CEO Justin Hersh on the Art of Experiential Storytelling

art-of-experiential-storytelling

It’s a late afternoon in December when you pull up to your destination. The desert behind you is still. You glance quickly over your shoulder, almost expecting to see a Mars Rover rumbling towards you in the noiseless sand. The sun is heading towards the skyline, casting the sands around you in a kaleidoscope of pinks and purples.

You take in what looks to be the spaceport ahead of you, sitting neatly on a tarmac. When the sun dips below the horizon, the stark darkness of the atmosphere fills the night. Suddenly, huge spotlights sear beams of light through the sky. The excitement builds until finally, the end of your journey is revealed.

A sleek spaceship, the most modern you’ve ever seen, comes rolling out on the tarmac. A familiar, sandy-haired gentlemen invites his niece to christen the ship as the cheers of a thousand fill the night. Your excitement crests as the champagne bottle smashes against the nose of the ship.

Welcome to the unveiling of the VSS Enterprise, SpaceShip Two of the Virgin Galactic fleet.

Group Delphi set up this large-scale event for Virgin Galactic on a December evening, not long ago. “Very few people can do what Virgin did with a spacecraft,” CEO Justin Hersh explains.

But every company has a story. There are always ways to find different opportunities to find a cool, compelling way to tell it.

The good news? You don’t need a stratospheric budget for a launch like this. We asked Hersh to take us through the optimal ways to tell your company’s story, be it traveling into space or staying firmly planted on Earth.

First, focus on the story you are creating for your visitors. What’s the story you need to tell? What’s the emotive experience? For the Virgin Galactic launch, “we really went back to the big idea,” Hersh shares.

There was the backdrop of the Mojave Desert, against which we built a space-port on the tarmac. We wanted to create a real science fiction feel. If you hadn’t just left Los Angeles and driven through the Mojave, you would think you had landed on another planet.

Second, treat the entire experience more like a movie or theme park.

The moment our visitors left LA, they were on branded buses. Music and videos were playing on the ride. Everything was geared toward a count-down feeling [to the big reveal].

Third, go for the a-ha reveal. “We crafted a Bellagio moment for Virgin Galactic,” Hersh explains. Guests arrived in separate groups according to press, travel agents, and VIPs, and everyone came together for the unveiling. “The entire experience moved towards that big moment the spacecraft was revealed.”

Surprisingly, the cutting-edge technology of the Virgin Galactic launch did not necessitate a complicated, high-tech launch. “We chose the otherworldly backdrop of the Mojave to [juxtapose] lights, glowing tents, cool music, and even ice carvings [for the guests],” Hersh explains.

But it is the story that took priority. In 1993, we [employed] technology like projection wrapping when no one else was using it. But people ultimately show up wanting an experience, not just a chance to don more AR glasses.

Ultimately, it is the story built into the experience that woos the customer. “People care about the a-ha moment. They want an experience that is visceral,” Hersh concludes. “Everyone has a story. Our job is to help you unlock it.”

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