No exit through the gift shop. Can beautiful products help attractions find fame and fortune?
Updated: Feb 16
The conventions of visitor attraction gifts and souvenirs were formed in the pre-Covid era. The charm of a venue’s physical place was the main draw to tempt people in for a unique experience. Visitors trod a linear path, culminating in their exit through the gift shop, with a chance to pick up something fabulous to remember time wonderfully and inspirationally spent. But now we exist in a different world. Thwarted from receiving the usual steady stream of guests, these evocative places, from palaces to galleries, gardens to museums are in a state of suspended animation, waiting for the rules to relax, and hopeful that people will return in decent numbers.
It makes me think that now is the time for attractions to focus and channel their total brand experience and reach out to their audiences virtually. Surely now is the time to turn adversity into opportunity and create and promote irresistible gift products that deliver delightful, memorable and meaningful brand experiences, in the absence of a real visit?
Products that attractions sell need to find an audience in what are challenging times. The commercial environment they find themselves in is very different. Unchained from the place they are associated with, their gift ranges will be competing with other things, both on platforms and in people's consciousness. How do you as, for instance, Historic Royal Palaces or the National Trust, get people to buy your marmalade as the perfect Christmas gift, rather than going elsewhere? For this reason, visitor attractions need to metaphorically tear down the walls of the gift shop, and rethink their approach to brand in order to capitalise on the current conditions.
As the pandemic wears on, we're all desperate for things that take us out of ourselves, so this is a great opportunity to make these items properly thought-out branded products in their own right, not just souvenirs. By approaching them as elevated objects that give life to your experience beyond its geographical constraints, this allows your brand to live out there in the world, not just in your on-site shop.
But in order to stand out in our maddeningly overloaded visual world, you’ve got to have a really strong point of view and a really strong attitude about what you're bringing to the market. This can form the basis of a compelling narrative and arresting visuals that channel your brand’s spirit. Competing against powerful online shopping platforms takes clever marketing.
On social and through targeted communications, delectable gift items can present a welcome opportunity for loyal brand followers to renew their connections, or find gifts that they know their loved ones will enjoy. And reaching out to your tribe with gift items that truly embody your values can foster a sense of togetherness and make a whole new audience see you in a different light.
We drew on this thinking in our reimagining of Harvey Nichols’ own-brand food and drink range to behave more like a fashion and lifestyle brand. The bold packaging design appeals to tastemakers and fashion mavens and is irresistibly sharable, online and IRL. The HN monogram resized and repeated becomes a striking geometric pattern in a fearlessly stylish collection of gifts you can eat.
In the age of total brand experience, it makes sense for attractions to elevate gift items from souvenirs to covetable brand objects. Done well, they can create distinctive and authentic experiences beyond geographical boundaries.