During interviews, I’m used to hearing “Huh, seems like you’ve had a lot of interesting and challenging experiences,” which is code for “your resume is super-random. What are you good at?”
Intentionally or not, I’ve built my portfolio around designing immersive experiences, not gaining traditional experience in a single field. In fact, if I’m being really honest, most of my useful education has absolutely nothing to do with the typical jargon one puts on a resume.
As an experiential marketer, here are a few memories from my life I draw professional inspiration from:
- As a kid, my dad would take me to estate sales early in the morning on Saturdays. We’d go “picking” together, which is a weird word for something even weirder: digging through stuff people leave when they die. Creepy, right? Except at the end of every early morning, he’d reward me with a stop at my favorite bakery for a fresh-from-the-oven honey-wheat breadstick. To this day, there is nothing that can rival my memories of sitting in the back seat of my dad’s station wagon, eating that perfectly sweet breadstick. [Professional challenge: how can every customer view your product like a hot breadstick?]
- I’ve been obsessed with Punchdrunk’s immersive play Sleep No More since it opened in 2011. If you’re not familiar, the play is loosely based on “Macbeth,” but told nonlinearly through intimate scenes in a five-story hotel. Each playgoer dons a mask and walks alone through the building, experiencing the “play” through choreographed scenes, tasting food, exploring rooms and, occasionally, chasing characters. The physical freedom to explore the sensory and imaginative world of the show makes for a singularly intense and personal experience. [Professional challenge: how can you create a unique world for consumers to experience your brand?]
- Every time I smell wood burning, I think of Fort Snelling. Growing up, my family spent most of our summers as a part of a living history troupe. As “interpreters,” we’d educate people about history through wearing period clothing styles, enjoying pastimes (I’m still pretty great at hoop and stick) and doing handicrafts, all intended to convey a sense of the everyday life in the 1820s. Okay, I’ll admit that it’s really embarrassing, and I don’t know why Fast Horse hired such a nerd, but without that experience, I would never have learned how to educate people outside of traditional mediums like lectures, books, movies and museums. [Professional challenge: What does your brand smell like?]
- When I worked for the NBA, every game night was designed to include a hundred high-intensity experiences, including player intros with 20,000 screaming fans, music, cheerleaders and giant flames shooting into the air. But some of my favorite moments were watching small things, like a fan getting a free pizza, or seeing someone’s face as they stood an arm’s length away from their all-time favorite player. [Professional challenge: How can you deliver experiences, big or small, that make a consumer’s dream come true?]
Experiential marketing is all about breaking barriers to allow consumers to experience a brand with all their senses. Traditionally, that might mean letting someone sample food before they make a purchase or smell a candle before they buy it. But if brands want to stand out and build an authentic relationship with consumers, they need to do much more: they need to create strong emotional memories.
For me, the easiest way to answer that challenge is to look back at my own life and use my favorite memories as inspiration.