The Dollar Power of a Good Story: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Boosts Universal Theme Park Attendance by 50%
The thought leadership and content marketing realm is becoming more like popular entertainment with a slew of channels and choices, and no time to keep up with it all. To stand out requires attention to detail, respect for your audience, and a really great story.
My oldest son grew up with J.K. Rowling’s books, reading them over and over again. He literally grew up with the movies and the core actors who played Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. He loves the stories but is a little too reserved to ever want to dress up in Gryffindor house garb or casually use wizard lingo. Or so I thought until we visited Universal’s Islands of Adventure during a family trip to Orlando last month.
The different sections of Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park are arranged around a central lagoon. The entrance has a vaguely Middle Eastern/African market feel, followed by (going counterclockwise around the circle) a whimsical Seuss Landing with marvelously bright colors and great low-key rides for younger kids. Next is the Lost Continent area, which is interesting in a Greek mythology kind of way. But the significance of the imagery is lost on most kids, and adults too really. And then you enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Gawking with scores of people milling about in a King’s Cross platform 9 ¾ kind of frenzy, we obviously weren’t the only ones struck by the resonance of the attraction. The details are superb. Screaming Mandrakes and fidgeting quidditch bludgers are displayed in the shop windows. For lunch my son gnawed on a turkey leg from The Three Broomsticks. Over the course of the day he had two Butterbeers; they are like a caramel and butterscotch slushie with whipped cream on top, a tad sweet. In Olivander’s wand shop—makers of fine wands since 382 B.C.—Olivander selected my son from our group and a wand chose him as dramatized by a glowing light and sudden gust of wind. He was thrilled.
As a casual reader of the books I hadn’t anticipated that Universal’s Harry Potter world would strike a deep chord with me as well, but it did. By comparison, the other areas at Universal are like any amusement park where the rides and attractions all have loose themes, but they seem superficial and anachronistic in comparison. Some are horribly dated, based on bygone cartoons and comics characters that even I don’t recognize. Others, like the Jaws attraction that closed a week ago after several decades, are past their prime. Although our kids were able to pet a “baby dinosaur”—which our 5-year-old is still a bit confused about—the Jurassic Park area was almost deserted in early December (and neglected with more than one of the exhibits out of commission).
Universal has reported that attendance at Islands of Adventure increased by an amazing 50% in 2011, driven entirely by the Harry Potter attraction. That’s the power of a great story. Recognizing a good thing they’ve announced plans to expand the Wizarding World to the company’s other Orlando theme park next door.
What does the commercial success of Universal’s Harry Potter attraction have to do with generating effective business-to-business thought leadership and content marketing? In a world where most B2B content fails to be overwhelmingly compelling or exciting—generally meeting expectations but forgotten as we move on to the next thing—it offers a marvelous example of how striking a current and new and well told story can be.
I have another guest post on Content Marketing Institute's blog. Many thanks to Michelle Linn and Jodi Harris whose editorial skills refined and dressed this up quite a bit.
A few weeks ago, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) relaunched its online platform for thought leadership content, bcgperspectives.com. Content marketers can learn a lot from how the company handled its launch efforts:
Read more at contentmarketinginstitute.com.
Update (10/2/2011): Co-founders Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry share insights into their offbeat culture, intense design focus, and keeping their story fresh, in their new book, The Method Method. Inc. magazine asked Ryan why they're so willing to share and why they aren't afraid another company will steal their ideas,"At Method we're all about transparency and openness. Plus, if you give away your ideas, it forces you to go out and get new ones."
Because of their history, the nature of their products and high profile founders, some companies are able to cultivate a richly compelling story that becomes a core element of their brand appeal. That story has an innate authenticity that permeates everything that they do, especially their marketing. B2B marketers can learn something about combining great products and great service with people-centric stories that connect more deeply with customers and clients.
In the consumer goods space these companies often use their giant corporate competitors as a foil to present themselves and their products as safer, more enlightened, more hip, more fun, and more human. Their marketing isn't limited to value-oriented offers such as "25% More Free!" Or legal speak. They're generally more engaging and, oddly enough, have a tendency to avoid the upper case.
Mission as message
For example, the glass cleaner bottle by Method (the "people against dirty") reads, "we think there's a time and place for streaking. it just shouldn't involve your glass." It then goes on to trash ammonia-based glass cleaners in comparison to Method's plant-based alternative, which doesn't have the "chemical stank." (By the way Method does a fantastic job on its blog of offering mission-aligned, product-oriented updates on a regular basis.)
The U.K.'s innocent drinks offers another example. It too offers a "more natural" product, in this case fruit smoothies. The company name itself sets a pretty high standard that a corporate organization might find hard to maintain. The company's mission-driven values are promoted by the business celebrity of one of the founders who recently appeared on the BBC version of The Apprentice. (On the social media front, the company's website is currently promoting a number of more or less addictive games that help promote it's full product line.)
Reflecting their non-corporate story, a cheeky "voice" pervades the innocent website. There's even a drop-down menu for "bored?" which is what first got my attention. Every section of the website takes what's often stock content and gives it an extra twist, a nod and a wink. For example, I don't know how I ended up here exactly, but under "careers" and "current opportunities" there's a link for an international vacancy in Maldives:
Job in Maldives
Just joking. But keep checking back. If you'd like to send us your CV just in case we do open up in the Maldives, or your dream job comes along a little closer to home, then click below
You won't find that on a corporate HR website. All in all innocent drinks offers a consistent and coherent story to it's targeted customer base. But what happens to such a story when one of those big, faceless corporate monoliths buys the upstart?
In April 2010 Coca-Cola expanded it's minority investment to acquire a majority share of innocent drinks. This type of acquisition generally allows original investors to cash out. In this case company leaders also said Coca-Cola's expertise and distribution footprint would help speed the company's expansion into Europe.
As much as such a move may make sense from a business standpoint, to some customers, often those who are most passionate, such a sale means that the company has "sold its soul" by not staying true to its original story. Perhaps any company that professes to serve a higher purpose is setting itself up for a fall when the storyline can no longer be maintained. So far, innocent appears to have maintained its momentum, in part by maintaining a healthy separation from it's new corporate owner.
Method, mentioned above, has so far been able to maintain both its natural cleaner story and corporate independence, despite selling its products through giant retailers, drug stores, and even the Home Shopping Network. Tom's Shoe's, which gives away a pair of shoes for every pair that it sells, is another high-profile, mission-driven company with a compelling story.
What would happen to their mission and stories if Johnson and Johnson bought Method, or Nike bought Tom's Shoes? Similar acquisitions have happened before.
Perhaps the stories have simply grown too familiar and a bit old. Of course, when that happens, it creates room for the next generation of upstarts, with their own stories to sell.