#TowerPoppies – it’s been emotional

By Steve Mills

Whilst walking back through the Tower of London last week having just delivered our latest visitor insight presentation to Historic Royal Palaces, I couldn’t stop both smiling and shaking my head in amazement at how huge this ‘Poppies’ thing has become. Its popularity has of course taken everyone by surprise including, I suspect, Historic Royal Palaces themselves.

I defy anyone to take a look at their Facebook news feed, Twitter timeline or Instagram account without finding someone somewhere who has shared photos or visit experiences of the Tower Poppies in the last few weeks.
So why has it been so incredibly popular? Walking through the thronged masses last week, carefully avoiding the hundreds of selfie-sticks (maybe a topic for another day), security staff and traffic police, the atmosphere almost felt on the verge of hysteria.

Yes, it is visually stunning. We also appreciate the design and effort taken by the hundreds of volunteers to put this installation together over many weeks. The backdrop isn’t too shabby either. But it’s far more than the content; it’s the emotional impact that turns it from a fabulous piece of art into a national phenomenon.

Our work with the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions involves operating the Visitor Experience Benchmarking Survey – undertaking over 30,000 visitor interviews per year at around 80 major attractions. As part of this work, we have developed our Experience Intensity model which has opened the eyes of many attractions to the incredibly strong positive effect that emotional impact generates on a visitor’s opinion of their experience and propensity to recommend. It is no longer enough to have unique content, lots to see or lots to do without creating this emotional connection.

Whilst the Poppies does have great content, there are no gadgets, no gizmos, no state of the art technology. Visitors aren’t generally even rocking up to appreciate the artistic design. There’s just an emotional connection that’s been created, an almost electric atmosphere around the place, a feeling of togetherness and bonding with those around you – an appreciation of a common cause. I guess a visit from the Queen and social media has helped a bit too. #TowerPoppies has been rather popular and the decision to advertise the free wifi around the Tower has been a stroke of genius.

tower-poppies-1
Amy and Zainab at Tower of London. BDRC’s Tourism, Culture and Leisure sector research team have been taking selfies on their travels to visitor attractions in 2014 – view them all here #Visit100

The focus upon emotional connection also helps to overcome some of the social barriers to visiting attractions, particularly museums. The number of times I’ve been in focus groups among people from lower socio-economic backgrounds who say they don’t visit museums because they just don’t feel like they belong – they feel intimidated by the content. Having free entry doesn’t persuade them to visit. Some recent work for a client has demonstrated that if attractions can make the visit decision an emotional, spur of the moment one rather than a rational one where you carefully consider the content and experience (before having second thoughts whether it’s for you), this has a much stronger chance of attracting visitors from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Evidence the Poppies, everyone from all walks of life.

Personal opinion of course, but let’s go out on a high, leave the public wanting more – don’t leave a sour taste for those who waded through the crowds to visit. Stick to the plan of dismantling it after Remembrance Day, 11 November. And it’s not just because I bought a couple myself.

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