Among the stranger headlines I’ve seen recently is “A Taco Bell Pop-Up Hotel Is Coming to California this Summer.”

There’s a lot to digest in that headline. Why on earth would Taco Bell be getting into the hotel business? And what is a “pop-up hotel”?

Pop-up stores are one of the biggest trends in retail. Companies create a physical space to offer a specific type of product, service, or event for a limited time. Pop-up stores allow companies—both online and bricks and mortar—to present a compelling experience, test new products and markets, display innovation, and create a buzz both in-person and online. Nike opened a pop-up store on NBA All-Star Game weekend that allowed customers to play basketball, meet sports celebrities, and buy personalized shoes. Online beauty retailer Birchbox did a pop-up-store tour of the United States, allowing fans to test products and design their own Birchboxes. Color-matching company Pantone created pop-up stores offering food that matched Pantone colors.

Taco Bell is taking the concept to a new level. The company announced it will open not a pop-up store, but a limited-time resort in Palm Springs, California. Called The Bell, the resort will deliver a full Taco Bell-themed resort experience, including Taco Bell-inspired guest rooms, salon services, cocktails, and exclusive menu items. When reservations opened, all rooms sold out in two minutes.

The Taco Bell pop-up resort brings to mind two concepts of the internet economy. In a recent blog, I introduced what I call the “funnel business model.” The principle of that model is to draw more people into the funnel and to give them as many points of interaction as possible once they are inside the funnel. Pop-up stores accomplish both. They use in-person interaction and online buzz to draw new people into a brand and they create new experiences for established customers. In another recent blog, called “Metallic Blue Cars,” I wrote that progressive companies are placing themselves at the intersection of consumers’ personal and commercial behavior.

For Taco Bell, a pop-up resort fits squarely within both the funnel business model and the metallic blue car concept.

A pop-up resort places Taco Bell within a new dimension of people’s commercial and personal activity. It also creates a viral internet experience.

Before the resort even opens, the concept is expanding the top of the Taco Bell funnel with headlines and online chatter. And the resort offers opportunities for people to interact with Taco Bell as something other than a fast-food restaurant.

Healthcare providers have been in the pop-up business for years, mostly with clinics and health screening events. However, the new level of creativity and experience in today’s pop-up shops challenges healthcare leaders to think differently about how their organizations interact with the consumers they serve at the intersection of personal, commercial, and health-related behavior.

One example of a new type of healthcare pop-up took place in front of a Minneapolis clinic that is part of People’s Center Clinics & Services. The clinic serves uninsured and underinsured patients, including a sizable Somali immigrant population. The clinic had tried traditional ways to engage the population in health and to draw more people into the clinic. However, People’s Center CEO Sahra Noor said, “If you invite people to a class on health, no one will show up because it’s boring.”

In an attempt to think about the health experience more broadly, People’s Center created a weekly pop-up for four months on the clinic lawn. The pop-up included 17 visual artists hosting interactive projects, a ping pong table, a letterpress station, and a spa offering facials and tea.

The pop-up artists and others engaged people waiting for clinic appointments, as well as passers-by and staff. References to health and wellness were very subtle. The primary goal was simply to create a nurturing community experience in the vicinity of the clinic and “positive associations with visiting the doctor.” One couple that worked with an artist told her “how nice it was for them to sit with me, because people don’t often take time with others.”

Pop-ups are an opportunity for hospitals and health systems to redefine the way they think about and interact with the people they serve—something that has needed attention for a long time.

A single-track interaction focused solely on healthcare transactions, delivered in a manner that prioritizes the providers’ convenience over the patients’ experience, is out of step with today’s socioeconomic reality.

Consumers expect convenience and an experience that touches them in diverse areas of their lives. Innovative businesses understand that this richness of experience and engagement is necessary to be economically competitive. And healthcare providers by their very mission have a goal of enhancing health for their populations in all parts of their lives.

As healthcare organizations seek to enhance their consumer engagement and their effectiveness within this socioeconomic reality, a good place to start may be to answer this question:

What is our healthcare pop-up?


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