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Be Our Guests - May 2017

How brand experiences build lasting relationships by courting consumers as guests  

by Prasana William

The scent was immediately recognizable, and the memory fresh: I’d just popped open the yellow box, full of never-used Crayola crayons, on the first day of fourth grade at a new school. My surroundings were unfamiliar, but here were 24 friends: cornflower, burnt sienna, purple mountain majesty, spring green, red. The thing is, I wasn’t in a ’90s-era, rural Pennsylvania classroom. I had just stepped into Crayola Experience in Orlando, where I was greeted by the smell of wax being shaped into familiar and friendly crayons. It felt like … home.

Manufacturers are tapping into the immersive nature of attractions to build a bond with customers in a way no other retail opportunity can. By turning consumers into guests, brand experiences have an opportunity to leave a lasting impression. “When you go to [a big-box store], you see 18 feet of an aisle, and in that aisle there are X number of products. You go and you look at them, but you don’t really experience them. You don’t build a relationship in those 18 feet. Our goal is to build a relationship between the brand and the guest, rather than just that limited shopping experience,” says Dan Alyward, corporate director of operations at Crayola Experience.

From Crayola Experience’s hands-on approach to Hershey’s renovations to NutriAsia’s museum partnership, how manufacturers create their brand experiences can teach the attractions industry as much about the art of relationship-building as these facilities learned from it.

From Consumer to Guest: A Hands-On Process

The difference between consumer and guest is blurred for attractions where the consumer is the guest, but for manufacturing companies there is a distinction: the guest becomes an opportunity not just for a sale, but for a lifelong relationship. “One of the interesting things we hear is that people don’t realize everything Crayola does,” says Alyward. “They think of the colored pencils and markers and crayons, but they don’t think of all the other products. Both by demonstrating the products in the attraction and by presenting them in the store, we show a scope and breadth of the brand that you don’t really have otherwise.”

Crayola Experience began as many brand experiences do: a factory tour of the company’s main manufacturing facility in Easton, Pennsylvania. It matured into a stand-alone attraction that told the story of how Crayola’s art supplies are made. In 2013, it underwent a major renovation that would serve as a prototype for the locations opened in Orlando in 2015 and Minnesota’s Mall of America in 2016 when the experience proved lucrative enough to branch out to new spaces. Each location features up to 27 different hands-on activities that engage guests with Crayola’s products (see sidebar). From the moment a guest steps into a Crayola Experience, the product comes alive—literally, in the Orlando location, where the first attraction is an interactive screen with computer-animated crayons mimicking guests’ movements. Though these cute, googly-eyed Crayola crayon characters appear throughout the facilities, brand experiences approach intellectual property (IP) differently than other types of attractions.

According to Alyward, a brand experience is “an immersion of the brand into everything that is going on around you,” in contrast to other attractions where IP is often applied to specific parts in specific ways, like a land themed to an IP within a larger group of lands.

“We are the Crayola brand. Everything you do, everything you touch, everything you see, is geared right to that Crayola brand,” says Alyward. “It’s a much different emphasis that you put on the attraction.”

Here, the activity is engaging with the brand. Every play station at Crayola Experience incorporates the brand and its emphasis on encouraging creativity. When children design a label for a crayon, print it, and then wrap the crayons themselves, they are interacting with the brand, not just participating in an activity. During the crayon-making demonstration show, guests make a direct connection with how manufacturing supports the brand, seeing firsthand what makes a Crayola crayon different from other brands (hint: Crayola crayons are not hollow for a reason).

The activities of Crayola Experience also use the familiar products in unorthodox ways. Crayons are remolded into racecars at one station. It’s OK to draw on the walls with markers in another section. And, seemingly benign coloring sheets come to life in 4-D at another attraction. This expands the guest’s perspective of the product.

In fact, hands-on engagement is a hallmark of brand experiences. At Hershey’s Chocolate World visitor’s center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, guests see, taste, and touch the confectioner’s products in ways they can’t in the supermarket. Guests not only customize their own personal chocolate bars, they follow the candy down the assembly line as it’s filled, coated, hardened, and wrapped in art they created themselves. This experience personalizes the classic Hershey’s chocolate bar. Chocolate taste tests, treats exclusive to the facility, and, of course, samples of the latest products also immerse visitors in the brand in a hands-on way.

“I’d say interactives are very powerful in building a really strong response and connection to the brand. The work that we have done has shown that consumers have a higher aptitude to recommend our brand and our stores to a friend if they participated in an engaging activity while they’re in the store,” says Suzanne Jones, vice president of The Hershey Experience, the parent division that runs Hershey’s Chocolate World locations globally. “The difference between coming in and buying a bag of Kisses and T-shirt, while great, is just improved that much more if they have the opportunity to engage with the brand in a deeper fashion.”

Build Brand Evangelists

Opened in 1973, Hershey’s Chocolate World has sweetened up more than 100 million guests in more than four decades. The Hershey Experience focuses on memory-making to strengthen the relationship with consumers. “I’m hoping [guests] take stories with them, so they have a narrative that their family can enjoy and share with other people,” says Jones. “We’re building that brand advocacy, creating brand evangelizers, and [shaping] their view of the Hershey brand as part of their family’s special moments.”

Just like other attractions, brand experiences are geared toward making a lasting impression on guests; in this case, the memorable moments are essential to shaping guests’ perspective as consumers.

“People already have a relationship with the brand when they walk into the building. As marketers, we like to believe that we own and control what that brand essence is, but the reality is it lives between our consumers’ ears. Our brand is nothing more than what they think, breathe, believe, and know about the brand, and how they’ve integrated it into their life, particularly for a brand like Hershey’s,” says Jones. “That’s a very high bar that people bring with them when they walk into our facility.”

About every four years, the facility undergoes a renovation to keep up with the times. In a testament to the relationships this brand experience fosters, Jones says every time the company embarks on a new iteration, she finds herself fielding initially critical responses from fans who want their memories preserved, and, in some cases, still miss elements that were removed from the previous version. There’s no stopping progress—just as the brand evolves, the experience must, too.

Hershey’s unveiled its last renovation in spring 2016. In addition to the attractions mentioned above, the facility is home to a dark ride that features a narrated tour of a simulated chocolate factory. The tour ride was heavily updated this round to better match the modern machinery used to make Hershey’s products. The company also took the opportunity to update the ride to better match guest expectations for entertainment experiences. The new tour uses projection mapping to show the inner workings of factory equipment; adds more animatronic singing cows; and features a social-media component at the conclusion of the experience. Guests are invited to use #chocolateworld to share their images of their time at the attraction. Staff selects images from this hashtag to project at the end of the tour ride. Social media is a basic tool of brand engagement, but this opportunity allows guests to really be a part of the ride.

Putting guests into the brand story was also a driver of changes to the tour ride queue. Previously, an on-ride souvenir photo was the only photo option available, but now the photo operation is in the queue—guests pose in front of three green screen scenes and see their photos after the ride. The new photo operation makes guests an active participant in the memory-making.

The renovation overall received a warm welcome, generating double-digit growth in attendance over the previous spring.

Though Hershey’s Chocolate World in Pennsylvania is just down the street from the former site of the company’s chocolate factory, the brand is global and the brand experience reflects that. There are now Hershey’s Chocolate World locations in Shanghai, Dubai, Singapore, Las Vegas, New York City, and Niagara Falls. But growing brand evangelists takes an expert touch. “One of the things we very much understand is that in North America the brand is in a very different point in its life cycle than outside North America. So, the chapters of the story they want to read are further along in the narrative,” says Jones. “Outside of the United States, we’re introducing what this brand is all about. That takes on a different nuance in different places.”

In Singapore, for example, the facility is located at the entrance to Universal Studios, so the focus is on fun and candy. However, the Shanghai location puts an emphasis on the life and story of company founder Milton Hershey, because the local culture greatly venerates generational success, legacy, and ancestors. “We take into account not only what the brand is about, but what the role of the brand for the particular audience is in our surroundings as well,” says Jones.

She advises tapping into the work the global marketing team has already done to bring the product to the region. “It sure is nice to make a dollar while you do it, but the purpose of brand attractions is to grow brand affinity,” Jones adds. “We need to make sure we’re striking that balance, and that we become this wonderful marketing arm that pays for itself.”

Do More

Another characteristic of brand experiences is a mission that directly benefits society. Companies use their face time to impart some sort of knowledge to their guests—using the brand as an active example.

In the Philippines, NutriAsia set out to do just that, creating a museum for its most popular product: banana catsup. Banana catsup is a sweet and tangy condiment that holds an important place in the hearts—and pantries—of Filipino households. It was developed during World War II to help revive the health of the nation, particularly in returning soldiers.

“NutriAsia believes the story of banana catsup has much to teach future generations about enduring Filipino virtues, ingenuity, resourcefulness, and hard work—the same values that have propelled NutriAsia’s success,” Angie Flaminiano, president and COO of NutriAsia, said in a session at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2016. “The hope is that young Filipinos who visit the museum will come away with a deeper and greater sense of appreciation and understanding of the place of banana catsup in Filipino history and culture. The banana catsup museum is our way of giving back.”

NutriAsia also hopes to inspire an interest in science in its young guests. “We want to teach them at an early age to broaden their perception of science, that it’s not just outer space and rocket ships—that there’s a significant amount of science and history even in the everyday food they enjoy,” Flaminiano said. To meet this goal, the company reached out to a partner in the attractions industry that shared the mission of celebrating the science of everyday life: The Mind Museum in Manila. NutriAsia was one of the founding donors for the museum, but this would be the first collaboration between the two. “We needed to walk our talk,” says Maribel Garcia, curator of The Mind Museum. “We keep saying in the museum that there is science everywhere, and it is true—there is a scientific concept and explanation to various degrees behind many things. So if we can do it with something as seemingly simple and familiar as banana catsup, we have made our case for other things, as well.”

The Mind Museum team immersed itself in the banana catsup manufacturing process, from harvest to bottling. It spent time in the factories and looked for elements of the process that could help teach scientific principles. For example, they discovered the cooking of bananas could illustrate pasteurization, and the bananas themselves could teach about the evolving relationship between humans and domesticated plants. Ideas that passed judgment on the product, saying banana catsup was better than other foods, were dismissed, as the purpose of the attraction is to present the facts. “NutriAsia understood what The Mind Museum stood for and never pushed their brand beyond the science that could be found in the manufacturing process and other facts in history,” says Garcia.

The brand experience is set to open in the second half of 2017, and will feature different interactive modules that describe the origin, manufacturing, meal prep, and health benefits of banana catsup. Guests will be able to explore a WWII-era kitchen lab, simulated manufacturing process, unique banquet hall with play area, and more. “Museums give context to a company’s story and makes it part of a larger narrative,” said Flaminiano. “Beyond promoting one’s brand or products, [the brand experience] is giving NutriAsia the ability to give to our community by promoting and engaging in culture, science, and arts development.”

Hershey’s Chocolate World and Crayola Experience also craft their brand experiences to be part of a larger narrative. “We want to make sure that people walk away with a sense of who Milton Hershey was, and what the Hershey culture is. So much more than just a product—there really is a wonderful story behind the brand,” says Hershey’s Jones. “We give people a peek into that history and understanding of the work ethic behind the brand.”

Crayola Experience seeks to foster creativity that goes past the walls of its brand experience.

“The company is about creativity. It’s not just crayons and markers—it’s creativity itself,” says Crayola Experience’s Alyward. “Even going back to the early days of Crayola, the feeling was that creative leaders are the one who are going to lead the world most successfully. So that creativity continues to be an important part of what we do. We are reinforcing and building on that brand identity all the time.” 

(More than) 50 Shades of Fun

Each Crayola Experience location features 25 to 27 activities based on the space. The three locations are different in shape and size (Minnesota and Orlando are in malls, while Easton is in a three-story brick building). “What we’ve learned the most is that our guests are somewhat individual, and one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. You have to tailor that depending what the needs of the individuals are,” says Crayola Experience’s Dan Alwyard. “Our facilities are not terribly structured—you don’t come in and go from point A to point B. If you want to start at point Z and go backward, that’s fine.”

Crayola rotates which location receives new attractions first before backfilling the other two to ensure all three are refreshed regularly. Annual-passholder numbers increased with the addition of two locations, encouraging the company to revamp its group sales and marketing approach, and Crayola strives to keep those guests coming back time and time again with a fresh mix of things to do.

Here’s a sampling of activities found at most locations:

Art Alive!

Guests create drawings on digital pads and interact with them on a wall-sized touchscreen.

Color Magic

Technology transforms a coloring sheet into a 4-D animation.

Live Shows

Live craft demonstrations and shows take place at locations throughout the building.

Color Playground

This two-story play space lets kids burn off some energy by climbing and sliding. Guests can also doodle on dry-erase animals and draw with sidewalk chalk (at other locations this experience is designed like a neighborhood).

Wrap It Up

Kids design and print their own crayon wrappers before using tools to wrap the crayon themselves.

Crayon Factory

The audience learns how crayons are made during a live demo.

Be a Star

After choosing a fun background scene, guests pose for a snap in this photobooth-like setup. Their photo is then transformed into a coloring sheet that can be filled in at the Colossal Caddy, home to thousands of Crayola crayons.

Rockin’ Paper

Magnets and special equipment make colored paper butterflies dance to the beat in this activity.

Melt and Mold

Crayons are melted and reshaped in the item of guests’ choosing.


Guests have access to pots of melted wax with which they can create their own original works of art.

Drip Art

This activity takes the fun of spin art and replaces paint with melted wax.

Modeling Magic

Using Crayola’s Model Magic clay, families let their imaginations take shape.

You Design

After coloring their own custom outfits or cars, guests make their designs jump to life on a big-screen runway.



Look for ways to expose guests to your brand, not just your attraction.

Reflect on what guests think not just of your experience, but your brand after a visit. Memory-making creates brand evangelists.  

Consider the pro-social possibilities of your brand. Connect with guests on these shared values through your activities.

Recognize the greater role your brand plays in shaping local culture, and be an active participant.

A Glass Act

Ireland’s top attraction, Guinness Storehouse, is a brand experience for grown-ups

by Juliana Gilling

“Guinness is in our DNA,” says Paul Carty, the charismatic Irishman who has solidified Guinness Storehouse’s reputation as a world-class brand experience since it launched in Dublin in 2000.

2016 was the best year yet for the attraction, which brings to life the story of Guinness from 1759 to the present day. Nearly 1.7 million people passed through its doors last year (a 10 percent increase from the previous year’s record).

Guinness Repositioned

The Guinness Storehouse sprang from a desire to appeal to a younger crowd, and create a contemporary “home for Guinness,” says Carty. The existing Hopstore visitor attraction had been cracking at the seams with 300,000 annual visitors. Creative agency Imagination and RKD Architects set about transforming a disused fermentation plant on the St. James’s Gate Brewery site into an iconic, i42 million attraction worthy of Guinness.

A glass atrium shaped like a giant pint runs up through the core of the century-old, steel-framed building. The transparent Gravity Bar tops the six-story structure, offering 360-degree views of Dublin’s skyline.

The Guinness Storehouse caters to tourists, Guinness employees, and Irish families with ties to the business founded by brewer and philanthropist Arthur Guinness. At its heart is “a fantastic, immersive visitor experience,” says Carty. The building houses the Guinness archives, training facilities for bar staff to learn the art of the two-part pour, conference and events space, bars, restaurants, and a retail store.

Stout Hearts

The latest visitor numbers underpin Carty and his team’s vision for the Guinness Storehouse after some lean early years. In its first year, the Storehouse attracted 360,000 visitors. “We had aspirations to get to 1 million visitors eventually, which was a very stretching target, but we got there,” says Carty.

“The Guinness Storehouse was never designed to be a cash cow or to generate a substantial profit,” he adds. “It was a pure brand immersion vehicle. Yet, we’ve become profitable because of the sheer visitor numbers we’re doing.”

Carty worked with Irish tourism agencies and businesses from the start: “We wanted to make sure we were seen as a superb addition to Dublin’s tourist offer. People in Ireland have always felt a great sense of ownership of the Guinness brand. We are only the custodians. People wanted us to be successful, and we built on that.”

Carty was determined to avoid the pitfall some other brand experiences fall into: “It’s easy to make a place too serious, so that it becomes like a shrine or a temple to the brand. We do not want that here. Guinness is about celebration and conversation. The Guinness Storehouse should be fun and engaging.”

Adaptation and Evolution

BRC Imagination Arts was a big part of the vision. Carty recalls the “lightbulb moment” when he heard BRC founder Bob Rogers speak about storytelling at an IAAPA Expo. “At the time, I was thinking that our story was good, but it wasn’t good enough,” says Carty. Rogers and BRC joined forces with the Guinness Storehouse team in 2011 to craft a master plan. Their efforts produced a more coherent, entertaining, interactive, and story-driven visitor environment.

BRC’s work, coupled with phenomenal tourism growth in Dublin and a more efficient business model, resulted in a 35 percent rise in visitor numbers and a 240 percent increase in net profit, according to Carty.

Carty and his team have invested more than i10 million in the Guinness Storehouse over the last five years. Now each of the floors has a specific theme. The fifth floor is devoted to food, while the third floor (created by LOVE design studio) invites guests into the world of Guinness advertising. Interactive photo booths allow visitors to insert themselves into Guinness ads and share the pictures on social media.

Increased Interaction

“Millennials and the 18- to 35-year-olds who represent 65 percent of our business demand interactive engagement with the brand,” says Carty. Once, guests pinned cards with handwritten thoughts about Guinness to a wall in the attraction. “Now we have a world-class, interactive social media ‘wall’ where people can tell us how they feel using their own handheld devices,” he says.

BRC replaced makeshift, pour-your-own-pint bars, which were once scattered along walkways, with purpose-built Guinness Academies. Here, specially trained staff teach people how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. “You can get a certificate, have your photograph taken, and send it to your friends,” says Carty.

In sensory Tasting Rooms, guests breathe in the aromas of hops and malt before learning how to taste Guinness properly from tiny pint glasses.

For aficionados, the Guinness Storehouse provides a Connoisseur Experience. This luxurious bar offers an intimate VIP tasting session for 16 people lasting 75 minutes.

The Storehouse is a self-guided experience, allowing you to be “a snacker, a grazer, or a glutton,” says Carty. He believes his target demographic does not want hand-holding. Also, Dublin’s leisure business is based strongly on short breaks, so “people need to feel in control of their time.”

Carty and his team have incentivized online bookings to spread attendances more evenly. Around 30 percent of guests plan their visits in advance. Carty is now targeting an annual goal of 2 million visitors.

Brand Support

The Guinness Storehouse is not only a popular brand experience with visitors, but is also having an impact within the Guinness brand itself. Carty fought for the attraction to report to the Guinness Global Brand team, and 30 members of that team are now based at the Storehouse. “You need that sponsorship,” he says. “You need people who believe what you are doing is totally relevant to, and part of, their plan.” Being plugged into Guinness central has helped the Storehouse keep pace with the brand thematically. In return, the Storehouse’s beer specialist team travels the world as brand ambassadors. “That initiative and knowledge grew from within the Storehouse,” says Carty.

“Brand experiences like ours are the way forward,” he adds. “People don’t believe in advertising anymore. If you want to feel Guinness, taste it, touch it, pull it apart, examine it, and learn from the people behind it, you come to the home of Guinness. It’s the way brands are going to have to go in the future.” 

Taste of the Future

Diageo, the parent company of Guinness, has announced plans to brew Guinness in the U.S. for the first time in 63 years, and is establishing a new brewery and visitor center in Baltimore County, Maryland. The project will be “a home for new Guinness beers created for the U.S. market,” according to Tom Day, president, Diageo Beer Company, USA.

The visitor experience will be modelled after the Open Gate Brewery at St. James’s Gate in Dublin, Ireland. The Maryland facility will offer tours of the working brewery, the chance to sample experimental beers brewed on site, and a Guinness merchandise store.

The goal is to open the new brewery and brand experience center in fall 2017 to mark the 200th anniversary of Guinness beer arriving in the United States. The destination is expected to attract 250,000-300,000 visitors in its first year.