Your business should be like a theme park. Because, #UX. (Humans in Beta :: Season 1, Episode 1)

Welcome to Season 1, Episode 1 of Humans in Beta. Think of this like a podcast, but, on a blog.

If I could pause time, and then go learn/study/intern at one specific place, then unpause time and (hopefully) be a more skilled product maker and entrepreneur, then you know where I’d go intern?

In this super weird, unrealistic scenario . . .

I’d intern at a successful theme park.

Definitely for the funnel cake, Captain Obvious.

But also for the whole “designing and running a successful business is exactly like designing and running a successful theme park” thing.

You act as if I’ve said something strange that you don’t hear on a daily basis. So, I guess I’ll explain further. In three main points.

1. Theme parks are usually built in the middle of nowhere — which is a place nobody naturally goes, so a concerted effort must be made to get people there.

Typically, the vision for a theme park is so massive, so epic, you have to go far enough out of a major city to have room to build it. And yes, perhaps years later you see new shops, and homes, and jobs centered around the theme park, but it didn’t start that way.

Your business vision may be so massive, so epic, you have to go far out of the norm to build it.

If you know me (Instagram) then you know at any given moment I have 10 experiments running for 10 of my different interests.

And whereas I don’t have all the time in the world to devote to the experiments that are outside of running my full-time brand, I do try to be purposeful with the time I can devote to them.

And with several of my projects, I’m at that same “Hey I just built the beginnings of a theme park, come enjoy it!” stage that you might be at with one of your projects . . . or maybe your main brand.

Below are screenshots from just 5 of my sites’/brands’ Google Analytics for the 7 days prior to this Medium article. I won’t share URLs with you right now (don’t want to skew the numbers, amigo/amiga), but I can share some insights (even from the site I started like two days ago — image 2 below).

A yoga business site.
My day-old site. How adorable.
A course site.
Fewer visitors than normal on for the last few months as I haven’t been posting as much.
A workshop website.

Theme park builders realize that they are building far out, so before they start building, before they even finalize the location, they’re thinking about how to get people to their park.

That’s how I’ve had to think about each of the destinations above. And I try to use a lot of what theme park planners use.

What do they use to direct people?

  1. Road signs. As you drive, there are signs that point you in the right direction.
  2. Visuals. The billboards don’t just say “Cool new park this way. You’ll see interesting stuff. And learn some fun facts. Oh, and we have food. People smile when they come here. It’s fun. You can trust this billboard.” The billboards have images of the attractions, food, fun, people with smiles, etc.
  3. Anticipation. Theme parks typically don’t pop up out of nowhere. There are virtual renderings, advertisements, and excitement happening for quite some time before they’re fully built.
  4. Advertisements. You guessed it. Most theme parks set aside a budget (and if you don’t have a budget, you’ll have to invest more time engaging on social media or collaborating) to place advertisements in applicable channels. I think this used to mean TV commercials or whatever . . . but in modern days this might mean Facebook ads, Instagram ads, and more. I’m just learning this crazy ads world, so I won’t say much more on it for now.
  5. Early adopters/sales. Theme parks start selling passes for something that doesn’t even exist yet. They’ve mocked up the rides, museums, attractions, and fun that will exist, and they start selling passes to not only validate their idea, but also to get people invested, talking about it, and handing over cash money for it.
  6. Community involvement. Theme parks create jobs for the community, and if they’re super smart, they involve the community during the planning phases so that local people feel invested in the outcome . . . and less likely to complain about the noise, the people, the . . . {insert other things that might annoy you here}.

As an exercise in awesomeness, why not re-read the list above and apply it to your new website, product, or project? Can you add any of these things to what you’re currently doing? Or improve them in any way? This is my current focus for many of my new brands as well as my main brand. How do I continue to direct people there excitedly and consistently?

2. UX (user experience) is one of the highest priorities at a theme park — from the parking lot, to your walking paths through the park, to the rides, to the placement of every single bathroom and food stand.

Not only are theme park makers concerned that you have a good time and/or that you learn new stuff (depending on the purpose of their park), but they also care that your full UX is epic.

  1. As you drive in on the highway, there are exciting signs and previews increasing your desire to arrive and see the real thing. The park is setting your expectations, and to a certain degree, teasing you.
  2. The parking lot is massive but easy to find your way through. The process of arriving shouldn’t be confusing or annoying. The park owners know that you might not turn around and leave if so, but that they might be starting off on the wrong foot with you.
  3. There is a clear entrance to the park and there are clear paths of where you can go and what you can do right after you enter. Great theme parks don’t leave you without a plan. But they do leave you with an amazing, wonderful land to explore and be amazed by.
  4. There are typically maps to guide you. And helpful people to ask questions when you feel like engaging or taking a shortcut.
  5. You can get new ideas of fun things to do and buy because of the real-life examples of what other people are doing/holding. (“Ooh, where did you get that funnel cake from?” “Whoa, the line for ____ is long, it must be awesome.”) And P.S. In Internet land, you can create this same effect by encouraging clients and friends to share your content on Instagram and other platforms.
  6. The necessities (bathrooms, food, beverages) are spread out everywhere. They want it to be peaceful, not painful, for you to stay as long as possible. The longer you stay, the more likely you are to spend money.
  7. There are features that exist just to help you enjoy your trip more. Like the “picture machine” on rollercoaster rides that snaps your face looking scared/crazy. P.S. This is something you’re also very likely to share on social media, so win-win for you and the park.
  8. Upon exit, you might be given a discount code or something epic to encourage you to visit again soon. It’s easier to convince someone who already knows and loves something to return or to share their coupon with a friend, than it is to get a stranger signed on.

Are you seeing where I’m going with this? Re-read the list above. Do you have all of these things in place in some way with your current brand and website? Getting creative with it: What would it look like to incorporate the theme park-ness?

We’re not done yet, but . . .

K, back to our theme park . . .

3. Everything is “on brand” at theme parks. Everything.

  1. The gift shops are “on brand” — they always include items relevant to what you’ve just seen. They’re not selling you dinosaur hand puppets if the theme park is focused on water slides.
  2. The employees maintain the culture of the park. They use the words, wear the clothes, and more.
  3. The design keeps you focused on where you are. You don’t walk into a specific section and all of the sudden think you’re at a different park.

How does this apply to us and our online brands? Perhaps not selling random items or creating “content upgrades” that have no real relation to the blog post or podcast episode they’re attached to? Perhaps not having a social media platform that seems completely “off brand” or disorganized? There are a lot of straightforward and creative ways to apply the theme park lessons in this article to our brands if we want to make the effort.

If you can build a successful fictional theme park, you can build a successful real business online.

And truth be told, neither task is easy, but both are possible. What do you think? Are you ready to theme park? Are you glad we paused time and took this internship?