After many have praised the role of marketing visitor centers as an essential tool following the development of digital marketing implements, Covid has come and reminded us how much we have missed the physical environment, the social experiences that create a togetherness feeling and the thrills created within dedicated content centers. Now, more than ever, visitors are looking for a place with a good story. A story wrapped with a set of experiences and conveys the center’s messages in the most effective way. Yaron Meiri, CEO of the Orpan Group, which has established dozens of visitor centers, museums and tourist attractions around the world, tells the brilliant story of the storytelling in the visitor centers.
The traveling “Happiness Camp” we set up in Istanbul
Mobility, stationaries and happiness
Let’s start with a story that did not happen to any of us: you cliked into your favorite video player, let’s say YouTube, and you really wanted to see the trailer for the new movie “Fast and Furious” (relevant for every year). You clicked and instead of the exploding cars you got the same advertisement for a 4X4 car that crosses the Rocky / Pyrenees and is photographed from every possible angle. The first action your brain performs is a natural defense against unwanted content that is inevitably inserted into you. You think of other beautiful things just to get through the situation until the time comes when you can click “Skip”. But suddenly the following advertisement appears in which some celebrity figure is smiling on the beach and you only understand from the context that this is a perfume advertisement. But then the tedious 15 seconds end and you watch the trailer and forget about all the annoyances you saw. And this is exactly where the story ends and the anecdote begins: Digital and radio commercials are something that passes from memory. They do not have the stability, reliability and seriousness that branded companies that have visitor centers have. A brand that holds a visitor center as if to say, “I’m not running anywhere. Come and try me.”
The locality and the brand interact with each other: there are times when the location of the company promotes its image. For example, a technology company, no matter how small, that operates from Palo Alto, will receive an automatic plus for its luxury because of its Silicon Valley location. In the opposite case, there are such successful visitor centers that they become tourist anchor points while promoting the tourism in the location. as for example the amazing Heineken Visitor Center in Amsterdam. Right now, at a time when the world is going in and out of lockdowns and quarantines, people are realizing the importance of experience centers that are out of home and come in groups to intensify the sense of togetherness that was so lacking.
The effect of brand credibility in a visitor center does not change even if it is mobile. At the mobile visitor center we performed in Orpan for Coca-Cola Worldwide we traveled for two years between different places in the concept of the “Happiness Camp”. The establishment of the camp continued to shape the consciousness of the visitors as a strong and loyal brand.
A good story comes in a package
So what are tourists looking for in visitor centers? In one word – an experience! Experience is a whole set of elements that leave visitors with a saturated sense of curiosity and valuable challenging cognitive activity. This experiential package can and should involve all the senses: Take for example the experience complex of the famous Hershey’s chocolate brand in Pennsylvania. The complex includes the museum that tells the historical story of the factory, an amazing ride that involves visitors in the chocolate production processes, the Hershey’s Garden and the highlight: a “create your own candy bar” experience! And of course, the cream of the crop – the fabulous amusement park. In this way, the brand connects cognitively to the concept of pleasure. By the way, the brand does not always have to show off its pure successes and sometimes even self-humor is a bonus with a surprising twist. At the Ben & Jerry’s Visitor Center, for example, you’ll find a cemetery for flavors that didn’t really capture the crowd.
If we focus on our topic, the main way the experience package is conveyed is through a story where the visitors feel like they are going through a journey with starting, middle and end points. The message of the visit should be simple, understandable and refined and all the experiential elements should be aimed at serving it. Sometimes, the message goes beyond the product limits and includes additional positive values. At the Coca-Cola Center I mentioned before, the activities of the Coca-Cola Happiness Camp included various interactive activities on the subject of recycling and an active lifestyle.
We so missed to feel the togetherness. Pre-covid situation
From “Visitor” to “Member”
One of the significant benefits that branded companies that hold visitor centers have is the ability to take an audience that defines itself as a “visitor” and change its status to a “community member.” A consumer who feels that he identifies with the story of the brand, and is satisfied with the quality that the product provides, probably would be interested in feeling a part of the brand’s family. Creating a community of brand consumers may make them “ambassadors” of the brand and create additional circles of identification. Today, there is a trend in museums that includes dedicating a part of the museum complex for a “social space” that combines extra-museal activities. This trend also flows to the visitor centers where special events can be created around the brand that gives a sense of up-to-date and relevant activity on behalf of the company. The community activities can be variable and changing: launching a new flavor that has come out, or a conceptual campaign around the event and having lectures by professionals around the positive values that the company seeks to spread. The main point is to turn the complex into an elastic space that allows the visitor to make a positive intervention around the brand.
Product, Brand and the memory of both
To sum up, in the world of marketing the goal of a visitor center will be to mix a successful synthesis between the product and the image that the company wants to produce – the brand. The right combination between the product and the brand will be done through careful meticulous combining with different emotional and cognitive experiences and increasing the active involvement of the visitors. In addition, shared social experiences at the center make the visitor experience more memorable. All of these should be wrapped up within the qualitive package, and the clearer the message is – the more it will catch. In the end, we should remember the simple fact that what people are looking for sometimes, is just a good story from someone who knows how to tell it.