The Giants Hit A Consumer Experience Home Run

IMG_0993I took my 4- and 6-year-old boys to their first baseball game a few weeks ago. That important rite of passage in a child’s life drove tech marketing from my mind — until we met the ticket-taker at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

“It’s their first time, right?” observed the man as my sons waited, anxiously, to get through the turnstiles and into the ballpark. “Yep,” I answered, expecting them to be told to enjoy the game; instead he told me, “Go up to Guest Services behind section 119, and they’ll print out first-day certificates for them.”

Bemused, I did as suggested, and, within ten minutes, my boys were the proud owners of fancy-looking celebratory certificates wrapped in presentation folders with the team photos and logo blazing from the front.

It was then that I began gaining several hours’ worth of fresh insights into how consumer companies actually aren’t selling products; they’re selling an entire consumer experience.

The Giants organization had nailed card #11 in the Digital Life Group’s Product Success Deck: “First use happens only once, so make it memorable.” By helping my sons kick off their baseball experience as honored guests, the Giants were creating a first impression more likely to grow into a lifetime of enjoyment.

But the positive consumer experience didn’t end there. The Giants, you see, aren’t selling baseball any more than Volvo is selling automobiles. Consumer brands are about an experience. In our case with AT&T Park and the San Francisco Giants: a family entertainment experience – and, in Volvo’s case: Safety. (See Card #41: Stand for Something). My boys are too young to sit through nine solid innings of baseball; truth is they couldn’t care less about the game (yet). They were there for the cotton candy and the hot dogs — at first — but they were able to go the distance because the Giants understand their brand (Card #40). The diamond at the center of AT&T Park isn’t the only attraction there, and, in many cases, it’s not even the primary attraction. Instead, there is a kids’ area with a massive slide, an old cable car for kids to climb all over, and a small wiffle ball play area that’s actually a scale model of the larger stadium around it.

By looking outside the tech industry for best practices (Card #49), I was seeing a brand designed to attract consumers of the future while providing a first-class experience in the moment.

Some consumer tech companies have begun to learn these lessons. Back in the early days of consumer tech, you’d buy a new VCR, get it home, pry it loose from its protective packaging, plug it in, and watch that doleful 12:00 blink unrelentingly beneath your TV. To set the correct time, you faced a daunting multi-language “User’s Guide” describing a multi-step process you couldn’t hope to repeat after the next power outage brought the blinking 12:00 back to haunt you.

Now first-use experiences are being designed in from the start. A new MacBook recognizes when it’s being booted up for the first time. An introductory movie greets you to whet your appetite. Tutorials are readily available as you wade in as first-use tension dissolves into first-use play and discovery. Because usability has been established from the get-go, subsequent uses are anticipated, rather than dreaded.

Which brings us back to Card #24: “Usability matters. Build it in from the beginning.” The ballparks built during baseball’s early history were testaments to spectacle but not particularly user-friendly. Narrow stairs, long walks for food and endless waits for bathrooms were the norm.

But AT&T Park, opened in 2000, was built, from the start, to handle large crowds with spacious ramps from level to level, restrooms and snack bars where you would expect them to be, and areas where parents can both watch the game and their children playing. Yes, it’s about making that day’s ballpark experience more enjoyable, or in other words: it’s about making that day’s product use smoother.

But perhaps even more importantly, it’s about making sure that everyone — parents and kids — will want to come back, and will want to buy the latest-and-greatest from the brands they’ve learned to love—a lesson all consumer tech companies must learn.