In a private mail exchange recently (yes, it was with someone you have heard of, but Mick Jagger told me - personally - never to name-drop), we were talking about the authenticity of face to face experiences.
It struck me that a lot of H2H experiences - like the Charmin one in Times Square - rely heavily on what the adult industry calls talent, but which you might call actors, cast members or poverty-stricken students. They are those people, often costumed, with whom the customers react directly, and whose enthusiasm, skill and interpersonal skills can make or break the experience.
Very often, these folks have to act in a scripted way - or at least are given a limited range of interactive options. Your chaps in the Charmin experience (which I like, by the way) are pretty much doomed to spend their workdays saying the same phrases over and over again, and smiling. A lot. Possibly while dressed as a toilet.
Now I too make my living by dropping my pants in amusing ways, and I know how crushingly dull it can be to go through the same routine over and over again. Sure, the audience is different every time, and sure their smiles and laughter can give you an immense amount of energy, but eventually you just get fed up with the gig. If you are supposed to be happy about things - a common situation in experiential marketing - this is a problem.
"Never mind", I hear you cry, "for you are a gifted, professional thespian who is able to smile through the greatest suffering". A fair point, and here's a fiver, but where does that leave authenticity?
Let's be honest - there are few actors good enough to convincingly fake happiness at a range of two feet for several hours. And even if they are technically brilliant, you are not necessarily going to believe them. When Robert de Niro cries his eyes out on the big screen, his face, voice and tear glands do everything that they would do in a real trauma. But we know it is fake, because it's a movie, stupid! Similarly, when we see folks in comical animal suits smiling at us, we tend to to treat their emotion with scepticism.
So in the interests of authentic experiences, we need to make sure that the talent we use is showing genuine emotions. How can we do that?
- Give your talent a chance to believe in the product. Truly believe. As I always expound in my presentation training, "if you don't believe what you are saying, shut up about it". The best way to help them love the product? By giving them the knowledge they need, and by bringing them into close contact with people who love it already.
- Give your talent a chance to show emotion. Think about your costume design, and your staging. Are they going to allow the character the freedom of facial and physical expression that they need? Do you really need that mask? Wouldn't make-up be better? If someone absolutely must be dressed as a carrot, must it be the person with close-up customer contact?
- Give your talent breaks. This is basic stuff here, but you know already that real breaks make all the difference. As does a decent wage, by the way. But not as much as when you...
- Give your talent the freedom to shape the experience. Open any airport bookshop volume on motivation, and you will see that the thing which we dig most is the feeling that we are shaping our own actions and being valued for them. So encourage your folks to do it their way, not yours. Yes, they might drift from your CI, but they will glow while they are doing it and people buy from people, remember? So recruit good people, and let them play.
- Give your talent applause. In a lot of experiences, the status of applause is unclear. If the experience is highly theatrical, applause may be welcome. However, if the experience design is more personal, more intimate, very immersive, continuous, or just plain dark, applause might not seem appropriate. Often, the customers are simply unsure if applause is "allowed". Nonetheless, your talent probably chose this profession - at least partly - for the roar of the crowd. Don't underestimate the importance of that buzz factor in keeping your folks motivated - and authentic.
Keep your talent happy. Your customers will feel it if you don't.