The magic of NRF's Big Show 2011

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If I take one lesson away from the National Retail Federation's 100th Annual Big Show, it isn't that finding wi-fi at technology-driven trade shows is impossible (we already knew that) or that case studies that don't produce ROI numbers are pointless (we already knew that too). What I learned is simple: No matter your discipline (marketing, service, sales) the goal is always to provide customers with a powerful experience.

I was disappointed to find that the show produced very few direct marketing-specific lessons (so was my news editor), but anyone with an imagination could apply the show's overarching message to what it is we cover here at Direct Marketing News, and for that reason it was definitely a worthwhile experience.                

Disney Store SVP Stephen Finney's address on January 11 described Disney's transformation from a retail location to a retail destination. The goal was to provide “the best 30 minutes of a child's day” by turning stores into "imagination parks" driven by technology that allowed guests to interact with displays, a touch-screen theater, and cast members. (I shook hands with Mickey yesterday). Instead of going to a Disney Store and browsing aisle upon aisle of Goofy t-shirts, customers were greeted by Goofy himself, and they could watch Goofy movies with Goofy on the hi-def in-store theater. This interaction creates an emotional experience that turns a t-shirt buying experience into a memorable life experience. (I'll never forget my shake with Mickey. His four-fingered grip was a lot tighter than one would expect.)

Isn't that the goal of direct marketing? To provide something more than just low-low prices for fancy products? You don't have to be Disney to remind customers why they came to the store or website in the first place — if your campaign can make people feel something powerful then you're one step ahead of the competition.

Disney has reaped the rewards of this strategy. The company announced yesterday that it will open 25 new and remodeled retail locations in 2011, and ultimately all 350-plus locations will be redesigned to deliver the “magical experience” of the technology-driven stores. I've yet to check out the Times Square location — the crown jewel of Disney Stores — but I'm definitely tempted. I'm probably too old to watch flicks alongside men dressed as cartoon characters, but I'm sure my younger cousins will love the experience based on what I saw during Finney's inspiring presentation. Hands down the best 30 minutes of my day at NRF's Big Show 2011.

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