At that stop, visitors spent time underneath a shelter, drinking free coffee, eating cookies, reading books found in a cupboard and making cards. People escorted those without umbrellas from the shelter to their bus. Commuters went out of their way to wait for their bus inside what was deemed the “Living Room Station – Your Home Before You Get Home,” a collaboration between the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, Metro Transit and The Musicant Group.
“We are a firm believer that every place can be a great place,” says Max Musicant, founder and principal, The Musicant Group. “There is no type of use, venue or facility that can’t be amazing.”
This sort of project is just one of many from The Musicant Group. Its existence has roots in the experience economy, which states that organizations must create memorable events for their consumers. That memory then becomes the product and something that the customers aren’t likely to forget. The product is less tangible. Introduced in 1998 by Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore—two American authors— this concept now also is true for the event world.
“Because of screen time, we’re not having as many serendipitous, unplanned social interactions,” says Musicant. “Events have come up to fill those gaps as a major way to deliver the social interactions and venues that people are craving and not getting enough of.”
Building a Master Plan
To create such an event, Debbie FriedmanHueller, senior meetings and events planner for Land O’Lakes, notes that the person hosting the event must completely trust the planner with their vision so that they can push the limits of creativity and deliver an event that truly creates memories for both the host and the attendees.
“You need to give the planner carte blanche to really think outside the box,” she says. “The biggest thing is knowing your audience. You want them to try something that makes them think differently and engage differently.”
When designing one-time events or ongoing series of design creations, planners first see the clients’ vision through the lens of the user experience. They ask users what they’re looking for, which generates enthusiasm. Through member surveys, they create a list of priority experiences and then translate that into strategies to accomplish their goal.
The Musicant Group also looks at the design and management of the space and thinks about events and activities that could take place there. Oftentimes, the team dreams up ways to bring excitement into office spaces, leveraging those spaces to allow for participants to mingle and come together.
One such of these ongoing projects is working with a downtown Minneapolis office to host 150-200 events a year in the common area. They hold live music, weekly art classes and cereal bars where tenants can find healthy choices. They can also play vintage Mario and other video games, which others can see from the Minneapolis Skyway. All these things excite people and give them the motivation to come in every day.
“All these things are making people more interested in coming to the office,” says Musicant. “A sense of community spreads, bringing in more tenants and keeping the ones that they have.”
GetKnit Events is the result of the booming experience economy. Launched in 2013, the backbone of the Minneapolis-based event and tour company is designing any type of event that creates lasting memories. During the course of a year, the company plans hundreds of events that stick with attendees forever. These include anything from Sunset Paddling & Pints on the Mississippi to Ice Fishing & Fish Frying on Lake Minnetonka and the Great Waterfall Tour Overnight Adventure. While the saying’s cliche, the sky is actually the limit.
“Our clients seek our services because they no longer want the typical outing or event,” says Nick Blake, president. “We strive to create unique event concepts that are far beyond the typical hotel ballroom and buffet lines of the past.”
Staying Relevant in a Tech-Focused World
Musicant credits much of the experience economy to our technology-heavy world. Users have the ability to do things faster and in the way they want. They need something that can distract them from technology in a way that excites them to increase participation.
“Technology is freeing people up to do whatever they want when they want and where they want,” he says. “With that freedom, people are choosing to go and do things and be in places that have a better experience.”
Jenny Terseck, event planner and onboarding strategist for Life Time, echoes that same mentality. Attendees expect an event to be an experience largely in part because of the way in which it can help elevate an event that allows for more attendee participation and a fully immersed experience.
“These days, participants expect that an event is an experience,” she says. “This creates a cognitive memory and also a digital memory that the participant reflects on changing the industry to become ever more aware and focus on creating an event bigger and better experience the next time.”
For Robert Thompson, founder and CEO of Punch Bowl Social—a national chain of restaurants, including one in St. Louis Park, that prides itself on fostering memorable experiences—notes that much of this demand for events that create lasting impressions has to do with millennials, a group of the world who are technology super-users. This demographic craves high levels of engagement and uniqueness in everything they do.
“Millennials seek experiences in their lives, and they are the majority of the workforce today,” he says. “Sometimes they’re the captains and sometimes just part of the workforce, but either way they are the main attendees, and companies are trying to satisfy that itch.”
Maximizing Creativity in the Confines of a Budget
Today companies are seeking to do more with less and economize its spend on event while still taking into account that their event needs to stand out. Friedman-Hueller sees that in her work.
Gone, she says, are the days of talking heads in large ballrooms with rows of theater seating. Attendees don’t want to be preached at anymore, sitting for hours at a time—they want to be part of an experience, part of something that creates an impression. And much of this is cost-effective.
“We try to economize the spend on the event without impacting the attendee experience,” says Friedman-Hueller. “We find new and creative ways to make attendees feel special, welcomed and part of the event.”
Friedman-Hueller reflects on one such moneysaving event that featured an award ceremony. Many times with events such as these, there’s a cocktail hour, dinner and then people walk across the stage to accept their awards before dessert takes place. To make the program more creative, they asked the award winners to select a song to play as they made their way across the stage. Participants chose songs by artists ranging from AC/DC and Queen to DJ Khaled and Trick Daddy, eliciting shock and laughter.
“We really tailored that event to who the attendees were that year,” she says. “It cost no more than an iTunes playlist.”
Take It from the Pros
When tasked with planning an event that goes beyond what attendees expect, Musicant advises planners to think about the journey the attendee will take not only through the venue, but also consider where they’re coming from, what sort of transportation they’re taking and the path that creates. Think about every aspect that the attendee will take before, during and after the event to maximize that vibrancy and creativity a memorable event can have.
“The goal of the client can really be leveraged and achieved by going through that process and putting yourself in the shoes of the client and attendee,” Musicant says. “You can unearth really unique and powerful opportunities to create an enhanced experience that people will really remember.”
Friedman-Hueller recommends leaning on technology trends. Ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft changed the game. Different resources and amenities are always popping up that can take any event to the next level. Event apps and push notifications allow for easier communication than an email, where information gets bogged down with everything else in front of an attendee’s eyes. It’s important to take advantage of everything available to you.
Finding ideas from what other companies and planners are doing also is a great source of inspiration, says Friedman-Hueller. Sometimes seeing what other professionals have done can spark inspiration you wouldn’t find elsewhere. This is especially the case in Minnesota, she says, where talent runs rampant.
“Look around and ask around,” she says. “We’re fortunate enough to be in such a fun community of like-minded professionals who have tried things in different audiences. Ask questions to see what has worked and what hasn’t.”
But Blake also recommends striving for events that the planner themselves can get excited about and will find truly memorable. “One thing that I do when creating any event is ask myself, ‘Would I want to do this?’” he says. “If the answer is ‘heck yes!’ then I generally like to believe that attendees will love it and leave them with wonderful and lasting memories.”
Pushing boundaries should be top of mind when planning an experience that stands out from the standard event attendees have experienced repeatedly. Recently, Terseck planned an event where the main goal was to have participants feel like a star or celebrity in Nashville. As part of the event, she considered what visitors tend to do when they visit Music City. A standard trip usually includes a visit to a cowboy boots store. Terseck thought to herself that while she could incorporate this, a simple visit isn’t something a celebrity would do. Instead, she brought the store to them, bringing sizes and styles to a welcome reception where attendees could pick whatever they desired.
“The key to success in such an event is extreme attention to detail,” she says. “I took this event to the next level of not satisfying their expectations, but absolutely went to the top level of satisfaction by blowing them away with events, prizes, meals and gifts they couldn’t have predicted themselves.”
Blake, too, has taken this approach. His team was tasked with planning an event for a Fortune 500 company, which was celebrating a milestone for their international teams. They sent everyone to Minnesota—in the heart of winter. Being from abroad, most of the attendees had never experienced anything quite like a Minnesotan winter. They needed to create an event that showcased the state while keeping attendees engaged (and warm).
The day started with a horse-drawn carriage along St. Anthony Main, which of course included blankets and hot chocolate. They took a Juicy Lucy cooking class, visited breweries, built snowmen and went to Frogtown Curling for a curling lesson. They then ended the day with a dinner filled with Minnesota classics. They were fully immersed in Minnesota’s culture while surviving winter and truly getting a feel for the great state of Minnesota—an experience that resulted in a memory both Blake’s team and the participants will find hard to beat.
“We curate every experience to really tailor it to each audience,” says Blake. “This means hours of planning logistics, working side by side with the local partners involved and organizing every detail so that the client simply shows up and enjoys.”
Trends in the event world come and go. Attendees are always craving something new, and attention spans are lower and lower. However, the experience economy is here to stay, and it will likely get even bigger as participants expectations grow with every event they attend.