DIP 014: Bigger than a sundae

PLUS: Instagram-exclusive drops, Outdoor Voices wants to do maternity clothing, and a Girlboss retreat

👋 Hi. Have you heard about the phenomenon of Amazon fulfillment center employees tweeting to ensure the general public that they are by no means dissatisfied or working under dangerous conditions? It’s not the first time that social media has been used as a propaganda tool — I wrote about the @SyrianPresidency and @TSA Instagram accounts back in 2013. As always, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

The Chips 🗑

The Dip 🛋

When news of Museum of Ice Cream’s $40M Series A and $200M valuation hit the internet, there was a lot of criticism and confusion — how could a company that creates hollow, made-for-Instagram experiences be worth so much? Unlike some other sky-high valuations, this was one that I could understand. Museum of Ice Cream — or, more appropriately, its parent company, Figure8 — has a secret sauce that can be iterated upon and applied to new concepts.

Memory Lane

When Museum of Ice Cream launched in 2016, Instagram had staked its claim as the go-to social platform. Stories, copied directly from Snapchat, had just been introduced. Facebook was falling out of favor. A year earlier, Refinery29 opened the doors to its first-ever 29Rooms concept.

The way we experienced things and the way we shared those experiences was changing. The rise of short-form, short-term storytelling lent urgency to these social platforms and amplified the already pervasive FOMO that surrounded them. Lines for things like cronuts and milkshakes were becoming the norm. Waiting was part of the experience, and the experience was meant to be shared.

Museum of Ice Cream launched at a pivotal moment. It tapped into the zeitgeist of shareable, immersive experiences — that everything is an anticipated memory — and pushed the phenomenon forward.

Big Scoop

A week or so after the news of Museum of Ice Cream’s valuation broke, Fast Company published a story about the brand’s aspirations and plans for growth. The company already has a permanent space in San Francisco and is opening a three-story flagship in the heart of Soho, taking over space formerly occupied by H&M. It’s eyeing international expansion and allegedly pitched investors on a theme park concept. I’ve long believed that the company would do well to open up in shopping malls, too (wink wink, nudge nudge).

Under the Figure8 umbrella, the company is creating an agency meant to support brands in creating experiences — “experiums,” in Museum of Ice Cream-speak — of their own, the first of which will be announced mid-2020. It’s also planning to iterate on the Museum of Ice Cream concept and create additional experience-driven brands, as confirmed by a job listing for a VP/SVP of People role: “the VP of People will oversee the buildout of our people function ... as we scale from 130 employees to multiple global locations and concepts.”

“Our ambition has always been to create spaces that can connect humans to humans, and humans to architecture,” Museum of Ice Cream founder Maryellis Bunn told FastCo. “Our journey to get there has been to create, understand, and then recreate. We create spaces, we understand what’s going on, and we get tons and tons of visitor feedback.”

We All Scream

For brands, every waking moment presents an opportunity for engagement. Even our non-waking hours are sought after. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings cited sleep as his company’s biggest competitor, and Pokemon is introducing a gamified sleep monitor.

In our digital-first, attention-driven economy, getting people to leave their homes and seek out a physical space is a massive achievement. Time and attention translate to money, and Museum of Ice Cream has proven that it knows how to capture both.

Bunn knows this, telling FastCo, “When I think about competitive landscape, I think about Netflix and Instagram, because it’s about who the players are that are captivating your time…. How can we create something that is both so enticing and so fulfilling in the real world that it [makes people want to be] out and exploring and interacting with the space.”

Depending on your outlook, experiential retail concepts are either exciting or gimmicky. In either case, it’s impossible to deny the impact that these concepts have when done well. (Reminder: we live in a world where people would rather purchase basic supplies like coffee filters and paper towels online than spend time in a store to get the same products faster.)

Museum of Ice Cream is at the far end of the experiential spectrum — it’s over the top, but it’s effective. As competition for time and attention continues to ramp up, we’re going to see a middle-ground emerge.

Concepts like the Canada Goose cold room and Casper’s Dreamery draw people to physical spaces and complement the purchasing experience, but don’t force it. The Outdoor Voices mission to “activate locally, amplify digitally” is about building community through events and activations, and prompting purchases only after someone has been drawn into the fold (See: DIP 003).

The most successful, worthwhile, and additive brand experiences don’t seek to sell product; they engage and enrich. And if that engagement and enrichment lead participants to make a purchase, great. But ultimately, experiential concepts are brand-building exercises, and if it’s strong enough to get people to leave their home and make time to visit it, that’s arguably a bigger win than a successful checkout.

Still Hungry?

Real Dip 📬

Preserved lemon relish-ish.

Chop about 1/2 cup preserved lemon (store-bought is fine, and very much worth buying), 1/4 cup mint, and two shallots. Add it all to a bowl with a couple of glugs of olive oil and a crack of black pepper. Stir and taste. You might need to add salt.

Spoon it on grilled fish, toast and tomatoes, and roasted potatoes.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 💡