things out of the ordinary – surprises – as well as variances to our expectations, are memorable.” How can you make an experience unique? Through social interaction of your employees. That face to face interaction is what makes your entertainment center memorable.
“People have positive memories when they are rewarded, as long as the reward results from their own actions,” Sipe said. They must play a role in the interaction.
Businesses that offer experiences can charge more for their offerings because the consumer perceives a greater value on experiences. Businesses that sell commodities, goods or services cannot make the same profit as those offering experiences. Sipe pointed out that coffee could be a commodity (the beans sold), or put into a can (like Folgers), or sold at a restaurant (services). But Starbucks has transformed coffee into an experience, and the consumer is willing to pay a higher price for that experience.
When an emotional value is attached to a purchase, a premium price can also be attached. These are experiences not easily replicated that are unique and memorable. Distinction and differentiation lead to a competitive advantage. “Differentiated value is central to the experiential offering,” Sipe said.
“The value propositions for services and experiences are different,” Sipe continued. “The value proposition is functional for services, and emotional for organizations who offer an experience. Transitioning to a memories business begins with diving deeply into the organization’s economic offering.” Entertainment centers offer tangible and intangible products, services and experiential offerings. A growth strategy for owners “may reside in continuous innovation of the experience.”
Sipe said that when delivering services, the goal is consistency and the value is functional. However when delivering experiences, the goal is differentiation and the value is emotional. Sipe explained that the experience is co-created between employees and the guest which makes each experience unique. Over time spent in interactions, guests will attach an emotional value to their experience. An experience is produced and consumed simultaneously as an interaction of the guest with the activities, the environment and employees. “You’re in the memories business mindset if you embrace complexity,” said Sipe. “Understanding the unique guest experience, as well as the hot spots and touch points, becomes critical.”
What then is the role of the employees? Rethink the roles of employees in a collective experience. Adopting the experience mindset, rethinking boundaries and blurring the lines can create innovation. “Continuously refreshing the experiential offerings is an opportunity to engage the diverse passions, curiosities, and talents of people,” Sipe said. Employees help to co-create the experience so it is imperative that they understand who you are, your values, your mission, your goals.
Sipe explained how to develop the experience or memory mindset in five steps or stages:
Intrigue (Think about it);
Initiate (Try something, perhaps a meeting);
Invest (Use time and talent to adopt);
(The mindset is across all aspects of your business);
(You no longer have to think about it, the memories business mindset is part of your company’s culture).
With a memories business mindset, EC owners will be more open to innovation and creating unique, memorable experiences for their guests who will want to repeat their experience and bring their friends. That increases your sales and profits.