By Craig Fuller
There's a term called "placemaking" that's become popular with urban planners and land developers. It refers to the process of designing places with a combination of activities, scenery, connectivity, and conveniences to create the most enjoyable experience possible. Placemaking is largely defined by environmental opportunities, but at the end of the day, it's all about creating a setting that inspires strong, positive, sustainable feelings. And it's this notion that has a much broader set of applications across almost any business category.
Because helping partners, prospects and customers to feel engaged, receptive and empowered is key to creating rapport, forming bonds, and inspiring the right kinds of decisions - and relationships.
And, as in placemaking, it's frequently not one thing - but a continuum of gestures, impressions, and interactions that create a sense of trust, and of affinity. That, in turn, suggest an approach to "experience design" that operates in much the same way placemaking does.
It's a process that begins with communication objectives that suggest how to choreograph messages, graphics, storytelling, personal contact, materials and even environments to create a coherent and compelling sense of a company or product.
We can all think of consumer lifestyle brands who are masters of this kind of thinking.
But, it's important to grasp that while a comprehensive approach is useful, it's not just a matter of consistent messaging or follow-up. But creating - and here's where placemaking comes in - a visceral experience that puts the recipient in the right frame of mind.
Again, we're talking about a psychological and emotional space that encourages a relaxed, confident and attentive disposition.
In a world where everyone is bombarded with messages, images and information - and agendas - 24/7, it's incumbent on any sophisticated company to figure out how to create an appealing "place" for a optimal interaction to occur.
What are the environmental, sensory, and language-based elements that will engender a receptive, engaged state of mind? It's a good question whether the setting is an office, retail store, website, phone call, or any other event where a purchase is being considered, or an impression formed.
How often, as consumers, do we find ourselves put off, irritated or simply disengaged because we've not been approached or attended to in a way that puts us at ease or interested in the opportunity at hand? Maybe the gesture feels hollow. Or the timing is off. Or the experience is fragmented.
I would suggest that these sorts of "disconnects" are more often the rule than the exception in business and marketing communications.
That's why thinking like a "placemaker" - creating environments - real or virtual - that place people in a safe, attentive, appealing space - is a great way to break through barriers and build customer relationships in powerful, authentic ways.
Here are a few placemaking concepts that can benefit any sales or marketing program.
- A sense of arrival This is the impression-forming introduction to something new. It's hopefully something welcoming and intriguing that creates anticipation for - and interest in - what follows.
- Intuitive wayfinding We all want to be able to orient ourselves and cover ground without too much effort and confusion. Have you made it easy for customers to find and get what they need?
- Points of interest Destinations are a collection of the distinct places within them. So too, marketing experiences ought to be seasoned with interesting, unexpected moments along the way.
- Engage the senses What makes places or experiences immersive? Engaging as many senses as possible. When sight is joined by sound, touch, taste or smell, there is more to have an emotional reaction to. That's why videos, storytelling, info centers with lifestyle components and food & drink are replacing static, information-based approaches.
Today, it's all about feeling as much as thinking. And creating a sense of place, literally or figuratively, is a big part of making that happen.
Craig Fuller is co-founder and president of Greenhaus, a San Diego advertising and marketing agency.