If you were dropped into a LEGOLAND park blindfolded, you’d know exactly where you are the minute that blindfold came off. It’s obvious everywhere you look, right down to the signage and graphics, and in everything you experience. This is a prime example of a brand that has been extended to its fullest potential. The play-and-learn philosophy behind this brand is masterfully evident in every one if its theme parks around the world. Such synergy between the brand and the experience doesn’t just happen by accident.
Working with an established brand is as challenging as it is rewarding. How do you preserve the integrity of the brand while turning it into a real-life experience? How do you balance the familiar with the new and exciting? How do you attract brand loyalists? After more than 30 years’ experience working with brands like LEGO, BBC Worldwide, Nickelodeon, Universal Studios and many others, here’s what we’ve learned, summarised into four brand extension secrets.
1. Immerse yourself in the brand
Get to know the brand on a cellular level. Study its DNA. Understand what makes the brand tick and what people love about it. The more you know, the easier it is to capture the essence of the brand in the environments and experiences you create for it. When FORREC took on the task of creating The Little Big Club and Heartful Party at Puteri Harbour in Johor, Malaysia, we were working with two major brands: HiT Entertainment, which owns a number of IPs, including Thomas the Tank Engine, Barney, Pingu, Bob the Builder and Angelina Ballerina; and Sanrio, which owns Hello Kitty. We became absorbed in the culture of cuteness that surrounds each of these adorable characters so that everything we created for them would be believable.
2. Create authentic experiences
Once you understand the nuances of the brand, parlay that knowledge into broader, new, unexpected experiences that feel absolutely right for the brand. At Puteri Harbour, we knew that children already believe that each character is real so they are the most discerning brand loyalists. Our designs had to live up to their very high expectations. HiT Entertainment’s branded characters were born on TV so the scale of the real worlds we created had to measure up to their media counterparts. Sanrio’s Hello Kitty came from a merchandise background with very strictly defined parameters as to how the branded character can be portrayed, but we had more latitude with what her world could look like. We paid particular attention to Hello Kitty’s well-known preference for all things pink and pretty in designing her environment and the experiences within it.
3. Engage the brand loyalists
and attract new fans
Call them enthusiasts or call them fans, these people want to get inside the brand they love. The more zealous their devotion, the more heightened their expectations. Passivity is simply not an option. One of the most intense fan bases FORREC has ever encountered was for WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). Studying this brand revealed that these fiercely devoted fans want to live the WWE experience to its extreme. We played up the names and personas of WWE superstars and based some of the experiences on their signature wrestling moves. The branded attraction concepts we designed are as wildly thrilling and adrenaline-pumping as stepping into the ring itself – so much so that the attractions themselves would attract a whole new legion of thrill-seeking fans.
4. Understand your market
A recent theme park study revealed that, in China, there is increased interest in building branded attractions, but in a way that showcases local culture and heritage. While Western-based global brands like Disney and Universal are having a positive effect on what is the largest consumer market in the world, an Eastern-based global brand, Wanda Group, is especially adept at fulfilling the cultural goals of the Chinese government. Wanda Xishuangbanna International Resort theme park reflects the astonishing natural beauty and multicultural character of Yunnan Province, while Wanda Nanchang Outdoor Theme Park captures the unique aspects of JiangXi region. The tea trade features prominently in one park while the porcelain industry is spotlighted in the other. FORREC’s work on these projects recognises that such historical and cultural elements are integral to the Wanda brand.
There is no question that a powerful brand is a powerful tool in the hands of those who know how to use it. These four rules can help: know and respect the brand, create extended experiences that are true to it, keep the brand loyalists happy, and find the cultural heart.