Some words that we use frequently and automatically are taken for granted. Recreation is one of those words. I don’t mean the concept I mean the actual word. We think of recreation is an activity, but delve into the language and what emerges is the idea of re-creation. Recreation is activity worthy of remembering, or re-creating in our minds. So, what makes an experience shareable?
The aim of any interaction with a Brand should be recreational. The experience should leave a a positive residue that is worthy of memory, and sharing. We want the audience to re-create the good points out loud… one-on-one or with social media. Naturally when we enjoy something we want to share the experience. Things seem more real, more tangible, when we can see and feel the reaction of others. Enjoyment validated is enjoyment experienced.
We share positive and negative experiences because we are social beings, meant to live in groups and watch each other’s backs. If we could travel in time back to pre-history, I would bet that our ancestors would engage in stories about happening upon a field of berry bushes (positive), or the time they startled a mama-bear (negative). These stories inevitably become exaggerated and embellished as they are retold. The net result is that they teach others what to seek and what to avoid.
Research by the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman speaks to the idea that we commit experiences to memory in specific ways. Kahneman’s discovery of our “experiencing selves versus remembering selves” tells us that an overall positive experience can be “ruined” in our memory because of one profoundly negative element. When we are in the moment we are engaged in consuming what is happening with our senses and responding. What Brands and experiences must connect with is the remembering self, that storytelling part of our memory that we can access and share. In Kahneman’s words, “what we get to keep from our experiences is a story.”
The challenge with Brands and experiences is not only to mitigate the negatives, but to prime the story and make it’s retelling more likely, and more salient. Much has been written about “storytelling” and it’s role in brand and marketing, but I want to add a different slant. We want our Brand to be a mentor, the customer to be a hero, and a transforming journey, but what storytelling “seeds” are we planting in the customer’s head for them to share. How can the experience provide a memorable landscape, populated with signature events and landmarks that can be re-created and re-told?
These experiential landmarks are key to creating memorable, and therefore sharable experiences. And to be really sticky in the memory, they need to be personal. The trap of many experience designs is that they reach for the “big bang”. They offer an initial value in the ability to be the new cool thing. The first folks who visited a Rainforest Cafe had a story to tell, but it was about the newness of the experience and getting credit for seeing it before others. After that the experience stories became about the food or the prices and a downward spiral ensued. There was no more storytelling fuel as the experience wasn’t personal, it was “mass”. The signature event didn’t refresh or connect one-on-one with individuals. It was one gigantic landmark; an event.
Effective landmark experiences add up to a story versus explode all at once. And they provide a memorable context for personal experiences to happen. They can be architectural spaces, exciting merchandising and displays, scents and sounds, but the common denominator is that they must be unique to the brand, and play a supporting role to a personalized interaction.
An effective way to to think about a sharable experience design is to test the story-worthless via scripting the story you want told. Work the story back to the design and keep refining. What contexts need to be created and what personal interactions need to be orchestrated? The goal is to get to that pre-historic moment where the delights and amazement of finding the berries crowd out the unfortunate encounters with bears.