• June 24, 2011
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Children Are the Currency

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If there’s one thing on which we modern-day CRMists can agree, it’s that the customer is king. Providing each customer with the most positive experience of your brand is the key to keeping him happy and engaged with you. Increasingly, the value of a business is predicated not merely on its products and services, but also on how interacting with it makes us feel. The name for this is “the experience economy,” a term coined in 1998 by Joe Pine and James Gilmore.

Sometimes it gets a little dicey when we’re asked to provide examples. We usually trot out Starbucks for starters, noting how the experience of a pleasingly hipsterish cafe with snarky baristas and arcane coffee formulae has made the $4 cup of mediocre joe a treat rather than a travesty. High-end hotels are another good example, usually with fewer backhanded compliments. For a discussion of how not to do customer experience, the target of choice is usually an airline.

But the problem with those examples is there don’t seem to be enough universally recognized ones, and they do not compel. Save Starbucks (which has the advantage of selling an addictive substance), nobody gives a clear case for transformative experiences the customer can’t do without once sampled. But such examples exist. We’re looking too high or too old.

Look at the glow on a child’s face after a visit to Build-A-Bear Workshop or the American Girl Store. For that matter, look at the predatory, avaricious gleam in their eyes before the visit. Just say the word “Disney” in a room full of young kids and watch the fireworks. These companies have sussed out the experience economy and made a killing at it, dipping a vacuum hose into our wallets by targeting young and impressionable minds seeking wonder.

I recently learned of another such money factory, one I would have killed for when I was a lad. Called MagiQuest, it is described by Tycho of the Penny Arcade Web comic as “if they had RFID at Hogwarts.” Kids play the role of Magi (wizards) seeking adventure and protecting their realm, in what’s essentially a safe, G-rated live-action role-playing game (LARP, for us nerds) combined with a midway shooting gallery. Each Magi (should be Mage, but you can’t expect good grammar) interacts with the environment, monsters, supporting characters, and each other through a magic wand crammed full of electronics. It’s the remote control of the game.

To play, you need to buy the wand. It can’t be rented or borrowed—wands are personalized with each player’s identity, achievements, and spells. Then there are cosmetic enhancements to said wand. And costume pieces. And swords. And shields. And keys. And compasses. And upgraded versions of all these things. Everything adds to the in-game experience—and costs mom and dad real-world money. I would have bankrupted my family if something like that had existed when I was the target demographic. Hell, even as an adult who sees the game as a blatant cash grab capitalizing on the resurgence of young adult fantasy literature, I would give it a whirl.

On top of that, MagiQuest has partnered with Great Wolf Lodge, a chain of family entertainment (read “kid-focused”) resorts built around water parks and other vacation fixtures. You can reserve a Wolf Den Suite, which combines luxury appointments with an in-suite cave, complete with bunk beds and a personal TV for your little ones. I can’t imagine how they aren’t sponsoring Cub Scout pack trips to these places.

Now, nobody says much about the customer experience from the parents’ perspective. That’s because they don’t have to—these things are so finely tuned to gets kids drooling for more that any parent with means or a mortgage would feel like a bastard for not indulging Timmy or Sarah’s desires. The kids get a fantasy adventure and some great toys. The parents get a day or a week of not hearing complaints about a dull vacation. And then there’s the parental gratification of giving youngsters something special with a price tag that the parents will remember for years.

Marshall Lager is managing principal of Third Idea Consulting LLC, a position which leaves him no time to raise a family that doesn’t meow. Contact him at marshall@3rd-idea.com, or via www.twitter.com/Lager.

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