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The Power of Placemaking

Updated: Apr 11, 2019

Placemaking is a relatively new word when it comes to business strategy. It seems to have evolved from the growth of the experience economy. And just like the experience economy, placemaking isn’t something that consumer-facing companies should ignore. The word is defined as a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. It capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness and well-being. Let’s pick that apart to understand why this is, yes another, thing you must have if you are a B2C business.


As referenced in my last blog, Experiential Everything: Get On Board, building spaces and just opening the doors is not an option anymore. Only offering products and commodities is no longer an option as well. Places require an activation, a drive and a point of intrigue as a reason to visit. Experiences (especially those that include a social media sharable moment) are what bring people to a place, not the opportunity to purchase something. Now everything can be purchased online. Consumers need a reason not to just have it shipped in a box from the comfort of their own home.


Ok I think we all get that now right? We’ve seen it in action, we know our customers aren’t interested unless it offers a way for them to brag on Instagram. But the challenge remains that not everyone knows how to create a place. Build a place, yes. Stock the shelves, yes. Even marketing, I’ll give some of you that one. But not many sales experts know how to create an immersive experience when they get the people there.


How do you make a place?


Visuals. Nothing can be ugly. We’re spoiled. High design is a requirement, but it doesn’t have to be extravagant. It’s actually the little things that people notice: detailed tile floors, unique silverware and mugs, plants. These are the things that create moments of intrigue which can actually be defined as part of the guest experience. But they all have to tie together, purchase detail items with intention. Use the Marie Kondo method for adding things just like she wants us to do when throwing things away. Does that item spark joy? If not, don’t do it.


Activation. High design is one component of an activation, but other elements can exist that tell your story. Signage, interactive screens, the way the guest places an order, the way they can ask for help, the regular elements that exist in your space that are interactive and help to tell your original story, are activations. At The Oxford Hotel in Denver, as Denver’s most historic hotel the team placed a functioning typewriter in a space called the Library for guests to write actual letters to loved ones. This simple element gives people something to interact with as well as tells the hotel’s story and encourages social media as a piece of discovery.


Halcyon, a hotel in Cherry Creek has a brand story that drives it to feel like a Colorado home in the Rocky Mountains. Interior designers created an inset in front of every guest room door for a typical doormat and custom mats were created with different sayings on each. Each were welcoming, smart and a perfect opportunity for a shoe selfie.


Art is an activation as well, Dairy Block in Denver was recently honored by the Colorado Business Community for the Arts for incorporating art as part of the experience, by curating art from local artists getting their start, Dairy Block stuck with its overall message of being a “place of makers” and found an additional way to tell the story outside of retail and restaurants.


Programming. The difference between activating a space and programming it is permanence vs. singular scheduled events. Activations can be done every day and are part of the daily routine. Whereas programming includes events that draw people to the space for a class, entertainment or some type of experience. Programming should always speak to a component of the story. As an example, a furniture store that sells living room furniture and décor, won’t host a cooking class if they don’t have any kitchen utensils to sell. They would host a picture collage hanging class or a reupholster seminar, because those things apply to the reason that they exist. Holding these events brings in consumers who are looking for that type of product or experience and while the sale may not be direct, it establishes a trusted relationship with the customer by teaching them something, showing that the business is an expert. This type of exposure brings in a long-term relationship with the goal of being on the consumer’s mind and eventually translating into a sale.


Exclusivity. All of these elements mean one thing for your consumer or guest, they’re experiencing something that other people aren’t. And in today’s social-heavy world where many are competing to have the coolest experience of the day, if you provide it for them, they will come. And don’t forget a hashtag.


But Start With A Brand


None of these things can be done without first creating a story for the brand experience you’re trying to deliver. Every single element of placemaking should reinforce the ultimate goals of the place, be it to sell, stay or create awareness. Before you start to place make, have a strong understanding of who, what and why your location was built in the first place.


In our world now where most things can be ordered online and delivered to our home, where traffic is often daunting and cities are crowded, we just need more of a reason to get up off the couch. Placemaking creates that reason. Create a space that people want to go to and they’ll show up. We still crave connectivity in person, we just have to be able to share it on social media while we’re doing it.

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