If there was ever a marcomm term broadly misunderstood by clients and consultants alike, then ‘wow factor’ would easily meet that criteria. And while it would be amusing to list all the interpretations that I’ve personally encountered over the years, it’s more useful to focus instead on what the term actually means – at least from the perspective of visitor journeys, exhibitions stands and event management. If we momentarily delve into the psychology of learning, we find that different people not only learn at different rates but also in different ways. However, for most people a combination of visual and audible input works best. We also discover that if we continuously bombard an audience with new knowledge, their interest quickly stalls and they stop absorbing. Finally, we uncover a key secret: Most people learn the most when they’re entertained by the act of learning. In other words, a bit of theatre and drama works wonders!

Bringing together the above insights, we realise that we need to modulate the pace and quantity of information. And, at a key point in the visitor journey we need to do something that really sparks the audience’s interest – instantly connecting them with whatever we’re trying to communicate. It’s when we mentally make someone say “Yes, I get it now!” and perhaps jump up in joy or clap their hands. That’s a wow moment. And the degree to which it is effective (how high they jump, or how loudly they clap, or many people they share it with) is your wow factor.

You don’t have to be unique Many clients and consultants mistakenly equate the wow factor with novelty or originality. If this were true, people would have stopped learning a long time ago – we would simply have run out of ideas and techniques to make audiences go ‘wow’. In reality, our objective is to connect the audience’s emotions with our subject matter. There are infinite ways of telling the same story. In fact, there’s a strong case to be made for using concepts that the audience is already familiar with – we can build upon knowledge they’ve already internalised. Insisting that your wow moment must be something the world has never seen is really not in your best interest.

You can’t wow everyone It’s not easy to elicit a ‘wow’ response, and you’ll make your life even more difficult if you set out to wow everyone. People have remarkably varied emotional ranges, and what’s ‘wow’ to one person may well be ‘yawn’ to another. Your audience has to be clearly defined. And it’s not the stakeholders, your boss or even the marketing team. It’s the group of people from whom you need a desired business response – you must clearly understand what will make them go ‘wow’. At Action Impact, we have on occasion designed wow moments that targeted a single exclusive VVIP – even though the exhibit was visited by thousands of other people.

Surprise and delight Whether your wow factor is intended for exhibition stands, brand environments & interiors, or as a standalone experience, it’s not enough to surprise the audience with something unexpected – in fact, that’s the easy part. The real challenge is to create content that emotionally engages and delights. It’s OK for your wow moment to push boundaries or challenge people’s perceptions, but that can’t be all that it does. You must be able to entertain, educate and inspire with a seamless delivery that bears the hallmarks of a gifted performance.

Small wows are equally effective Your visitor journey can build up to one hugely impactful wow, or just as effectively it can deliver a series of smaller wows. It all depends on the audience profile, venue, duration of the journey and other parameters. Whichever approach you choose, the flow must be carefully modulated – otherwise you risk overloading the audience.

The more senses the better Most wow moments rely heavily on sight and sound, but there’s exciting territory left unexplored when it comes to the other senses – especially touch. However, you must resist the temptation to include additional sensory inputs simply because of their novelty. Each element of your wow moment needs to meaningfully contribute to the overall experience.