Have you ever seen one of these new Coca-Cola Freestyle machines?

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I remember the first I saw something like this, I was a kid eating at a local Taco-Bell, it was awesome! After ordering your food, you would be given a cup and you were directed to pour your own soft drink. When nobody was looking I would mix and match different soft drinks to make the ultimate soda pop. It has me wondering why it’s more popular now.  Is it because, as consumers we want to interact with products more often?

In the recent past it was about speed and efficiency. But, is there a trend toward consumers becoming producers in the product cycle? And I don’t mean just in the soft drink realm. The above example is part a long line of successful products that have decided to engage in this type of business. Even a frozen yogurt retailer, Yogurty’s, allows customers to customize their order from start (cup size) to finish (types of sprinkles). In Yogurty’s process, the only time staff need to be involved is to collect payment! This severely reduces the overhead costs by putting the creation and design process in the hands of customers.

I’ve always loved making my own wine, picking fresh fruit at farms and just generally being closer to the creation of the products I consume. It just feels more fulfilling. To explain it better, this type of business is known as ‘biztainment’ and it has been around for a long time. Think about your first hay ride. Do you remember where it was? Most likely it was a farm. Do you remember what was also there? Was there a petting zoo perhaps? Were there games and food? Do you remember when it was open? Typically, these experiences have been offered through farms during the off season of crop production (and harvesting) it was a unique way for farms to connect with local customers, and provide some incremental revenue during the slower periods. The real driver for such activities were because farmers had all the elements right at their fingertips to begin with; tractors for tilling, animals like sheep, cows and pigs,  and plenty of hay for the animals. Eventually biztainment grew larger with rides, games and food vendors.

 From the Coca-Cola Freestlye machine, Yogurty’s, DIY wine/beer producers to your iconic hay ride, they all are a form of “Biztainment” – and according to some of the experts on the subject such as Mi Kyon Newsom, David A. Collier, Eric O. Olsen in their article Using Biztainment to gain competitive advantage (2009, published in Business Horizons, issue 52) is not only good business sense but a smart strategy in creating a competitive advantage.

The four key insights that Newsom, Collier and Olsen found is that 1) the evolution of the consumer has changed from this mass media focus, to more one-on-one customer oriented focus, 2) the interest that a consumer might find certain aspects of a business’ production as entertaining or fun, 3) the socioeconomic trend of transitioning from an agriculture, to industry, to service and finally information based economy. The final and arguably the most important insight is the 4) increased knowledge for biztainment to be an excellent source of revenue and customer acquisition.

One of the interesting tidbits of their article is the growth of production facilities to offer factory tours across the U.S. The website: http://factoryyourusa.com offers hundreds of opportunities for people to tour production facilities. Something that has always been believed to be necessary cost center, not a revenue generator!

There are many different types of biztainment. The first is agritainment –for example purposes, lets look at wineries.  It has not typically been related with the squishing of your own grapes, but it could. But for me it provides a wonderful setting for entertainment. It is interactive, social, fun and is transportive from ordinary daily life. You can let your curiosity fly by asking questions about blending, winemaking, harvesting, types of grapes and obviously  most importantly, sampling.

Beyond the above recent changes, some wineries in the Niagara escarpment (popular area for vineyards in Ontario), are doing more. They include fine dining, lodging, spas, bicycle rentals, guided tours and packages with popular attractions nearby (Niagara Falls). It’s not a hard decision providing additional services or opportunities such as a luxury spa. It keeps businesses alive in the winter months and will differentiate services from other local wineries. The more inclusive and interesting the agritainment can be, the better positioned the business or brand will be in the eyes of its customers and competitors.

We briefly explored how manufacturing facilities are being designed to be revenue generating businesses in addition to production facilities. This is known as manutainment. This is best expressed through the recent popularity of breweries, and particularly craft breweries. If you have been to the Alexander Keith’s Brewery in Halifax, you will recall how all your senses became alive.  At the end of the tour, you formed a connection with the company its products and the knowledge of how it’s made. This is meant to give the visitor a sense of loyalty because  you are guided through this well crafted story of production and heritage.

Retailtainment has grown over the years as well. Just consider William Sonoma. Whenever you walk into a store you are transported by the smells, comforting earthy colors and the guiding layout of the store. It takes you right into the center of the store where you are invited to sample food, to try unique  drinks and to touch open merchandise and browse cook books.  Service is non-invasive and very supportive. There aren’t any prowling sales reps. Items are laid throughout the store to be played with. Customers feel they are more than just shoppers. The consumer participates and obtains insight and information on the products. The experience is designed to flatter customers into becoming not just purchasers, but William Sonoma Customers.

The different types of biztainment can go on endlessly, and the number of successful examples are endless.  But the idea is still the same. The more a business is able to integrate its value chain into the customer’s sphere, the better the customer relates and develops a relationship with that business. Customers want to be consumers as much as they want to be producers. It’s a business philosophy that means more now than ever before.

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