It’s All In The Details: Some Thoughts For Executives In The Entertainment Industry

Brenda Boudreaux

In the first blog of this series, I discussed the entertainment industry’s mandate to hold their customers’ attention. In my second blog, I talked about the importance of creating experiences that extend beyond the entertainment venue. In particular, I mentioned Walt Disney’s genius for extending familiar stories into films and then into theme park experiences. However, perfecting the idea of an extended experience is an ongoing process, not just for Disney, but for everyone in the entertainment industry. Now I’ll reveal the secret for creating a very personal and memorable experience: “specificity.”

For example, when Disneyland opened in 1955, the thematic areas of their park were given rather generic names (Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland). They did have some dark rides that were tied to specific films, like Snow White’s Adventure and Peter Pan’s Flight, but most of the attractions were also generic in nature, like Autotopia, Storybook Land Canal Boats, and Frontierland Shootin’ Exposition. Ultimately, Disney added some specificity to some of its nonspecific attractions, like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Jungle Cruise, when they went the other direction and became films.

Needless to say, Disney has learned a lot about creating experiences in the last 65 years. The original theory was that generic concepts would appeal to a wider audience, but that turns out not to be the case. In practice, people are drawn to richly detailed experiences because it gives them more potential ways to relate. For example, look at the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which opened recently at Disneyland in California and is opening soon at Walt Disney World in Florida. Disney has learned that the more detailed and immersive an experience, the more personal it will be for patrons and the more likely it is to attract repeat business.

Of course, other parks have learned this lesson, too. For example, Bricksburg at Legoland in Florida; Angry Birds Land at Särkänniemi in Tampere, Finland and Thorpe Park in Surrey, England; Sesame Place at SeaWorld in Florida; and of course, The Wizardly World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Florida and California. Theme park executives know if they can leverage intellectual property that customers have been exposed to outside the park, it will create a more meaningful experience inside the park because customers will be immersed in a very specific and familiar world.

Casino resorts also offer these rich, immersive adventures. Las Vegas has experiences that range from the ultra-kitsch to the truly opulent. You’ll find Paris, Venice, New York, and ancient Greece within five miles of each other, and casinos use intellectual property to draw players to slot machines. Today, the slots are more interactive than ever and often have dynamic slot symbols moving about the screens. But the biggest experiential distinction among slot machines is branding. Would you rather play Game of Thrones, Kiss, Pac-Man, Wizard of Oz, or the all-time favorite Wheel of Fortune machine? One machine, TMZ, immerses patrons in a personalized experience by taking their picture and using it as a slot symbol.

Just like cinemas and entertainment parks, casino resorts need to hold a patron’s attention, but casinos hold their attention with fantasy. People come to resorts with the dream of not only beating the odds but living like the truly wealthy in luxurious rooms surrounded by sumptuous pools, fountains, and gardens. They’re thrilled by close encounters with beautiful showgirls or their favorite musical performer, and they delight when magicians or acrobats are able to do the seemingly impossible.

Cirque du Soleil is an excellent example of this. It has more than 25 visually mesmerizing shows running around the globe. Seven of them are running in Las Vegas alone and two leverage familiar intellectual property (The Beatles Love and Michael Jackson One). And all the shows are created with extraordinary detail and specificity that delivers a personal, memorable experience. In fact, ever on the cutting edge, Cirque du Soleil has encouraged the use of cellphones and a cloud-based app during its performances of Toruk to improve audience participation.

Cirque du Soleil mixes cellphones with audience participation to encourage attendees to focus and engage with the show at the same time

The future of technology-infused entertainment is limited only by the imagination.

Currently, Cirque du Soleil has more than 4,000 employees, but it wasn’t always that way. It began in 1984 with only 20 performers, a leaky tent, and considerable debt. The success of Cirque du Soleil is not due only to its attention to detail on stage but its exhaustive, detailed efforts behind the scenes, as well. For a great look at how that happens, check out its truly amazing, behind-the-scenes videos about its production of Ka.

In fact, it’s quite ironic that Las Vegas and other bastions of entertainment have a reputation for a reckless “anything goes” reputation. The reality is that these places are subject to extraordinary regulation and must be able to assure the health and safety of their guests and employees. Only an intelligent enterprise that has complete control of its licensing and regulations, as well as an adequate, certifiably qualified workforce, and the ability to procure the best possible health and safety equipment, can be certain of that.

Further, if casino resorts want to provide their customers with unique experiences, they obviously need the ability to treat each customer uniquely. People come to these resorts for many different reasons. It might be to gamble, but it could be for a convention, a reunion, a wedding, or just for the shows. Patrons might be regular high-rollers, casual visitors, or travelers looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they should all be treated distinctively. While this probably means gathering significant data about these customers, it’s also critical to assure them that their information will be safely guarded, as casinos take confidentially and customer data security very seriously.

Experiences don’t just happen, they’re created. It’s called “experience management” (XM), and there is no industry that requires zealous experience management more than the entertainment industry. Whether you’re a cinema, museum, concert venue, casino, amusement park, Renaissance fair, or circus, if you want to (figuratively) go from a leaky tent and handful of performers to a billion-dollar business, you need more than a C-suite; you need an X-suite – a group of executives who are focused on the experience of their customers.

Can I honestly say that every startup entertainment enterprise will become wildly successful strictly by focusing on experience management? No. But I can assure you that all highly successful entertainment enterprises are putting considerable focus on their experience management or they’re on the path to obsolescence.

For an in-depth look at how the x-suite is changing the way companies do business, read “Meet the ‘X-Suite’ – the job roles shaping Experience Management” by Qualtrics, an SAP company.

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.