Brand Building Through Tech-Free Experiences

In a world where technology seems to be the driving force behind every customer experience, a growing branch of the experience economy is doing something radical: banning cell phones.

The business of building memorable events is booming, and unique selfie opportunities are often part of the package. Technology-free experiences buck the trend that brands don’t seem to exist if they aren’t constantly shared on social media—which could be a risky move, but customers feel they have experienced something unique and exclusive.

Instead of sharing with the masses, they share the experience via word of mouth, which grows the brand. The move towards tech-free experiences may seem unorthodox, but it resonates with a growing number of customers.

In many ways, The Magic Castle, an exclusive old entertainment club tucked in the Hollywood Hills, looks like it was made for Instagram. Guests adhere to a strict formal dress code, and every corner of the 1962 mansion is full of historical photographs and accessories. But you won’t find photos of guests’ visits shared online—The Magic Castle doesn’t allow photography and encourages guests to keep their phones in their pockets.

The rule allows guests to truly be immersed in the intricate design, history and magic. Without the distraction of taking the perfect photo, guests become totally engaged in the unique experience. The Magic Castle does not rely on technology to create an amazing experience. Instead, it’s all in the details. Every aspect of the design and experience transports guests into another world, even down to entering the club through a hidden bookcase with the words “Open Sesame.”

And the no photography rule isn’t just for fun—anyone caught taking photos has to delete them and is immediately removed from the premises and not invited back.

Other events and clubs are following suit and banning photos and cell phones, to the delight of their loyal and growing followers. One example is Soho House, which can only be entered by members or guests of a member, adding to the intrigue and the sense of stepping into another world.

London-based Secret Cinema turns movies into theatrical productions as guests dress up and play important roles as they step into the world of their favorite movies. Even the location is secret. And to add to the immersive experience, phones must be locked or left at home.

Popular performers and musicians are joining the movement, with big names like Bob Dylan, Alicia Keys and Amy Schumer banning taking photos or videos during their shows. They often go so far as to stop the show if they see someone using their phone. The reason behind the controversial decision? They want concertgoers to experience the event in person, not through a screen.

In a world where brands don’t seem to exist if they aren’t constantly shared on social media, technology-free experiences buck the trend. It could be a risky move, but customers feel they have experienced something unique and exclusive. Instead of sharing with the masses, they share the experience via word of mouth, which grows the brand.

The devices that are meant to keep us connected can often get in the way of fostering true connection. The internet is full of research about the benefits of unplugging—including better mental health, stronger relationships, better sleep and more focus.

Even with all those benefits, it can seem counterintuitive to attend an exclusive event and not share it online or even take a photo to remember it. But brands are showing that tech-free immersive experiences are not only possible but in incredibly high demand.

The experience economy is just that—an experience. Consumers increasingly want to escape real life and enter a new world of fantasy and magic. And if that requires leaving their phones and technology behind, people are on board.

Blake Morgan was called “The Queen of Customer Experience” by Meta. She is a keynote speaker, bestselling author and futurist. Sign up for her weekly email here.

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