The future of the experience economy in a post-COVID world. With Ben Thompson

In today’s Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Ben Thompson, at the time of recording chief storytelling officer at 9 Degrees West, a strategic consultancy specialising in brand and marketing strategy for theme parks, visitor attractions, and brand homes.

We discuss the future of the experience economy and how organisations need to adapt in a post-COVID world.

Ben shares his thoughts on the future for attractions, and its safe to say it’s full of positivity!

“Successful businesses in our industry will be those who can really create the environment where we can be our best selves.”

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • The future of the experience economy
  • Customer service and cautiousness during visitor attractions re-opening
  • How organisations need to adapt in a post-COVID world

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.


The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Ben Thompson

Kelly Molson:  Ben, welcome to the podcast. It’s really great to have you on here.

Ben Thompson: Thank you very much, Kelly. It’s great to be here. Great to be talking to you and the dog today.

Kelly Molson: Yes. So look, we are recording these in semi-lockdown or easing out of lockdown. So we’re kind of at home, my dog is behind me.

Ben Thompson: And I’ve left my dog Barney at home. So I’m actually in a nice quiet office. So it’s all good on my side.

Kelly Molson: I’m glad that you read the prep notes accordingly, Ben, well done. Well done for following instructions. So we’re going to start off a little bit with a bit of a quickfire round, just to get to know you in a little bit of detail. We’ve spoken a couple of times previously, but we don’t know each other super well. So I’ve got some quick-fire questions for you. So, think I know the answer to this one already. Cats or dogs?

Ben Thompson: Definitely dogs. Cats are rubbish. It’s all about dogs.

Kelly Molson: And what’s top of your bucket list?

Ben Thompson: Oh, my word. I think it is taking a long trip to Australia. We’ve got quite a lot of relatives over there. I’ve never been, it’s one of the few continents I didn’t get to go to when I was traveling the world with Merlin Entertainments. So yeah, definitely probably going to Ayers Rock, doing some of the islands getting down to Tasmania and so on. I think that’s probably, yeah, I need to do that.

Kelly Molson: Great choice, Ben. Do you know what actually, we got engaged at Ayers Rock.

Ben Thompson: Oh, really? Oh, fantastic.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, it’s a really special place for us. Really, really special.

Ben Thompson: Or Uluru as I probably should be should be calling it, yeah. But yeah, no, I’d love to get down to Aussie and meet up with my… My mother’s brother went out there and he had five children. They all got married. I think there’s about 50 Thompsons that are out there now. So yeah, looking forward to catching up with them one day.

Kelly Molson: Oh, good. Well yeah, you’ve got a lot of people to visit out there. Sounds fab. Okay. Tell me one thing that you’re not very good at.

Ben Thompson: Oh, my word. I mean, how long have you got? I’m really, really impatient. I’m an ENTJ in Myers Briggs terminology, so extroverted blue-sky thinking. So I’m brilliant on the future and possibility and what could it look like? I get very bored very quickly with what I consider to be the mundane administrative tasks. And I’m terrible at hiding my feelings. So if I’m bored about something, it’s written all over my face. You definitely can’t air this now, this is far too personal.

Kelly Molson: I’m really worried that I’m going to start looking at your face soon. And sense that boredom coming across as well, Ben, you’re giving too much away.

Ben Thompson: Good question.

Kelly Molson: One last question. Tell me something that you believe to be true that nobody else agrees with you on. So what is your unpopular opinion?

Ben Thompson: Oh, my word. Listen, these questions are really good and terrible. Okay. So I believe that cricket is the very, very best sport in the world, bar none. And I have a really solid argument as for why that is the case and hardly anybody apart from a very tiny percentage of people agree with me.

Kelly Molson: Do you want to share that argument just in case we’ve got any listeners that share this opinion?

Ben Thompson: In a nutshell, it’s the ultimate combination of the individual and the team game and conditions and everything else, skills and experience sort of wrapped into one and it has different formats. You can have a really short game, like only three hours or quite a nice leisurely version of five days where you can have a draw at the end.

Kelly Molson: Okay. I mean, I will agree to disagree on that one, Ben.

Ben Thompson: Well, there we go.

Kelly Molson: But maybe some of our listeners… Well, I mean, tell us, let us… Yeah. Tweet us and let us know if you agree with Ben, I’d love to hear. Thank you for sharing. I always like to do that. I think it’s quite nice to get a little bit of an insight into people’s mind. And also what I really enjoyed is that the thing that you said that you’re not very good at actually showcased the things that you are very good at, which is talking about the bigger picture and the future and what things look like.

And that’s really one of the reasons that I have asked you to come on the podcast because you’ve got an incredible background in attractions and the experience economy, and it’s challenging for many in that sector at the moment. And I’m really keen to get your opinion on how it’s been and what you see the future to be. But could you just kind of give us what a typical project is for you, Ben?

Ben Thompson: Yeah. I mean, obviously the immediate answer is there’s no such thing as a typical project because every client is different and that is true. The kind of golden threads that I get involved, it’s all about storytelling. I call myself a chief storytelling officer and that is what I do. I’ve always loved books and narrative and kind of rich tapestries. I love Lord of the Rings as a kid, I loved all of the kind of The Hobbit, all that type of stuff.

And I read voraciously and as I got kind of older, I read a lot of psychology books, really fascinated by how the brain works. And Danny Kahneman is my sort of absolute number one fan in the… He wrote a book called Thinking Fast and Slow, and Kahneman worked with a guy called Amos Tversky and Kahneman ended up being a Nobel Prize winner and basically invented kind of behavioral economics.

And I find all that stuff fascinating at the point where kind of story and narrative meets in a meaning, how we interpret the world around us. I think that story forms views, it forms culture, but it can also transform. So Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore talk about that they’re at this stage of the transformative economy where the product is the change I see in me as a customer or a guest when I engage with your brand.

And I think story has a huge role to play in creating those kind of transformative experiences. So that’s sort of a big thread that runs through it. But back to my sort of personality and loving the new, I’m often working on new projects. So that could be like Tony’s, which we released our beautiful video, which we produced with Storyline Studios.

Kelly Molson: So this is Tony’s Chocolonelies.

Ben Thompson: Yeah, Tony’s Chocolonely. Yeah, exactly. So that is an amazing brand that has got a fantastic story, wants to transform the industry in which it’s working and wants to create a visitor experience to immerse people in that brand and to create advocates for their mission, which is to end slavery in the chocolate industry.

And our role was to take that from very basic, “Okay, we want to do this and it’s going to be kind of this size and it’s going to be this location. Oh, and by the way, it’s going to have a roller coaster.” To, “Okay, how do we actually put an immersive narrative around that?” And what we’ve done successfully is this, it’s either a great story when you stand back and you sort of, you think about it, it’s so simple.

Our approach to that was a three acts, heart, head, and hands. So we’d engage you with all of the joy and the fun of what chocolate is all about. Chocolate is ultimately about happiness and sharing.

So we do all of that great color, great richness, texture, and so on, but then we do a twist and we go into the head, which is about saying, “What’s the bitter side of the sweetness of chocolate?” It’s the reality of people working on cocoa farms in West Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, where it’s a really kind of terrible situation. Then we educate. So how can it be done differently? That’s the rest of the head piece. And then we move into hands, which is all about impact.

That particular brand is all about engaging people to make a difference with their decisions, with their activism, all that kind of stuff that we do. And that’s where we segued into the roller coaster. So when you get on the coaster, which we’re going to call something like the impact express or whatever, you’re actually going to be shrunken down to the size of a bar and fired out into the world to have an impact.

Kelly Molson: Wow!

Ben Thompson: Not literally fired out, health and safety will be taken into consideration here.

So that has been an awesome project. I have an amazing client in Brazil who are largest park operator out there, they run the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, they run the Equis Sioux falls down in the South of the country, which is the number one waterfall in the world, they have a big aquarium and so on.

And there it’s all been about kind of, how do you go from being an organization that’s grown through acquisition, has around 6 million guests a year, but in kind of silo style businesses. And how do you create the sort of structure that sits above that? A little bit like Merlin, where you can get great synergies, get great best practices, and a lot of that’s in your world of digital and get right structures and so on. So they can get the good data, make the good decisions and so on.

Ben Thompson: And we’ve got other projects that we can’t talk about yet.

Kelly Molson: Of course, there’s always secret projects.

Ben Thompson: Which is so frustrating. We’ve got two amazing, amazing clients that we’re working on. One in Europe and one, a global company, but based on the East Coast where the work we’re doing is just going to be incredible, but you’re going to have to watch this space.

Kelly Molson: All right. Well, we definitely will watch this space. And that brings me to my next question, really, because I’d like to know if you’re having to advise your clients differently at this point, because we are still in the middle of a pandemic. As we sit here, it’s the 1st of July, attractions in the UK can start to open safely from this weekend, if they are able to. And we’re seeing a really big demand, actually. We’ve seen a huge demand for ticket sales for London Zoo, Whipsnade Zoo, for example.

And we know that Shanghai Disney Resort sold out its capacity in three minutes. So we know that there’s demand there. We know people want to go back. And what are those conversations like at the moment with your clients that are looking to open their experiences in a year from now, two years from now? Are you having to talk to them very differently about things?

Ben Thompson: It’s a great question. I think the first thing to say is, I’m not at all surprised that there’s a massive pent up demand. And I think I’ve been fairly consistent with that, with my clients and stuff that I’ve written about. Disney have the most amazing metaphor for this, to explain why there would be this pent up demand and they call it the ” Closing Window “. And as a parent of children, I can really relate to this.

So the idea of the Closing Window is, if you have children, let’s say you have two or three kids. You don’t really want to go to the big park experience until they’re sort of five or six, because they don’t really get it. The rides maybe aren’t quite ready for them, unless you go to Legoland of course. And by the time they get to be 15 or so, and I’ve got a 16-year-old, so I can relate to this, parents are deeply uncool and they want to go off and do their own things.

So you’ve kind of got maybe eight or nine summers to go and make the memories that last a lifetime. And actually, that’s not that many summers, so if you take one away, you’re like, “Oh wow. I just lost a really big opportunity to go and do something amazing with my family.” And if you think about the experience for parents with their children in parks, basically, it’s the best you ever feel in the whole year as a mum or a dad.

I think particularly as a dad, by the way, because you’ve put so much energy into it, it can be really expensive and it’s a day that you’d never have to say no to your kids, typically. At least the way I try and do it. So you feel great, right? And those memories kind of reinforce your sense of yourself and the story that you tell yourself.

So that’s the power of the industry that we work in, and if you close the doors on people and say, “You can’t go,” and then they open up again, no surprise, there’s going to be a kind of a rush to the doors. I think indoor is going to be different from outdoor. I think outdoor’s obviously going to have the benefit of it’s going to feel safer for the more risk-averse folks out there, like my wife.

But the thing about indoor is still a massive role for it. It all depends about whether you’ve refreshed the experience. A big part of our industry is about suspense, surprising people, “Oh, I didn’t know they were going to do that. Oh, that’s different from last time,” or, “I want to go further into that experience than I could the time before.” I think that’s why escape rooms are such a great trend, because you want to do it quicker. Maybe they change a few things and it’s a different experience each time. So I think for anybody who is still waiting to get open, please don’t try and open with the same experience that you did last time, because I think people are going to be looking for something new.

Kelly Molson: That’s really good advice. I guess there are some experiences that can’t open at all at the moment, and that’s a huge challenge. So I read last week about the Poster museum who is allowed, they are allowed to open and the restrictions have been lifted.

However, they can’t make it safe enough for people to come in because they’ve got restricted space and actually restricted space on the postal ride that they have, the actual experience. And so it is still really, really difficult for the industry. And I guess how can you advise… I guess you can’t advise them if they physically can’t look at the safety implications and they can’t make it safe for people to come, that’s a very different story. But so your advice to attractions is to refresh what they’re doing. Don’t just open as they have previously.

Ben Thompson: I think that’s right. One of the most important things I feel is about empathy. So I engaged a few of my colleagues in IAAPA organization, in February I think, with an idea around how we might recognize our healthcare and key workers once we opened. We called the idea Healthcare Heroes, and actually a number of people have taken it on. People in China have done it, a load of the folks in Europe have done it as well.

And the idea there was just simple way of… The first people who come through the doors of our attractions ought to be the people who put their lives on the line to help us during COVID. So doctors, nurses, people working in healthcare. Actually teachers as well, by the way, my wife’s a teacher. Teachers get a bad rap most of the time, but they had to go back into their workplaces a long time before anybody else.

I thought that was a good idea for two reasons. One, is it shows that the people who are running that organization understand and care and empathize with what people are going through. There’s a sense we’re all in this together. Secondly, I think it allays risk. So if you are more on the kind of cautious, risk-averse side, if you can think, well, actually these guys are going to get healthcare workers are going to come through and they’ll help them check out their facilities and run the rule over their sanitation measures and so on. Then you can have a double win.

So yeah, I think empathy is good, and I think just communicating with people, what you’re doing and why. The guys over in Shanghai, when they opened earlier in May, I thought they did an outstanding job of just being right up front. Here are the guidelines, this is what we’re following. We’re not putting the full number that we can put through from the get go. I think they had the right to go up to sort of 25, 30,000 people a day, I think they put 5,000 in on the first day and then it kind of moved up to 10 and so on.

And that shows a really, again, kind of a sensitive mindset. It’s not all about shoving as many people through as possible to try and generate some revenue. It’s a bit more caring than that.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. Again, that’s one of the things that we’ve been talking about in the office the last couple of weeks is we talk quite a lot about getting visitor numbers through the door, we’ve got an ebook, Double Your Visitor Numbers. You can’t do that at the moment, so you’ve got to try and kind of maximize the revenue of the people that can come through, but also caring about their health and safety and making sure that they are safe is the fundamental thing that you need to be hearing about when you get those visitors back through the door.

Ben Thompson: Yeah. I mean, I think, again, I wrote another piece on this about guest centricity as opposed to customer centricity. I’ve always thought that the metaphor of the host at the dinner table is the right one for any kind of hospitality business. When you invite people to come into your home, you’re treating them as if they are a member of your family. You do anything for them.

You want to understand all about them, their needs, their preferences, whatever it is. I think in the article, I kind of used the example of so many of the CRM platforms where you get asked your name five times, or I have to fill in the same details, yeah. It’s the equivalent of after the second course say, “Oh yeah, what’s your name again?” And, “Oh, is your husband… Dave is it? Oh, James, oh, sorry.” So I just think that mindset of being all about the guests and caring for them and their day will stand us in good stead.

Kelly Molson: See, it’s really interesting actually. I think I’m going to hook you up with a past guest who’s on our season one of the podcast. We spoke to Alex Book from Arcade. So they are a big VR agency and they actually talk about not calling guests, guests, or visitors. They talk about calling them players. And it was a really interesting discussion around how you engage with them and what that kind of message is. I think that the two of you should have a chat about that. That would be… Maybe on here. Maybe on here actually.

Ben Thompson: That’ll be great. Language is important. One of the things Joe talks about is the idea of staging an experience. They say work is theater. It’s not a metaphor. We’re not saying, “Think of work like theater.” They’re saying, “It is theater.” You go to work every day to play a role and when you have an organization that is like a theatrical production, everyone playing their parts, staging the experience for the guests, whether that’s a pharmaceutical company looking after patients, or a retail organization looking after shoppers or Alton Towers or Disneyland looking after families and so on in the theme park.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. So on that note actually, with Disney, we were discussing last week about the Disney magic and how they still create that feeling. I mean, it’s super exciting. I’ve been to Disney about four or five times when I was a kid and my parents love it, and there’s not one part of that experience that isn’t magic. I can remember my dad parking the car, even getting on the little tram that takes you into it. Every part of it is exciting. How do they keep that up with the measures that they have to have in place now?

Ben Thompson: Yeah. The funny thing about Disney, and I was trying to explain to people as you, with all the talk that we’ve just been talking about, guest centricity, you would think that Disney were the ultimate guest-centric company, but they’re not. They’re not guest centric, they’re cast-centric. I went to the IAAPA Leadership Summit in March of this year just before lockdown happened, actually.

And I attended a presentation and met with a lady called Chris Tyler. Chris is the operations VP at Disneyland, Anaheim, California. And she took us through the launch of Galaxy’s Edge, and I’d had the kind of privilege of seeing Galaxy’s Edge, both in Anaheim and in Florida and I think it’s outstanding. Anyway, Chris just talked about the cast. She talked about the long lead-in to that opening and about how they invested in education, in programs to tell the backstory of the characters, the narratives, all the different movies, how they approach costuming, how they allow personalization of costuming, how they chose the staff, the cast who actually ended up taking up those frontline roles.

And then the launch event that they ran, and actually they did a fashion show where the kind of key Imagineers, people like Scott Trowbridge, Chris Beaty, Margaret Kerrison dressed up in the new costumes for Galaxy’s Edge for Batu, the new world, which they’ve created. Or should I say the existing part of the Star Wars universe which they’ve brought to life, because that’s what it is, it is an existing part. And so, basically the philosophy is about happy cast equals happy guests. That’s the mantra of the Disney Institute, which is the external-facing management consultancy part of the organization who train companies all round the world. And if you’re listening, guys, I’d love to partner with you one day.

But that simple principle is the reason why when you go into any Disneyland park, chances are 98 times out of 100, you’re meeting somebody who is happy to be there, and they are super motivated. They believe in what Disney are trying to do, whether it’s somebody who works in the janitorial department, whether they’re doing the laundry, whether they’re in frontline guest service, whether it’s ride ops, whatever it is, they know they’re there to create a magical experience and magical memories. And they’re generally some of the happiest staff that you’re going to find. And that, in my view, is the reason why Disney will endure, the magic will endure, because they’ve done a pretty good job of looking after people and they’ll continue to do so.

Kelly Molson: I love that. Yeah, I love that. Happy team makes for happy visitors, for sure.

Ben Thompson: I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Kelly Molson: Yeah.

Ben Thompson: So much of… Whenever I’ve done research on launching parks, and there’s so much of… The fantastic experience comes down to staff. Probably 25% of the overall piece. It isn’t the coast, it isn’t the… Well, it is those things, but those guys make up so much a part… And we forget that at our peril.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, you’re right actually, and I can draw a parallel to one of our clients for exactly the same reason. So we work with Eureka, the National Children’s Museum and their team are called enablers. And every single one of them, every time I’ve been, is happy.

They are engaging. They are genuinely really so delighted to be there and to welcome you and to help you. And it is just lovely. And that is part of the whole experience for me, that front of house team are so incredibly caring and dedicated to the people that are coming through the doors. And that is a big part of what that makes that experience brilliant.

Ben Thompson: Absolutely.

Kelly Molson: Big, big question for you. So what do you think the experience economy is going to look like post-COVID? Are experiences like Tony’s, for example, are they going to need to have a different focus? Are they going to need to look at things that are more virtual continuing? We’ve seen a lot of that during lockdown. Virtual museum tours, virtual tours, virtual experiences, is that going to continue, or do you think things are going to go back to how they were?

Ben Thompson: It’s a bit like the saying in the Hollywood industry, in the film industry. Nobody knows, right? You get a lot of people who’ll say, “Oh yeah, it’s going to be like this. The world’s going to change.” No, the world isn’t going to change. It’s going to be exactly the same. How do you say whether a film is going to be a success or not? Nobody knows.

We do a lot of work benchmarking what we think are really successful brands who’ve understood what the transformational economy is all about, and we showcase their work. So good example, not in our industry specifically, but they are an experienced provider, Peloton. Peloton they provide the program of how you become a better cyclist. I actually think it’s about becoming a better looking cyclist as well, by the way, because it’s a very sort of sexy brand.

The products of Peloton is wellbeing, how I feel about myself. Yes, my fitness, but my sense of belonging, being in something part of in myself, bigger than myself. My sort of competitive juices flowing and all that kind of stuff. People who love the brand, they would not lose their whatever it is, hour in the morning or at the end of the day, or whatever, for anything. It’s a sort of super positive drug, effectively, if you kind of think about it like that. Now, interestingly, that’s an experience that’s in-home. They connect it around the world through these super cool screens and you’ve got people from all different parts of the world, and that’s sort of the point of the online community.

Ben Thompson: I’m sure though, that there’s a version of that that could go from, in the home, to in a physical space with lots of other people. And a good example there would be eSports. So eSports has grown out of gamers sat in front of a screen like this, maybe one or two together, playing in multiplayer. Now you’ve got leagues, franchises.

When the London resort launch in X number of years time down in Kent, there’s talk of an eSports franchise, having their physical home. Like Arsenal or Chelsea Football Club. The equivalent of them having it there and having stadiums full of people, sort of watching the gamers. So the point is it can go both ways. We’re talking about physical theme park visitor attraction, brand homes, museums being places where people go to and we’re worried about will they kind of come back?

Well, I think lots of good examples of organizations creating virtual digital experiences and they’re obviously revenue-driving opportunities as well. So we’re about to do some work with the distillery industry, they are a provider, a curator, if you will, of really, really high-end product that, unless you tell the story… So bottles of whiskey or gin or whatever that are selling for hundreds and hundreds of pounds, you’re never going to buy that in Waitrose. But if you wrap a story around it and talk about the provenance and the heritage and the characters who put that together in the years and years and whatever, then I think you’re going to stand more chance of being successful. And all that can be done virtually just as well as it can in a… And often more effectively with some of the latest digital technologies.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely.

Ben Thompson: I almost certainly haven’t answered the question, but I at least hopefully gave some thoughts.

Kelly Molson: Oh, I don’t think the question can be answered, can it? It’s impossible at the moment. It’s like you say, we just don’t know. At the moment we don’t know what’s coming in the next couple of weeks, let alone the next couple of years. So I think I really enjoyed your answer though. And distillery is something that we know a little bit about Ben, so I feel like, I feel like there might be something happening there.

Ben Thompson: Okay. Let’s talk, let’s talk.

Kelly Molson: Let’s talk. Do you know what, we connected quite early on at the beginning of lockdown, and one of the things that I really enjoyed, you wrote an article, a brilliant article, actually on Blooloop. It was called COVID-19 and the enduring strength of the attractions industry. What I have really enjoyed about the content that you’ve been sharing and the things that you’ve been talking about over this period, is how unbelievably positive that you have been about the industry. And you’ve talked a lot about the overriding resilience that attractions have. I kind of wanted to know, that article came out right at the beginning of lockdown. If you could go back, is there anything that you would add to that now, having seen what you’ve seen over the past few months?

Ben Thompson: Well, first of all, I collaborated. It was my idea to write it, but I collaborated with four brilliant Dutch people. And we actually… We love the idea of putting a Zoom collaboration together. Obviously, we did it on Google Docs and whatever. So Raymond and Luca and Caroline, and I’ve forgotten the other guy’s name. Oh, I’m sorry.

Kelly Molson: Don’t worry. Let me know. We’ll put it in the show notes. So there’ll be..

Ben Thompson: Yeah, put it in the show notes. Yeah. So they helped me sort of put that together. I don’t think I would change anything. If I had a bit more time, I would like to have gone more into the psychological drivers, the deep kind of reasons why… Joe and Jim have this experience framework. So you’ve got education, entertainment, aesthetic, which is the sort of art appreciation, and then escapism in this sort of four box grid. And then they overlay that with things like edutainment and escatainment. What I think is really interesting is why do we feel the need to be entertained? What happens when we appreciate art? In our mind, in our heart, in our soul, what’s actually going on there?

And often it gets down to transformations. We as human beings, I think, are always looking to better ourselves. We have an idea of ourselves that’s bigger, more perfect, better than the way we kind of realize we are, and we’re always striving to try and get there. And I think brands that can help that sort of journey, help me understand my ambitions, achieve some of those ambitions, contribute to the world. I sometimes think… I oscillate between thinking we’re all fundamentally selfish and we’re all fundamentally good. And I think the truth is we’re both.

Successful businesses in our industry will be those who can really create the environment where we can be our best selves. Now, I’ve forgotten what the question was, but… Oh yeah, would I change anything about the article. I would love to go into more of that, kind of the sort of psychological approach to it, and what psychology can teach us in the entertainment industry, but the article was way longer than we started out, so.

Kelly Molson: There was a lot to talk about.

Ben Thompson: Charlie Read at Blooloop would probably have got his editing pen out.

Kelly Molson: Well, I’ll ask him, he’s coming on air in a few weeks.

Ben Thompson: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: We are coming up to the end of the podcast interview. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking to you, Ben.

Ben Thompson: Yeah, me too.

Kelly Molson: I think you’ve got a really great take on what things are going to be like future. I know we can’t be so specific at the moment, but I think some of the things you’re working on just sound so incredibly exciting, and I’m really pleased to see that there’s still that kind of overriding resilience in attractions. They’re going to come back bigger and stronger.

We like to ask our guests at the end of the podcast, if there’s a book that you’d recommend that has helped shape your career in any way.

Ben Thompson: Yeah. So there’s two books, actually, if I can be cheeky-

Kelly Molson: You can.

Ben Thompson: If you have marketing in your job title at all, or you have any responsibility to do marketing, you need to read a book called How Brands Grow. It was written about 15ish years ago by a guy called Byron Sharp at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute down in South Australia. I had the privilege of being trained by Byron and his team when I was at Mars. It’s incredibly simple concept of how brands grow, obviously, hence the title, around mental availability, so that the memory structures that sit in your mind. So if I say Coca-Cola to you, now you’re thinking about the colour red and swirls and the silvery writing and the shape of the bottle with the little glass pieces, which if you drop it on the floor, it’s so recognisable that every shard will look like your worst Coke bottle.

That’s mental availability. And physical availability is the concept of being at arms reach. Whenever the desire to purchase from that category is triggered, that’s the concept. But the book kind of goes into much more depth than that. And then I think for anybody in our industry, they need to get the latest copy of Joe’s book, Joe and Jim’s book The Experience Economy for which I really should be on commission. So I think Joe, we need to have a word about that. I just think you can’t operate in this space without having understood that. Authenticity is also a really good one, which is the follow-up to experience economy.

Kelly Molson: That’s three books, that’s super greedy, but I’m really glad that you shared The Experience Economy because it is a fantastic book. And I’m sure that many of our audience have read it. And if you haven’t, you definitely need to. So what we like to do is if you’d like to win a copy, I mean, Ben, this is two books.

So this is a double whammy. So if you’d like to win a copy of both of those books, then if you head over to our Twitter account, and if you retweet this episode announcement with the comment, “I want Ben’s books,” then you could be in with a chance of winning a copy of both of them. You’ve just upped my costs for this podcast, Ben.

Ben Thompson: I actually have several spare copies of How Brands Grow.

Kelly Molson: Oh, maybe Ben will send you one, personally.

Ben Thompson: So, I’ll put one in the post, well-thumbed.

Kelly Molson: Great. Ben, is there anything else that you’d like to share with us before we head off today?

Ben Thompson: I think we’re good. This has been really, really enjoyable. Apart from all the skewering you did at the end and made me talk about all the things I was rubbish at. Which is good.

Kelly Molson: Just trying to get under the skin, Ben.

Ben Thompson: Yes, you did that. Definitely need to edit that out. No, no, it’s been great. I think this is a fantastic industry. We’ve taken a bit of a punch, but there’s no limbs broken, we’ll come back stronger. We’ve been growing 3 or 4% Kager for the last 10 years and the industry, entertained a billion people last year, probably slightly more and strong growth across the regions. I think it’s a great place to work and have fun.

Kelly Molson: That is a lovely place to end the podcast to us both today. Thank you so much for joining us, Ben. It’s been a pleasure.

Ben Thompson: Pleasure. Awesome. Thank you so much, Kelly.

Kelly Molson: Thank you.

Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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