Experiences often occur before, during, and after the consumer makes a purchase decision. For example, my experience with the restaurant I go to this Saturday night starts online with a reservation and likely ends with something in my social media feed, assuming I love the brand experience.
Likewise, 113 million people reportedly watched Super Bowl 57. The experience included a magical halftime show from Rihanna. While it wasn’t part of the football game, it certainly was an important piece of the NFL experience.
Since brand executives are spending a significant amount of their time thinking about how to enhance their customer experience I decided to engage Dan White, a professional magician, to understand how he creates word of mouth and, frankly word of mouse, through a magical experience.
Jeff Fromm: How do you approach creating entertainment that is “talkable” or creates word of mouth?
Dan White: The real magic exists in the stories that people tell afterward — which is the number one goal of any good magic effect, regardless of what platform it is on. What parts of the trick will be remembered most vividly? Will they be able to describe this trick in one sentence? Will this surprise them, or will they see it coming? These are the questions my team and I constantly ask when formulating and adjusting new and existing routines.
Will Guidara — a good friend of mine who also launched my show at the NoMad — espouses the idea of Unreasonable Hospitality. That is creating extraordinary experiences simply by doing things that go further than anybody would reasonably expect you to do. The smallest things that you practice longer than anybody could imagine or setting something up so far in advance that it seems absolutely ludicrous, these methods, combined with creating real surprise, are the ultimate recipe for an extraordinary piece of magic.
Fromm: What are your goals when creating a trick?
White: The greatest magic effects in the world leave stories that people will tell for the rest of their lives. Anticipating what that story could be and sculpting it ahead of time is what I try to do for every new show or routine, using the tools of surprise, deception, and wonder. Creating a good magic trick is much like planning a great surprise party. You’re weaving together people, locations, and situations, while anticipating the actions and thoughts of others — all for the goal of a moment of pure wonder. The deceit is necessary for the surprise, and the more layers built in, the greater the payoff.
When creating a new effect, I usually start with the things that I am currently most obsessed with and then marry them with what I think will create the most astonishment for an audience. The starting process may change depending on the day, but it always ends with the story that I want people to tell the next day.
Fromm: Since brands are seeking ways to entertain consumers, are there some lessons they can learn from the art and science of magic?
White: I think every profession would benefit from seeing the world a little bit more magically. Thinking the way you did when you were 10 is where you can find that special place — dreaming without hesitation and the naïveté of not knowing absolutely everything.
When a good magic trick starts, you are introduced to a mysterious premise without knowledge of how it will end. When it concludes, that ending is surprising, and yet, somehow it was staring you right in the face the whole time. I think some of the best campaigns, viral videos, and product launches have always included this strong sense of mystery with a lot of novelty and surprise.
Fromm: How have you incorporated those ideas into your own business?
White: When I first started my in-person show in New York City (at The NoMad Hotel and now at Fotografiska New York), we purposefully released as little information about it as possible. In NYC particularly, we knew that people had this yearning of finding something themselves and being in-the-know, so we wanted to nurture that feeling. All of our branding and advertising was kept super mysterious.
Once people got to the show, they were surprised by how fun and lighthearted the experience was, while still being magical and cool. With the online virtual show, I had this obsessive idea about sending people a beautiful box full of cool things that allowed each of them to be a part of the experience, with the magic happening in their own hands. It took a really long time working with my partners at theory11, but we eventually made a show that did just that.
I had no idea if people would enjoy experiencing magic in that way, but after employing those main principles that make magic enjoyable, it all worked out perfectly. We have had so many incredible guests from all over the world attend, and we’re incredibly proud of The Magician Online being one of the longest-running ticketed online shows ever produced.