Branding on a Budget: 5 Dos and Don’ts from Six Flags Great America
Last week, I used one of my precious vacation days to take a family trip to Six Flags Great America. My family tries to go at least once a year, and I have fond memories of rides, characters, and in-world branding. But Six Flags filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and I noticed some serious changes when I visited this year.
Six Flags is now in a transitional period where they need to make money, but also need to continue their level of customer happiness. You might not own a multi-million dollar theme park chain, but you can use these “Do”s and “Don’t”s for branding yourself on a budget.
DO let in outside advertisers and brands.
Before filing for bankruptcy, Six Flags Great America was an amusement park untouched by the outside world. The signs and banners inside the park promoted concerts, parades, or other rides; and all the food was sold from stands with old-timey names like “Hometown Fries.”
Now there are banners for Discover card, you can buy Panda Express’ orange chicken or Johnny Rockets’ shakes, and there’s a Chevy Cruze parked in every open area of the park. And none of that bothered me. If I have to sit in a Stride gum car to ride the Demon, so be it. As long as your outside advertisers aren’t creating direct competition, what’s the harm in letting them promote inside your brand? Consumers are already used to constant advertisement, so as long as it’s done in moderation, you might as well generate some extra income.
DO cut down extraneous content.
Six Flags now focuses more on the main attractions: the rollercoasters.
As a kid, I couldn’t take three steps without running into a character or street show. All I wanted to do was ride the American Eagle, so I found them to be an obstacle, not an enhancement.
Now the shows have been cut down significantly: taking place only in theaters or in designated squares; so I don’t have to bump into a barbershop quartet to get to Batman. Great America actually gutted one of their theaters to turn it into the Dark Knight coaster. They also cut out all licensed brands (besides DC, Looney Tunes, and Hanna Barbera) from their rides, saving them millions of dollars. Are your banner ads not generating revenue? Cut them. Are your daily e-mail blasts not really bringing in new business? Scale it back.
DO offer a changing and diverse product line.
Six Flags Great America has always been great about tearing down old rides and replacing them with exciting new ones. The obnoxious Shock Wave roller coaster was torn down to make room for the vastly better Superman: Ultimate Flight. The unused side parking lot is now their water park Hurricane Harbor. And in less than a month they are dismantling the head-smashingly bumpy Iron Wolf (to be replaced with a Green Lantern ride, I hope!).
Create new products, discontinue ones that aren’t selling, or offer new packages of your services. Consumers love to see new and exciting merchandise.
DON’T gouge your customers with add-ons.
No matter how tasty, chicken tenders aren't worth $12!
Once you’re in a theme park, you will be paying out the nose for food. It’s a universally accepted truth. However, there is a point where “theme park” pricing enters the “are you kidding me?” pricing. Great America has totally hit the “are you kidding me?” pricing. $6 for the smallest container of Dippin’ Dots and $12 for chicken tenders? You’re nuts, Great America. Next time I’m bringing sandwiches in my trunk.
Consumers will cut corners wherever they can. If your product has moved from the “reasonable” pricing to “theme park” pricing, you can bet that your clients will be checking out your competitors.
DON’T cut employees/resources when they are needed.
Yet, even for their “are you kidding me?” prices, Six Flags Great America was extremely understaffed. While I was waiting to buy my overpriced chicken during the lunch rush, there was one person working the cash register and one person working the kitchen. And that was it. The same situation repeated in all the food stands across the park. Later we waited about twenty minutes – in a short line – for funnel cakes.
Whatever the reason for the employee shortage, they should’ve delegated their employees to customer service before cleaning or stocking supplies. If there is a demand for a certain product or labor, don’t hold it hostage. This is a sure way to alienate your clients and ruin your brand loyalty.
Any other ways to expand your brand on a budget? Have you been to a Six Flags theme park recently? If so, what changes have you noticed?