The first ever Blooloop Live conference for visitor attractions professionals was held in London at the beginning of May  and, working in the leisure and entertainment sectors, we were pleased to both sponsor and film the event.
The recorded videos will be available shortly on the Blooloop website but in the meantime; we’ve put together a summary of the day’s talks which featured presentations from some of the world’s leading professionals in the attractions industry across topics such as brand, content and technology. The first of our blog entries will be focussed on the presentations around brands.
The conference was opened by Richard Parry, Head of Experience Economy at UKTI who encouraged delegate businesses in the experience industry to register on their free directory www.experienceuk.org; a tool for increasing international profile and a news resource for global opportunities and funding in the sector.
MERLIN ATTRACTIONS, IMMERSIVE BRANDS AND WILLY WONKA
Kicking off the morning’s session on brands, chaired by Rosalind Johnson from A Different View and sponsored by Polin, CDO of Merlin Entertainments, Mark Fisher talked about the way they deal with brands at three different levels – their own Merlin attraction brands, IP owned sub brands and IP partner brands.
Each Merlin attraction brand has a separate core proposition, clear positioning, values, personality and essence. For example, with some of Merlin’s south east attractions being located closely together, positioning for their target markets has to be clear and with separate personalities that enable staff and guests to immerse themselves fully in the brand experience.
Positioned as ‘Britain’s Greatest Escape’ and with the personality of Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, he gave us Alton Towers as an example of how they visualise their attraction brands and bring them to life.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BRAND ALIGNMENT AND THE FUTURE FOR MERLIN
Talking about IP sub brands, Mark explained the importance of listening to what guests want rather than having a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude. He spoke about the importance of brand alignment and investing in new rides and experiences that fit with the rest of the attraction. For example, The Smiler at Alton Towers worked so well because they incorporated a background story and fully branded area including retail, creating a fully immersive experience.
With IP partnership working, he explained that there had previously been a lot of ‘logo slapping’ in the industry, which didn’t lead to long term relationships between attractions and IP brands. He said true partnerships worked when they were relevant and aligned to the brand essence stating that Horrible Histories at Warwick Castle and Saw at Thorpe Park have been the perfect brand fit in terms of relating to the target markets of the attractions, aligning with the brands involved and creating compelling propositions.
On the future for Merlin, Mark spoke of the partnership with BBC on Cbeebies Land at Alton Towers, Angry Birds Land at Thorpe Park and a partnership with Dreamworks to create Shrek themed attractions.
KIDZANIA, BRAND STRATEGY AND FESTINA LENTE
Executive VP of KidZania, Andrew Darrow opened his talk with a promo video for the family entertainment centre, founded 15 years ago. The video showed us how KidZania enabled kids to ‘think, work, play and feel like an adult’ through role playing at adult jobs in a child sized city. With 15 locations around the world and designed by educators, KidZania is becoming the fastest growing kids entertainment centre in the world with the first UK KidZania attraction set to open next year.
He told us the company applies the military phrase festina lente (more haste, slowly or more haste, less speed as it is traditionally translated) to their approach to brand strategy. With entertainment companies trying so hard to be more creative in their strategies, many forget that a brand is a promise to deliver – both on product and customer experience – and that brand reputation is a valuable thing that can be easily destroyed.
Core elements for the KidZania brand are a unique and differentiated proposition, immersive environments, authenticity and quality achieved through attention to detail combined with the customer experience.
CONSISTENCY AND THE FRANCHISE BRAND
The underlying concept for KidZania came from an acknowledgement that role playing, as a universal form of play and development for kids all over the world, could be included in the entertainment experience. The first facility exceeded expectations and achieved 400,000 visitors in its first year.
Though the idea is universal, it was quickly realised that there was a requirement to customise the concept for cultural differences in other global locations. There was also an acknowledgement that for the franchising model to be successful and to minimise capital investment, it was essential to work with a powerhouse partner to attract and secure sponsors, educators and sites; to grow brand recognition, expand locations and become a recognised destination for school visits.
Andrew emphasised that the value of a brand lies in experience and consistency and these things are particularly important for a global franchise brand such as KidZania. To achieve this, a series of programmes were implemented to develop personnel through consistent training, establishing quality standards, collecting data to improve best practices and building CSR into the brand’s core DNA.
DEVELOPING A CONSUMER LICENSING PROGRAMME FOR THE EXTREME BRAND
CEO of EXTREME, Al Gosling, talked about setting up the extreme sports TV channel in 1999 and how EXTREME has now grown into an internationally recognised brand with a full consumer licensing programme across numerous touchpoints including resorts and destinations, mobile, social, events and products.
Al explained how the extreme sports industry is growing in terms of participation and revenue with an estimated turnover of $200 billion annually.
The EXTREME brand has been built around the extreme sports lifestyle, encompassing the sports but also music, arts and a common attitude associated with the culture.Their brand values perfectly capture the irreverent, rebellious, driven and unapologetic nature of their 18-24 year old extreme sports enthusiasts target audience.
BRAND INTEGRITY AND NEW PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
Al explained how important brand integrity was to EXTREME and that becoming too soft and off brand could risk losing their audience. Though marketing for the brand is targeted at an 18-24 audience, the reach goes far beyond this. This is done through exposure in the form of events, online video content and through product placements on films and TV.
The brand currently has a number of products in development, from a licensing partnership with Vimto for a drink just launched in Tesco, to a partnership with an electronics brand to create a full range of products from mobiles and tablets, to speakers and headphones, all targeted at the 18-24 market.
The biggest development for the brand it seems, is partnering with architects, developers and events companies to create EXTREME hotels and resorts themed around sports, music and lifestyle. The first is a 400 bedroom resort currently in development in Portugal.
BRANDING FOR THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY: THE KEY TAKE-OUTS
The key theme that was picked up by all the speakers on brand was the importance of getting the proposition right for the target audience and then building brand values that are lived and breathed by both staff and customers. Partnership working was also a key theme; being patient in developing these relationships and looking at them for the long term, whether that be working with IP brands, franchise partners or licensors.
Images courtesy of Picsolve.