Friends visiting us recently commented that they stopped in several shops looking for gifts for their kids back home, but memorabilia in the parks and tourist towns all seem to be made in China, Thailand or Vietnam. How does that recall the specific place, the experience?
Pine and Gilmore, Harvard professors and experience economy gurus, point out that mixing in memorabilia is a key component of an experience. It extends the experience through learning or as a post-marketing icon.
I have a bamboo dragonfly that takes me back to Shibakawa, Japan, each time I look at it. I recall the meal I had of soba noodles with Lisa Brochu, my wife, and Masa Shintani, a friend and colleague. We left our special lunch that we helped make to watch a bamboo carver crafting beautiful dragonflies and other insects from local bamboo and wood. We negotiated a price and bought ten of his dragonflies to give out back home as gifts. My dragonfly has that special value. I know who made it and I watched him working during a wonderful day in a friendly community near Mount Fuji. We related the story to each of our family and friends that received one of the ones we brought back and they treasured the gift accordingly.
It can be tough to find things that are made locally. We drive cars with lots of foreign made parts or even a foreign brand of automobile that may or may not have been manufactured in the U.S. Many of us use computers built in China. I would like my computer to be made in America, but if local manufacturing means it cost twice as much, I have to face the fact that I probably would not have just bought a new one. The world labor market has made myriad items affordable that would not be inexpensive if manufactured in the U.S.
But souvenirs or memorabilia in communities parks, zoos, aquariums, nature centers and historic sites have a role that transcends convenience or cost implication. They tangibly represent the intangible experience. If the experience is authentic, special and produced by local people around community stories, then the memorabilia needs to be just as special.
There was a time when the take home items from a park or community visit could simply be a T-shirt, magnet or shot glass with the local name. But many Americans are spending their time and money in experience economy places of business – Starbucks, REI and Whole Foods. They expect the thematic
experience to be consistent. They look at manufacturer labels, just as they search for “organic” items at the farmer’s market or food store. They often prefer that the item they buy will enrich someone who deserves the help. They may ask the source of the materials used in manufacture or look for the recycled label. They may reject the item just for having excessive packaging. Words like sustainability, recycled and fair trade are important keys to what to buy.
When we design experiences, finding the local or regional sources of the right memorabilia to recall the experience is challenging. Foreign fabricators are making beautiful, inexpensive items that have American flags, American wildlife and a Made in Somewhere Else hangtag or sticker. But we have a chance to reap greater rewards through more sales and a more lasting connection with our guests, clients and visitors by thoughtful selection of inventory. Much of what we do in life is a “been there done that” experience. When we truly connect people to a place, a story and a people, the items that recall that should be very special and very integral to the story. We have to choose what we sell very carefully. It is a challenge worth taking for people who want to have tangible icons of a great experience, tell their friends about it, and remember the trip every time they look at the souvenir.
– Tim Merriman