Some experiences hinge on tradition. Fireworks on the Fourth of July. Jumping the broom to signify sealing wedding vows. Graduates tossing their caps in the air at commencement. From religious rituals to cultural customs to culinary mainstays, participating in traditions can evoke deep emotions that tie groups together. (Whether you love it or hate it, it’s just not Thanksgiving without Aunt Glenda’s green bean casserole on the table!)
In the experience design space, we believe traditions can deliver the emotional impact that ties your brand to lasting memories. And there’s nothing that says your event traditions have to be, well, traditional.
Whether you’re hosting an immersive event or planning top-tier incentive travel, paying attention to the inner needs of participants helps create a more meaningful experience. According to psychological research, traditions fulfill important criteria for our senses of being, belonging, belief and benevolence. We’ll add a fifth: brand loyalty.
1. Traditions Track to Attendee Empathy
It’s easy to get lost in the logistical details during the planning process. Incorporating traditions is one way to put the people you’re serving back at the center of the experience. Disruption and novelty can play an important role in your event design, but there’s also something to be said about making space for comfort and familiarity.
2. Traditions Build Anticipation
Do you remember the night before a big holiday as a kid? You’d go to bed early so that the celebration would come faster (childhood logic at its finest), only to lay awake with visions of sugar plums dancing through your head. You want attendees to feel the same sense of excitement. Maybe they anticipate the event destination announcement video each year. Or pre-trip communications that tease how their favorite emcee will put a new spin on this year’s general session. Or maybe they’re a first-timer whose agenda planning is inspired by veteran attendees sharing their expertise around what not to miss over Slack. Determine what your experience’s calling card will be. It can be as simple as serving signature popsicles every year at the patio party and as show-stopping as a closing night festival.
3. Traditions Create a Sense of Belonging
Even though technology can enable connection like never before, we live in a society where feelings of loneliness and isolation are on the rise. Traditions help us see we are part of something bigger. Religious traditions pass identity from generation to generation. In a secular sense, we see this on college campuses. Traditions are what connect sorority sisters across state lines, and what separates a Tiger from a Tarheel.
Look for opportunities for your leaders to pass along knowledge and open the door to deeper relationships. Perhaps that’s hosting a first-timer reception prior to the official welcome that helps prime participation. It could be a platform to spotlight repeat winners who speak about why they look forward to earning each year. The executive team or other hosts can share how past events personally impacted their approach and connection to the team. The best part? When sharing wisdom and paying it forward sets the stage, this year’s newbies will imagine themselves among the speakers someday. You’re creating a sense of belonging and planting a seed for internal motivation to earn a spot among top winners.
4. Traditions Help Foster Trust
Traditions aren’t just about the experiences themselves. They can also be about consistency, customer service and all-around quality of the event operations. When sessions start on time. When organizers respond to in-app questions promptly. When presenters show genuine care for the audience. These hallmarks of good hospitality are essential to building a reputation that your event “can’t be missed.” Although often unnoticed when things run well, when these services are missing, it’s the first thing attendees point out. You want yours to be the event that people talk up. “I love attending X company trip. They think of everything!”
5. Traditions Help Build Brand Loyalty
When your brand consistently delivers on expectations, consumers take note. They want to be part of a positive experience. And they want to bring others into the fold. Your experiences sell out and your waitlist grows. Make rewarding loyalty a tradition in itself.
Download our ebook to read more about the role of traditions and other key psychological elements for creating “return on inspiration” through immersive experience design.