Branding Your Escape Room Business in 8 Simple Steps

By Chris Hanson, founder of EscapeFront.com. Seattle, WA

What is a brand?

When you hear the word “brand,” what comes to mind? Most people think logos, packaging, signage and advertisements -- and while those things certainly make up a brand, they’re not the end-all-be-all.

Brand, in essence, is the customer-facing manifestation of your company’s most sacred values. In other words, your brand is how your customers perceive you -- and that includes much more than a logo and tagline. Your brand includes your style of communication, your approach to customer service, your fine print, your social media presence, and yes, your logo and tagline too. When you put all these things together, your unique brand emerges.

For your brand to be successful, your customers’ perception must be positive. Pretty simple. To achieve this, you must know who your customers are, what they expect from you, and how to meet their needs consistently over the long term.

In the newly-flourishing escape room industry, competition for the same group of customers is becoming fiercer by the day. People now have a choice as to which room they want to be locked in for an hour -- and it’s your job to make it irresistible to choose yours.

How will you accomplish this?

While having a superior product is obviously important, it’s also essential to have an inspiring and irresistible brand. Let’s go over a few simple (and super actionable) steps you can take to build (or enhance) your escape room brand, win over more customers, and outshine your competition.

1. Determine Your WHY

You may not know it yet, but determining your WHY is arguably the most important step in building a brand.

By WHY, we’re talking about purpose, not profit. When determining our WHY, we need to think deeply about what drives us to be in business. What specifically gets us out of bed in the morning to do what we do? Answering this question will lead to inspired branding.

To quote Simon Sinek from his TED Talk on the topic of branding: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Despite this, unfortunately, most businesses start with the WHAT. Everyone knows WHAT they do, but very few know WHY they do it.

What does Apple do? They build computers. Well, so does Microsoft, Dell, HP and countless others. So what makes Apple so successful? Their competitors are equally as qualified and capable of building computers. But unlike their competitors, Apple focuses on the WHY in all of their branding. It’s the reason that the iPhone is so incredibly successful while the Windows Phone, well, isn’t.

In Sinek’s TED talk, he codifies this WHY-first theory using a term called the Golden Circle:

Example:
If Apple used a WHAT-first approach (outside-in):

WHAT: We make great computers.
HOW: They’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user-friendly.
WHY: Want to buy one?

This is rather uninspiring. Apple’s WHY-first approach (inside-out):

WHY: We believe in challenging the status quo in everything we do. We believe in thinking differently.
HOW: The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautiful, simple, and user-friendly.
WHAT: We just so happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?

See the difference? Now let’s put this into context.

The WHY for your Escape Room Business

Consider this WHY-first example:

WHY: In all that we do, we believe every customer should have a positive experience they’ll remember for a lifetime.
HOW: To ensure that we accomplish this, we focus on delivering awe-inspiring immersive design and unparalleled customer service.
WHAT: This is what makes our escape rooms great.

As opposed to this WHAT-first example:

WHAT: We have escape rooms.
HOW: They’re immersive and exciting.
WHY: Want to buy one?

Which example do you think gives potential customers a more compelling reason to book?

Determining your WHY is the first step toward effectively communicating with your target customer. Your WHY will also be used later on when formulating your mission statement.

Again, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

2. Define Your Target Market

If you don’t know who your target customers are, how will you know how to communicate with them? This may seem pretty obvious, but the more clearly you define your target market, the more focused your communication will be.

For instance, let’s talk about Walmart. Considering how large and diversified they are, one might not think they would need to target specific customers -- but it’s actually quite the opposite. Walmart’s target market is broader than most, but without strategic targeting they would have never reached the magnitude that they have.

Walmart’s brand is all about saving money. And not just saving money, but getting the lowest possible price -- period. Walmart is so serious about offering the lowest prices that they actually match the prices of their competitors, including online retailers like Amazon.

Walmart knows that you can get a flat-screen TV just about anywhere these days, and that a lot of people are willing to pay a few bucks more for the convenience of shopping online or somewhere closer to home. But guess what? Walmart isn’t targeting these people. Walmart is targeting students and lower-middle class individuals. In essence, they’re targeting the people who find the MOST value in saving money.

So, as an escape room business, how can you define your target market? Here are a few strategies you can try:

Investigate Your Competition's Customer Base

  1. Create a spreadsheet that lists the highest-rated escape room businesses in your area (Yelp is great for this). Include the following column headings in the spreadsheet:
    1. Room genre (horror, mystery, etc.)
    2. Average booking price
    3. Age range (0-12
    4. Age range (13-20)
    5. Age range (21-35)
    6. Age range (35-50)
    7. Age range (50+)
    8. With family (yes/no)
    9. With a group of friends (yes/no)
    10. # of males
    11. # of females
    12. For more column ideas, click here.
  2. Find your competitors on Facebook and go through their post-game photos from the past month. Categorize each person pictured to the best of your ability and copy the data onto your spreadsheet.
  3. Once a sufficient amount of data has been collected, see if you can uncover any trends.

Assessing this data is huge because it allows you to gain insight into what’s currently working in your region. For example, you may uncover that more than 50% of Escape Room Business XYZ’s customers are women in their 20s who like horror-themed rooms.

Leverage Facebook’s Audience Insights Tool:

Let’s say you’ve determined that the above example is true. From there, you can learn more about the behaviors and interests of this subset of the population, and start to craft brand messages that resonate with them. This can be done easily by using a free tool called Facebook Audience Insights.

Just follow these steps:

  1. Enter your geographic region (in our example, we’ll use Seattle)
  2. Choose an age and gender (ex. males between age 20-30)
  3. Choose interests (ex. “horror movies” and “horror fiction.” You may also wish to select interests like “team building”, “puzzles”, etc. but be careful not to add too many as this may broaden your audience too much). Unfortunately Facebook hasn’t caught on to how cool escape rooms are yet, so “escape games/rooms” are not available options.
  4. NOTE

    When selecting multiple interests, the OR operator is being used. For example, people who like horror movies OR horror fiction will be included in the results. Because of this, the most useful data will likely come from analyzing one interest group at a time.

  5. From here, we’re left with 50-60k people to analyze. We can see that:
    1. 44% of our selected audience is single
    2. 74% went to college
    3. 32% work in sales
  6. Data Tables and Graphs
  7. By clicking on the “Page Likes” tab at the top, you can view the material your audience is engaging with by category.

The Facebook Audience Insights tool is an extremely effective way to learn more about your target audience as you build a brand. Eventually you can use it to create targeted Facebook ad campaigns as well -- but that’s for another article.

Leverage Existing Customer Data

If you already have an escape room business and want to learn more about your customers, the process can be as simple as using the data you already have. Most popular escape room booking systems have an export function that allows you to view the data for every customer that has ever booked a room.

That said, this data might not tell the whole story. During booking, one person typically provides the data on behalf of a group. Because of this, raw transactional data isn’t always enough.

When customers sign your waiver, be sure to collect their email addresses so that you can send out post-game satisfaction surveys and request information that will help you serve them better in the future. (Just don’t overdo it with the questions -- most people don’t like surveys, so consider including a coupon as a “thank you.”)

Here are 5 great questions you should consider asking:

  • What is your age? (Provide age ranges to select.)
  • What are your favorite types of escape games? (List genres.)
  • How would you rate your experience on a scale from 1-10?
  • What was your favorite thing about this experience? (Leave open-ended.)
  • What can we improve upon? (Leave open-ended.)

Some popular escape-room booking tools have survey integration. If yours doesn’t, Google Forms offers a free, simple survey platform.

3. Choose a Brand Name

In the escape room business, your brand name is usually your business name. There are lots of great tips and tricks out there for choosing a business name, but we’re going to keep this extremely simple and focus on the most important one:

Question: What are people typing into Google to find escape rooms?
Answer: 99% of the time, they’re typing “escape room [location]”.

Therefore, having “escape” in the name isn’t a bad idea.

Again, look at your competition. You don’t want to pick something so similar that customers get confused. Use your WHY to drive your decision.

Lastly, be sure to check for trademark, web domain and social media availability.

4. Create A Powerful Mission Statement

Your mission statement doesn’t have to be formal, but it does have to be consistent and actionable. It also has to be something that your employees buy into -- after all, your brand shouldn’t depend solely on your personal work.

When creating your mission statement, start with your WHY. Let’s recap from the WHY-first approach we discussed earlier:

WHY: In all that we do, we believe every customer should have a positive experience they’ll remember for a lifetime.
HOW: To ensure that we accomplish this, we focus on delivering awe-inspiring immersive design and unparalleled customer service.
WHAT: This is what makes our escape rooms great.

This is going to seem a bit oversimplified, but creating a mission statement is really just as easy as joining the above three sentences together with a touch more detail and polishing. Have a look:

"In all that we do, we believe every customer should have a positive experience they'll remember for a lifetime. To ensure that we accomplish this, we focus on delivering awe-inspiring immersive design and unparalleled customer service. This is what makes our escape rooms great."

5. Live and Breathe Your Mission Statement

Know your WHY: check. Know your target market: check. Write your mission statement: check. Now it’s time to build a culture around these.

Remember that this is a process -- building a brand isn’t a one-and-done endeavor. It takes time and care. Again, consistency is key.

The more you and your team live and breathe your mission statement, the more trust and loyalty the brand will earn.

It sounds obvious, but you have to make sure you deliver what you say you’ll deliver. Here are a few ways you can keep your team accountable:

  1. Create a banner with your mission statement on it and put it in a visible place as a reminder.
  2. Create customer surveys that focus on key aspects of your mission statement.
  3. Call out employees when you witness them doing something that aligns with your mission statement.
  4. Use your mission statement as your standard for hiring and firing. When checking employee references, ask questions that are related to your business’ core values.
  5. Have weekly staff meetings and ask everyone to share one thing they did during the week that aligned with the company’s mission statement.

6. Create a Logo

Only after you’ve done the work outlined above should you create your company logo.

There are no specific rules when it comes to designing a logo for an escape room business. However, whether you’re hiring out or designing it yourself, there are a few general guidelines you should keep in mind. According to Just Creative, a good logo should follow these basic principles:

  • Simple: The simpler your logo is, the more versatile it will be as well. If your logo is too intricate, there will be a higher chance customers will get confused by it. For this reason, many escape room businesses have opted for a simple key with their company name above it (however, this isn’t necessarily a great choice).
  • Memorable: To make your logo memorable, you should avoid using similar color pallets as your competitors, as well as cliché graphics like the horizontal key. While simple, your customers will likely not be able to pick it out from a crowd.
  • Timeless: How long do you plan to run your escape room business? If your business is around 50 years from now, will your logo still be relevant?
  • Versatile: Would your logo be readable if printed on a check? What about blown up to the size of a movie screen? This is where color considerations come into play as well -- if you had to print your logo in black-and-white for a print publication, would you be able to do it?
  • Appropriate: Perhaps most importantly, your logo needs to appeal to your target audience and align with your mission statement. For example, if you’re really customer-first, perhaps you should have some depiction of players in your logo. Simultaneously, how will you show that your escape rooms are immersive (something also mentioned in the sample mission statement)?

When it comes to choosing a logo designer, you have a number of options. Let’s go over them briefly:

  • Design it yourself: This option is great if you’re artistically-inclined and have the time to do it. If you are doing it just to save money, you’re likely doing it for the wrong reason. A logo is something that stays with your company for the long-haul, so make sure it’s good. If you do choose to design it yourself, canva.com is a great free resource for getting started.
  • Hire a local designer: This tends to be the most expensive option, but also the most personal. Just be sure to read reviews.
  • Use an online service: An online service like 99designs.com is a great option for people looking to get the best of both worlds. They essentially crowdsource the logo-design process, creating a contest out of it while keeping prices relatively inexpensive. You’ll provide your specifications and receive 30 logo designs from different designers. From there, you’ll pick your favorite design and work one-on-one with the designer to adjust it until the logo meets your needs.

Here are a few examples of escape room logos created by 99designs designers:

EscapeFront.com used 99designs as well (click here to see the contest entries).

Escape Front Image

7. Create a Tagline

Taglines aren’t required, but they’re highly recommended. They accompany your logo and sum up your WHY in a few words. Taglines follow the same principles as your logo, and speak directly to your target audience.

When it comes to picking a tagline, don’t overthink it. Essentially, you already have a tagline within your mission statement. Just trim it down to one sentence and personify it.

Here are a couple examples of taglines based on our WHY:

  • Memorable & Immersive Escape Room Experiences
  • An Escape Room Experience You’ll Remember Forever

8. Protect Your Brand

By this point, you’ll have poured a lot of hard work into your escape room brand. Now, you have to protect it like a pot of gold.

One bad review equals one customer’s perception, regardless of whether or not it’s true. Use each review that’s 4-stars or less as a learning experience about how to improve your brand and product. Reach out personally to these customers to learn what you can do to continue earning their business.

Just as importantly, make sure to protect your trademark and domain! For example, if your business is called Escape Room XYZ, be sure to register the business name XYZ Escape Room (and corresponding domain) as well to protect yourself from leaching competitors. The last thing you want is for a local competitor to take away your customers by virtue of deception.

Wrapping Up

Whether you’re a new or experienced escape room owner, hopefully this article has given you something to think about as you create or refine your brand. Just remember to start with your WHY and let that drive your branding process. You’ve got this!

By Chris Hanson, founder of EscapeFront.com

Seattle, WA

About the Author

Chris Hanson is the founder of EscapeFront.com, a professional resource and blog for escape room owners. Chris is also a contributing blogger for EscapeAssist, NowEscape and for the escape room trade magazine, The Last Lock. Chris lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife, Lisa, and has a background in business, teaching, and financial analytics. Join EscapeFront's active Facebook group and follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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