The Experience Business: Some Thoughts For Executives In The Entertainment Industry

Brenda Boudreaux

In my last blog, I mentioned that the essence of entertainment is the ability to hold someone’s attention. I also discussed how the flickering light of the cinema is like a primitive campfire – a natural gathering place for sharing stories. But what happens to the stories when an audience disperses? Do the stories evaporate with the audience, or do they spread and grow?

If the audience feels passionate about their experience, they will carry the story with them and relate it to others. Then, as the experience is shared across a community, the story will become as real as any genuine recollection. For example, nearly everyone can recall the story of The Ugly Duckling, but how many can recall their sixth birthday? Shared mythical experiences can be more impactful and more substantial than actual events in our humdrum lives.

Batman is another good example. Some might claim that Batman isn’t real, and yet it would be hard to argue that he doesn’t exist. There’s a communal understanding of who he is, what he looks like, his backstory, his weaknesses, his code of ethics, and more. Myths like Batman or Robin Hood or Helen of Troy are not only familiar to us but make us who we are. We recount and share these stories with others, and they become part of our shared experience.

Walt Disney understood the value of myths and classic stories as well as anyone, and he frequently leveraged those stories for his films (such as Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, and so on). Then in the early 1950s, he looked for ways to extend that experience beyond the cinema. He understood that once patrons engage with a story, they have a personal relationship with it. They own it. The plots, characters, and themes become part of their memories. Disney believed he could enrich that ownership through merchandise, television, and entertainment venues. He wasn’t in the movie business, he was in the experience business.

These are key points for any entertainment executive who wants to innovate. It’s critical to remember that you’re not selling tickets, or seats, or concessions. You’re creating experiences, and for the customer, that experience begins long before they enter your venue. It begins when they hear about the experiences of others, and today, that news travels fast. Testimonials can last indefinitely on review sites, and reputations are much easier to secure than they are to repair.

One large amusement park in the northeast (which I’ll refrain from naming) recently had such a poor opening day that it made the local news. Despite increasing wages, they were unable to hire enough employees, and much of the park remained closed. Sure enough, the next day someone posted picture after picture on a travel site of attractions with “Sorry, Closed” signs.

Did you know that Walt Disney never said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”?  It’s not surprising really, because any entertainment executive will tell you that the constraints of time, space, money, safety, and government regulations are real. Entertainment venue patrons consistently evaluate their experience on price/value. This leaves executives with two options: they can either cut corners and save their way to obsolescence, or they can use their imagination and innovate to create a better customer experience.

Take, for example, the negative reviews on that travel site. A well-organized social media campaign can counteract and supersede negative press. Sympathetic responses to the comments on the site are a good start, as are offering discounts, package deals, or merchandise coupons. Loyalty programs and annual passes are helpful too, but none of that will compensate for a bad customer experience and closed attractions. It’s circular; a great customer experience leads to more attendance and revenue, which leads to better operational effectiveness and the ability to invest in a greater customer experience, but it’s necessary to have complete command of all aspects of the business.

Successful entertainment venue innovation requires three things: pervasive customer engagement, superior demand management, and effective operations management. Core to this innovation is an integrated customer loyalty plan that engages (and monetizes) a personalized experience, but equally important is the need to scale operations and balance capacity with safety and customer demand.

Is all that possible? Yes, it is, but only intelligent enterprises will achieve this. All parts of the business must be digitally connected, so you can coordinate customer service, finance, human resources, concessions, IT, security, compliance, procurement, data management, analytics, Internet of Things technology, and much more.

Of course, visitors don’t care how you do that; they just want an intuitive, hassle-free experience with minimal time waiting in line. It’s all about being able to anticipate and react in real time. How many people do you need directing traffic in the parking lot and when will you need them? What is your plan for severe weather or other emergencies that could shut your venue down on short notice? Can you anticipate attraction maintenance requirements, or would it be more economical to employ IoT technology and analytics to let you know when maintenance is necessary? How will construction projects affect operations? Are you up to date with your licenses and permits? Do you have repair parts on hand, and do you have the talent to make repairs? Are you procuring parts from the best possible source, or are you simply using the source you’ve always used? Are you prepared for marketing anomalies such as special events, large groups, or a widespread coupon push? And most importantly, if you do become an intelligent enterprise that can anticipate all that, will you be able to efficiently grow your operation and continue to delight your customers in unexpected ways?

With the implementation of great software and technology, all of that is possible. In fact, it’s possible to bring that information and more into a digital boardroom that gives you access to all parts of the enterprise in real time. And when I say “real time” I mean “real-real” time and not end-of-the-day or end-of-the-week real time. I mean that you can have access to all that information NOW so that you can always make an informed decision.

You’re in the experience business, but that experience doesn’t begin and end at your venue’s gate. It begins when your customers are first persuaded to visit, and if you give them the extraordinary experience they desire, they will keep that memory forever and keep coming back. In my next blog, I will divulge the secret to creating personal and memorable experiences.

Learn how entertainment venues can adapt to disruptive change and evolve into a real-time, live business by looking at this brochure.

Brenda Boudreaux

About Brenda Boudreaux

Brenda Boudreaux is the Industry Executive Advisor for Experience Management Engineering of Sports and Entertainment Industries at SAP America. Her primary focus is in Entertainment, leading the development of the segment and providing strategic direction as well as evolving and driving the global digital transformation for the SAP solution portfolio for gaming and all entertainment sub-industries. Brenda has an extensive and diverse background in the gaming industry having held roles in sales and business development, product management, casino operations, regulatory, and finance. During her long career she’s worked for companies such as International Game Technology (IGT), Caesars Entertainment, Stations Casinos, and the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.