Depth Of Experience
Getting Your Customers To Remember Your Haunt!
Ben Armstrong NETHERWORLD Haunted House – www.Fearworld.com
We haunt owners and actors have a very interesting job. We have to create something new, amazing and terrifying every year while still pleasing our customers – The classic “give them what they want and give them what you want”. We have a very wide playground to explore with our attractions, but the ultimate success of them still depends on pleasing the customer. For example if you had a restaurant you could experiment with a myriad of food choices and flavors but ultimately THE FOOD HAS TO TASTE GOOD for your restaurant to succeed. Since most people want certain things on their haunted house “menu” what is the core set of flavors that folks want? Two things I want to discuss in this article key to pleasing your guests are 1) The Razor’s Edge: picking your content and 2) The Depth of Experience: Creating a rich memorable adventure full of peak moments that leaves your customers thrilled!
The Razors Edge
I call this first concept the razor’s edge. A successful Haunted Attraction has to balance between two core ideas in its themeing and design to have the greatest hope to survive: HORROR and HALLOWEEN.
Horror is a very wide idea that can range from the surreal and supernatural to the most realistic and savage. It attempts to scare you, to disturb you, to make you scream. Horror can be amazingly artistic and high concept or it can be exceedingly simple and lowbrow. In all of its forms it can be very effective or fall totally on its face – depending on the critical choices the filmmaker, artist, or author make with the material and how successfully they executed them. It also has a very wide degree of what its fans enjoy – one man’s best movie ever is another man’s piece of filth.
Halloween has similar challenges. It is nostalgic, traditional and cultural, but paradoxically new, evolving and topical. It can change huge sections of the population into thrill seekers and tricksters for a few short days and return them to a mundane existence on November 1st. It is both a child’s holiday and grownup’s holiday, but those that it touches develop deep emotions centered on fear and fun with a taste of the ancient past thrown in for good measure.
The most successful haunted attractions have learned to ride the razor’s edge, to combine the seasonal exuberant, transformative emotions of Halloween with the fear, dread, excitement and artistic expression of Horror. Go too far into Halloween and an attraction can seem tame and clichéd. And taken to the outer reaches of horror, the violent nasty ultra realistic content becomes soulless and foul.
Too often I think, some producers of attractions and some haunt actors as well seem to be fighting with their own inner demons and the product suffers for it. Most people who attend a haunted attraction want to see cool stuff, get scared and have a good time, not experience content that makes them embarrassed, angry or disgusted. It is of course up to the haunt producer to create what they wish, and extreme or revolting content does have an audience to be sure. But it is a narrower audience and the attraction that goes that route must be content with surviving on a much smaller potential population base.
FEEL and Memory
So based on the Halloween/Horror scale you have selected the sort of theming that you will both enjoy as a producer and that targets your selected demographic. You have written the menu, now how do you make the FOOD TASTE GOOD? First let’s talk a bit about what it takes to make your customers satisfied with your event. I have already written extensively on the concept that you are dealing with a group (Rethinking The Haunted House Guest Experience) now let’s cut to the core of how the individual feels walking out of your show. Many people seem to totally lack the ability to remember ANYTHING about what they saw and experienced in your attraction but they will never forget how you made them FEEL. Are they excited, scared and happy? Are they angry that they didn’t get what they want, or that they had to wait too long in line? It is this overall satisfaction that you as a producer are trying to master. Aside from the obvious excitement and the expectation of its arrival, it is no wonder that the chainsaw is the most memorable event in most haunted houses as it is usually the last thing they face! Maybe if we could actually get them to remember the attraction and all the cool stuff you put in there it would be easier to make them satisfied with your event. We CAN get them to better remember by creating a richly layered Depth of Experience.
Depth Of Experience
How can we get them to remember? Here are some of the top barriers to positive memories of a haunt:
1) Too Much Theme: Let’s face it we have all (myself included) grown totally addicted to theming. But I have recently started to feel that too much of a good thing creates a situation where guests have a difficult time remembering the haunt. Say for example, your haunt has a “Used Tire Store Theme” Well, you have the garage area, the tire storage area, the office, the waiting room, etc. And everyone who jumps out is a greasy mechanic. How can you remember that? It has a “sameness”. In the old days almost every room in a haunt was totally different, jammed together with no rhyme or reason. But you can bet it was easier to remember because every scene was different. Now I am not suggesting that we go back to the old ways, but I am saying that making your scenes different as possible, even within your themed “box” will lead to a situation where guests will be able to remember and thus better appreciate your event.
2) Actors doing the same thing: If every actor looks similar and does the same sort of thing, the customers will grow resistant to them faster and forget them immediately. Different costuming, vocal assaults, reveals (how the actor appears) and types of performance all help to create a richer experience for the guests.
3) Peak moments: You must create as many “Peak Moments” as possible – intense varied effects and experiences that really create strong memories. A classic Peak Moment in most haunts for example is the Vortex Tunnel that always ranks right up there with the chainsaw.
4) Mixing up audio and lighting: If everything is black light it feels the same. If the soundtrack never varies, or the lighting is uniform, or if everywhere is choked with fog you are blending many different moments into one long singular experience.
5) Scares should be from everywhere and everything: Variety of scares is essential! Animations, actors, effects, scares from below above and both sides are critical. We want to hit them with a buffet of unique and shocking events, not a single massive can of chocolate pudding (Sorry Carl!).
6) Highs and lows: The house must pulse, with moments of rest and moments of intensity. A bit of humor now and then always helps make the next shock that much more powerful.
7) Working on difficult customers: If you see customers that stand out – they are not having fun or they are confused or angry, train your actors to spend some time with them. 80% of all haunt reviews good or bad often come down to something amazing or something stupid an actor or a member of the staff did. This is especially true when you find a person on the edge of a bad experience – it is often not that difficult to turn a difficult moment around if it gets caught in time.
The Depth of Experience idea is just like layering and detailing in a room – Construction, paint, props and lighting closely relate to building memories with a variety of different occurrences laid one on top of the other. Long haunts seem short if they are repetitive and short ones seem vast if the experiences are varied and thrilling. Always keeping the customer experience in mind will help you succeed sometimes where money and resources won’t – never forget that!