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Attracting Millennials to location-based entertainment venues

Millennials have become a significant consumer power in America. Generally defined as people currently between age 18 and 34, they are a significant target market for location-based entertainment venues. They are a very technologically savvy and wired generation with their at-home digital technology and mobile gadgets. At least 95% of them go online, 81% own a smart phone, wireless connectable laptop and/or tablet and 83% use social networking sites. In fact, the majority of Millennials, or Gen-Yers, are wired 24/7. Much of that technology is used for e-communication, social media and entertainment. So unlike early generations at their age, they have far more entertainment options that are far more convenient and less expensive than what only the Real World offers. They also have far more ways to meet up with friends on social media and in video games. Gen-Yers live and breathe a digital social life. They are not location-dependent for entertainment or socialization.

Attracting Gen-Yers to venue-based entertainment is a challenge. To do so, you have to understand some of their basic characteristics that differ from older generations. For one, the experience has to be both interactive and social. They are looking for an exciting place where they can to be seen. You are not longer competing with just other entertainment venues, but also Real World places like coffee shops and Apple Stores as well as the Digital World. Millennials are also image, brand and value conscious.

A recent survey by Iconoculture, a global research and advisory company, gives some interesting insight into Gen-Yers. The company conducted a global survey of 20somethings and how they felt about fun versus enjoyment. In the survey, fun as defined as, “It is important to me to have fun and forget about my problems.” Enjoyment was defined as, “I try to get the most enjoyment out of everything I do.” American 20somethings favored enjoyment with its essence of finding bits of fun in every circumstance whereas Asian/Pacific young adults care more about fun and its emphasis on escape.

What this means is that American 20somethings don’t necessarily see entertainment venues as offering anything that different from what they experience in the rest of their lives. If you position fun as something that is happening all the time, especially in the Digital World, you don’t have to seek out fun as an escape from the rest of your life (which is perhaps what is happening in Asia).

Dr. Edward Castronova, in his book Exodus to the Virtual World, sees a growing migration into virtual worlds, especially into all type of digital games. He suggests that as people spend more time in virtual worlds, they will come to expect the real world to provide many of the same characteristics of those virtual worlds, including fun. He theorizes that the real world will need to model the virtual world, including offering more fun. Jane McGonigal in her book Reality is Broken basically concurs with Castronova by pointing out that as people devote more and more of their free time to game worlds, the Real World increasingly feels like it’s missing something. She goes so far as to declare, “Reality, compared to games, is broken.” (For supporting data on this theory of migration to the virtual world, see my recent article, The creative destruction of location-based entertainment).

There can be little doubt that Dr. Castronova’s theory explains Gen-Yers’ desire for enjoyment in everything they do. Millennials’ expectation is that time spent in the Real World should be as enjoyable as the time they spend in the Digital World, which now is now around 45% of their waking hours.

This is scary stuff for the location-based entertainment industry. Many major entertainment venues such as the large destination theme parks and live shows and concerts have been able to ramp up the fidelity of their offerings, making them more attractive in many respects than the virtual world. Entertainment venues are starting to enhance guests’ engagement by incorporating Digital World aspects into the Real World experiences they offer using Augmented Reality and Alternate Reality. Some are starting to enable guests to integrate their Real World and Digital World experiences into one. Luna Park in Sydney, Australia has a free multichannel technology wristband system that integrates SMS, email, web and Facebook and allows guests to share their theme park experiences in real time with friends online. The growing improvement and availability of near-field communication technology will soon open a wide range of possibilities for the Real World to interact with mobile devices.

Gen-Yers are very sophisticated when it comes to food and drink. They have very worldly tastes. Food and drink can draw them into Real World venues, as that is one of the experiences the Digital World can’t offer. But you better make it affordable, fresh and healthful food, fun, and even interactive to attract them. And most of all, any entertainment venue that wants to attract Millennials needs to be a place where they can be part of social scene, no different than their experiences in the world of social media.

If entertainment venues can make themselves anywhere near as attractive as an Apple Store, one of Gen-Y’s most loved and desired brands, as well as places to hang out, then there is a future. Just remember, you are not necessarily competing with entertainment, you are competing with the enjoyment and fun in everything Millennials do in their lives.

About Randy White

Randy White is CEO and co-founder of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. The 31-year-old company, with offices in Kansas City, Missouri, has worked for over 600 clients in 37 countries throughout the world. Projects the company has designed and produced have won seventeen 1st place awards. Randy is considered to be one of the world's foremost authorities on feasibility, brand development, design and production of leisure experience destinations including entertainment, eatertainment, edutainment, agritainment/agritourism, play and leisure facilities.

Randy was featured on the Food Network's Unwrapped television show as an eatertainment expert, quoted as an entertainment/edutainment center expert in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Time magazine and received recognition for family-friendly designs by Pizza Today magazine. One of the company's projects was featured as an example of an edutainment project in the book The Experience Economy. Numerous national newspapers have interviewed him as an expert on shopping center and mall entertainment and retail-tainment.

Randy is a graduate of New York University. Prior to repositioning the company in 1989 to work exclusively in the leisure and learning industry, White Hutchinson was active in the retail/commercial real estate industry as a real estate consultancy specializing in workouts/turnarounds of commercial projects. In the late 1960s to early 1980s, Randy managed a diversified real estate development company that developed, owned and managed over 2.0 million square feet of shopping centers and mixed-use projects and 2,000 acres of residential subdivisions. Randy has held the designations of CSM (Certified Shopping Center Manager) and Certified Retail Property Executive (CRX) from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

He has authored over 150 articles that have been published in over 40 leading entertainment/leisure and early childhood education industry magazines and journals and has been a featured speaker and keynoter at over 40 different conventions and trade groups.

Randy is the editor of his company's Leisure eNewsletter, has a blog and posts on Twitter and Linkedin.

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