The Orange Ticket

The following is an excerpt from Sally Hogshead’s amazing New York Times bestselling book, Fascinate. Let’s go on a ride.

The mission space ride at the Epcot Theme Park in Orlando, Florida, is based on the concept that the rider is training to be an astronaut, practicing to save the planet while hurdling through the atmosphere inside a capsule.

When you enter this ride, you get a choice. Do you want the orange ticket or the green ticket? I was curious. Why two tickets? What’s the difference? Which should I choose? I look back and forth from the orange ticket line to the green ticket line, and back again. They had separate entrances. The orange ticket line was long with a 45-minute wait. The line for the less intense green ticket ride, on the other hand, was much, much shorter. Which ride would you choose? The less intense ride with the brief wait, or the more intense ride with the long wait.

The green ticket ride is for little kids and old people

As I weighed my options, I overheard someone say, the green ticket ride is for little kids and old people. I chose the orange ticket, of course. The attendant handed me a large orange plastic ticket, and I saw others nervously making their choice. Entering the orange gateway, I glanced behind my shoulder to the green entrance, little kids and old people streamed in. I felt good about my decision.

As I joined the long line, I glanced at my orange ticket, skimming the bulleted list of disclaimers. I could tell this was not going to be your average ride. The ticket was filled with warnings, dire warnings. With a surge of adrenaline, I read everything that could possibly go wrong, from nausea to back injury. I questioned my bravado. I wasn’t the only person who felt the jolt of adrenaline. Ahead of me, the single file line buzzed with excitement and anticipation. People whooped and hollered, congratulating each other, as though we had just embarked on an episode of the Amazing Race. We were pumped, making knowing glances at each other, affirming our decision, congratulating ourselves, chest pumped. We had not wimped out. We were team orange!

Yet, as the line crawled along, more dire warnings flashed on either side of us. An Orwellian voice announced that it was not too late to exit the orange ride. It’s not too late, I told myself. I could still escape, now, what appeared to be near-certain death. I wouldn’t be the only one to give up. A couple in matching Nebraska t-shirts held hands to reassure each other, while quietly exiting the line, eyes downcast to avoid eye contact with their former ride mates. I could exit behind that Nebraska couple, and downgrade to green. No shame. Yet like most of the people in that line, I felt a strange sense of commitment. I dialed in for this an hour and a half ago, and by golly, I wasn’t going to quit now.

People took selfies with their orange tickets

Within minutes, our parade of strangers had bonded into a team. People took selfies with their orange tickets, probably posting them on Facebook. There was tweeting and retweeting. It was a marketer’s dream. Our team of tourists continued through the tunnel, the air thick with anticipation for what lay ahead. Our collective mood alternated between swagger and curiosity. Was this a ride or an extreme sport? At last, the wait was over. The ride lay eminently ahead. It was go-time!

Inside the capsule, barf bags waited expectantly. As the ride began, someone exclaimed, this was the best ride she’d been on all day, and she couldn’t wait to go back and do the ride again. My last thought, as I sat down to collect my barf bag, was that it was remarkable to have repeat customers for a ride that hadn’t technically actually started yet. That’s the last thing I remember before my life flash in front of my eyes. So this was good, right? Yes! Yes, it was intense. Even better than the ride, was the emotional experience. We did it! As we slowed to a stop, I congratulated myself. Sure, I might be a little dizzy, but that barf bag was clearly empty, and yay!, I’m not paralyzed.

What exactly was the difference between the orange ticket ride and the green?

I wasn’t the only one who felt giddy with a sense of accomplishment. All around me, riders high-fived as they exited the ride. People emerged from the ride, thrilled and flushed, beaming with the collective sense of accomplishment. From the looks on people’s faces, you’d have thought we had just completed the Iditarod. We hadn’t just chosen orange. We had earned it. I watched a pack of teenagers run back to the start to get new orange tickets and do it all over again. More high fives, more tweets, more congratulations. There were already repeat customers, recruiting others, building loyalty, and talking value on social media.

The marketer inside me wanted to know, what exactly was the difference between the orange ticket ride and the green? Why all the fuss? I walked back to the start, to the same attendant, chose the green ticket, and entered. The line moved quickly. There was no buzz, no nervous anticipation, no chest-thumping. Nobody took a selfie and posted it to Facebook to show off his green ticket. No repeat customers who finished the ride, and immediately ran back to the start. People exited and left, looking underwhelmed. As soon as it started, we were done. But guess what?

Suspenseful pause.

It was mostly the same ride. The green ride is almost the same storyline about a capsule going into space. It’s the same structural format, same graphic design, same uniform on the attendants. The difference is, it doesn’t spin as fast as the orange ride. Yet the green version doesn’t just lack intensity, it lacks emotion, it lacks energy and engagement. Why is the orange ticket experience fascinating, while the green is forgettable? These rides might appear to be the same, but small details, turn an average process into an unforgettable one.

Small tweaks transform, even a boring brand, into an intensely desirable winner. It might be as simple as changing your customers, into wanting the orange ticket. They want to be engaged. They want to be fascinated. Remember, different is better than better. Give people the orange ticket and you can leverage a distinct attitude, mindset, and point of view.

It’s about your product and brand, and you

I’m sure you get this, but the story isn’t about an amusement park ride. It’s about your product and brand, and you, whether or not, you will win the battle for attention. Every time you market, you are offering either an orange ticket or a green. You’re either captivating or a commodity. You’re fascinating or forgotten.

What is your orange ticket? The answer lies in your brand’s main advantage. Once you identify your brand’s key mode of communication, you can dial in these points of difference, and turn them into something unforgettable.

At the end of our journey together, you’ll understand why people buy luxury goods without an appreciable difference in quality, rave about their favorite companies, without being paid endorsers, or research products, without any intention to actually buy them. And your action plans for teams, that we will work on together, your team will have a roadmap to apply these principles. Together, you’ll take something that’s relatively meaningless, for example, a swoosh symbol, and give it meaning, for example, the Nike logo. We will point out examples from marketing, culture, fashion, music, food, hobbies, holidays, and even boring stuff like dust bunnies.

Any product, any company, including yours, can perform marketing witchcraft to captivate customers.

Are you ready? Let’s do this.