Making an Ordinary Night at the Theatre (or Ball Park) Extraordinary

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A few years back, Seth Godin wrote a book called Purple Cow about creating a business that stood out. 

Looking back over the last several months of the readership of my blogs and newsletters, I’ve also noticed something that ties into this about my readership, which is that many of you are also searching for ways to stand out so that you can capture more of the market you operate in. 

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about “The Differentiation Gap.” Which is a simple idea that really means that you need to work a lot harder to make sure you are unique in your market. Because if you aren’t, you are a commodity and that leads to a race to the bottom or worse. 

The most popular thing I’ve written this year was about the things holding back performing arts organizations, followed closely by a lot of things about how you can sell more tickets. 

And, what I wanted to cover with you this morning is a few ideas on how people in the entertainment business can turn their organizations into things that are standouts, purple cows even. 

Because the closing the differentiation gap for your business can be the difference between success and failure for your organization. 

So here are a few ideas on being outstanding: 

Make your event an experience: 

I’m jealous this week because I am in Washington, DC and I see the pictures of all the people in Seattle, lining up to get into the Pearl Jam merchandise tent, hanging out in front of the Junior statue decked out in a Pearl Jam t-shirt, and I catch the videos of people at the shows. 

Why do I mention Pearl Jam in this way, because they have created a carnival atmosphere around their two Seattle concerts, dubbed “The Home Shows.” 

On top of what is going on in Seattle this week, I had a chance to send my family to the Red Sox game in Boston about two weeks ago and they were animated and excited about the carnival-like atmosphere around Fenway. 

When I went to the University of Alabama, the whole week of a game felt like a big festival of football with people camping out in the parking lots outside of my dorm, my classroom, and all over campus starting around Wednesday for a Saturday game. 

All of these things have a common theme in that the game is larger than a game, the whole event is an experience. 

While I highlighted the great ones here, I’ve also been to many games, concerts, and shows where they attempt to squeeze you into the venue as quickly as possible and there isn’t anything going on around the venue to make you feel like you are doing anything exciting. 

In the great book, The Power of Moments, the authors write about the need for people to have peak experiences, and too often we find ourselves taking people through the motions. 

When The Lion King was still at the New Amsterdam in New York, you got an experience. Sure, part of it was driven by the fact that the New Amsterdam is right on 42nd Street and in the middle of Times Square, but it is more than that because the entire experience was a peak...and I say that as someone that was a hardened New Yorker that had an office in Times Square. 

The first key to turning your event from an ordinary thing or just something to do into something extraordinary begins by making it an experience. 

And, the first step in that has to do with mindset. 

If you are going through the motions, people can tell. 

Which leads me to my next point. 

Hire for humanity: 

I remember when I first was hired at the Seattle Theatre Group back in 1999. I don’t remember the guy’s name that hired me, but he said he gave me the job because I had a “friendly face.” 

And, one thing I have never lost in all the years I have been involved in events and experiences is the awe of how unique each game, show, or performance is. 

In the same vein as creating an experience, we need to recognize and hire for the mindset that the people that are engaging with people are there to put on a show, not in an over-the-top way, but in the way that the person assisting the guest wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but right there making certain that someone has a great experience. 

I remember going to see the Smashing Pumpkins in Baltimore and I walked up to the box office to buy a ticket the day of the show. 

If I had known I was going to write about this, I wish I would have gotten the lady’s name because she really was very excited to be able to help me. 

It could be that I’m a little over-the-top, but it didn’t matter…she got as much of a kick out of helping me get the best seat possible as I did buying it and going. 

It is that kind of attitude that will elevate an experience from run-of-the-mill to extraordinary. 

Those little moments of humanity are so important today that we should not only be thinking about them, we should be managing, hiring, and creating them so that delight and humanity are just second nature. 

Because all too often, even when we think it is…it isn’t. Because if it was, we wouldn’t be so shocked when it happens. 

Never stop pushing the envelope: 

I’ve had an ongoing back and forth for a while with someone at the Sydney Opera House, which to me was incredible. (I REALLY WAS CHATTING WITH SOMEONE FROM THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE.) 

And, what we discussed was the customer experience and how challenging it was to keep things fresh. 

Because as soon as you do something for a customer once, they almost immediately take that for granted as an expected part of the experience. 

Which can create real challenges because if you are always having to one-up yourself, where does it stop? 

I don’t think or know if it ever stops. 

But I think the fact that it doesn’t gives you a great opportunity to always be creative with what you are offering. 

Take the Sydney Opera House, for example, they have props, costumes, and other artifacts from throughout their history. And, they use them to enhance the experience. 

Can you do the same thing or have some sort of rotating artifacts or collections that will give people something new to see or do each time they visit? 

What about switching up your food and beverage options?

I’ve been following several of the MiLB teams as they seem to try and one-up each other with the crazy things they can do with cotton candy, hot dogs, or stuff you might never see in a ballpark. 

That’s awesome! 

Because for a night at the ballpark, maybe it is fun to try something you never can get anywhere else. 

Or, maybe you can partner with a local brewery to create a special beer.

A local restaurant for a specialty cocktail or snack that is only served in your bar or dining area. 

Who knows and you don’t really have to, you just have to keep pushing. 

You can do like Pearl Jam does and create new merchandise for every show. 

The options are limitless. 

The challenge is doing the emotional labor of actually taking the chance to continually push the envelope to expand what your experience means to people. 

When you combine these three ideas, I think you can come up with some really great ways that will totally rock your experience. The great thing is that they all should pay for themselves as well. 

What do you say about this? Let me know in the comments below. 

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