Marketers have long known that stories capture consumers’ attention and they commonly weave storytelling into their marketing messages. But as consumer interactions become ever more digital – perhaps because of this — consumers are seeking out real-world interactions with brands and their stories. In response, a growing number of experience design agencies (mine among them) are creating “experiential brand homes” like the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin — physical destinations (think of them as theme parks for the brand) that engage customers and build loyalty.
Like theme parks, they frequently rank among the top tourist draws in cities around world, including in Amsterdam, Atlanta, Detroit, Dublin, London, Nashville and Wolfsburg. Since its refurbishment in 2008, for example, The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam has become one of the city’s top attractions. In fact, while the total tourism market in Amsterdam grew 19 percent from 2009 to 2014, the Heineken Experience grew 143 percent. In 2014, more than 740,000 visitors toured the historic brewery. This popularity has enabled Heineken to raise admission prices by more than 60 percent since 2009 and increase retail sales per capita by 100 percent from 2009 to 2014.
The Coca-Cola Company has seen similar success with its World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. It consistently performs at the top of its category on attendance, guest satisfaction, retail sales per square foot and per capita, and yield on admission. A majority of guests have a more favorable opinion of Coca-Cola after they visit the brand home and 94 percent say they would recommend the experience to a friend.
Likewise, the Guinness Storehouse has been a big success for Diageo, and was recently named by World Travel Awards judges as the best tourist attraction in all of Europe, beating out the Eiffel Tower, the Roman Colosseum and Buckingham Palace. Since a major update in 2011, Guinness Storehouse attendance has increased 35 percent, retail sales per capita have gone up 26 percent, food and beverage spend has increased 47 percent, and overall net profit has increased 240 percent. Most importantly, more than 80 percent of visitors express a greater closeness to the Guinness brand after they visit.
There are three reasons brand homes often deliver such strong returns on investment.
They engage consumers longer. Compared to television commercials (30 seconds) and social media (three minutes), brand homes involve consumers for a relative eternity — two or more hours, on average.
Consumers opt in. Unlike interruptive marketing, people choose to visit and pay to experience a brand home. These guests are primed to receive the brand’s message.
They are inherently social. Families and groups of friends often participate in these experiences together, which significantly improves word of mouth potential. Many companies also use their brand homes throughout the year for corporate events and community programs.