Experiential economy on display with Meow Wolf DFW debut

DFW is getting a Meow Wolf. 

Meow Wolf, the Santa Fe-based immersive art gallery / interactive entertainment / Disneyworld on steroids company, announced last May that it was opening its fourth permanent installation at Grapevine Mills. Besides Santa Fe, the company also operates permanent installations in Denver and Las Vegas. Another installation is planned for Houston in 2024.

If you don’t know Meow Wolf, its roots go back to 2008, when Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin partially funded the group’s first permanent installation in Santa Fe. Since then, the company has won numerous awards and has been recognized twice by Fast Company as one of the world’s most innovative companies. 

The Meow Wolf brand is an example of the “Experience Economy,” a culture and business trend emphasizing the centralized importance of customer experience. According to the theory, all products and services will eventually lose their luster in the marketplace. Therefore, to fight against the inevitable commodification, companies must invest in creating exceptional experiences for their customers. What’s more, customers are willing to pay more for products and services that provide exceptional experiences. This “Progression of Economic Value for Coffee” chart nicely summarizes the basic concept of the Experience Economy.

With Meow Wolf, like so many things in our service-based economy, the experience itself is the service. Meow Wolf is the Experience Economy incarnate. 

But the Experience Economy is just one of countless marketing trends that Meow Wolf represents. Here are a few others:

The future of retail Is experience

Meow Wolf’s DFW location is noteworthy because it will be attached to a working mall, Grapevine Mills. Even though Reddit covered Meow Wolf’s Grapevine Mills announcement in its r/deadmall thread, readers were quick to point out that Grapevine Mills was anything but dead.

Nevertheless, Meow Wolf will take over the 40,340 square-foot former Bed Bath & Beyond at Grapevine Mills, whose closure continues the decline of traditional big-box anchor stores. Additionally, movie theaters, which traditionally attract customers to malls, continue struggling in the nonstop streaming content age.

But in-person shopping is far from dead. Apple and Best Buy have demonstrated that engaging customer experiences are the future of retail. If anything, the future of retail is smaller, more digitally integrated, and more intimate.

It is also likely that more vacant retail and movie theaters will be converted into immersive experiences like Meow Wolfe, once again proving the experience economy’s power.

Billboards still work 

Even as more marketing dollars shift toward digital, Meow Wolf knows out-of-home advertising is still an efficient way to build brand awareness and generate local buzz (with the right creative). Meow Wolf Denver placed several cryptic “Weird Billboards” around Denver before it opened its location. Expect similar out-of-home creative to pop up in DFW next year.  

Seamless digital and physical integration 

Every Meow Wolfe experience is built around a central narrative theme. At Meow Wolf Denver, the central theme is built around a space transport hub called Convergence World. Visitors can purchase and download an optional “QPass” to their phones. Using the Qpass creates a deeper immersion for visitors, unlocking special digital content throughout the physical space. It also encourages visitors to keep their phones in hand, which leads to the next trend. 

Built-in instagramable moments  

Like the Museum of Illusions and the Sweettooth Hotel, which now maintains permanent locations in downtown Dallas, every inch of Meow Wolf is explicitly designed to be photographed by attendees, including the bathrooms. 

It’s nearly impossible to venture into one of these immersive experiences and not want to take a photo and share it with your social network: “Look at me! Look how cool this is! #YOLO”

As a result, these immersive businesses are playing a nifty trick. Even though they charge a hefty entrance fee (Meow Wolf Denver tickets start at $40), attendees are more than willing to promote said experience for free. Besides walking, the main activity during these immersive experiences is selfie-taking. Meow Wolfe creates remarkable physical spaces where people cannot help but tell their friends about them. Social sharing is built in. It is a brilliant business move. 

The lesson here is that innovative companies know that customer advocacy is the highest form of promotion. And they encourage and make it easy for customers to participate and share the brand.

Go local

Meow Wolfe is a Certified B Corporation with an estimated $129 million annual revenue. The number of likely to soar with the new Dallas and Houston locations. But Meow Wolf takes pain to take inspiration and sources designers and artists, from local communities. For instance, the menu items at the restaurants at Meow Wolfe Denver are sourced from over forty Colorado-based vendors. Meow Wolfe Grapevine released a seven-minute video highlighting some of the local DFW and Texas-based artists contributing to the new installation. By embracing local talent, Meow Wolfe builds credibility and word of mouth before selling the first ticket.  

Meow Wolf Grapevine is set to open next year. See you there!

Brad B. McCormick is an AMA DFW past-President and a Principal at 10Louder, a strategic consultancy. He also teaches Digital Marketing Strategy and Performance Managment at SMU

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