There’s an amazing concept being explored by neuroscientists regarding unconscious thought called experiential source code. Just like every web page you see has computer code behind it, your physical interactions with the world around you govern the often subconscious ideas you have. This is why certain physical sensations trigger certain emotions -- affection stems from an outward feeling of warmth, power results from looking down on something from a higher vantage point, etc.

The most fascinating aspect of experiential code, however, is that it can be manipulated. In an article published by Fast Company titled “Experience Is The Next Frontier In Marketing”, a study was conducted by researchers that attempted to manipulate the ideas people had by altering the physical interactions they associated with those ideas. When presented with a resume on a clipboard, subjects believed the candidate to be more qualified than when presented with just the paper copy -- however, the resumes were identical in content. Why did this happen? Simple -- from a young age, we learn that the weight of an object is directly parallel to its importance -- if something is heavier and harder to move around, we quickly learn to only expend our energy on it when the result is of greater importance.


The ability to break down this experiential code and to manipulate it to one’s advantage is the driving force behind the widespread shift from mass marketing to more intimate experience-based marketing that many companies are utilizing in order to increase brand loyalty and elevate customer engagement and satisfaction.

The power of experience is unparalleled in its universality -- the entirety of mankind strives to experience new things and to share these new experiences with one another. Experiences maintain an infinitely higher degree of shareability than say, a new product we purchase, for the simple reason that new experiences turn our often mundane, routine lives into something magical. And who doesn’t hope to capture this magic with the click of a button, put a VSCO filter on it, and plaster it on social media for the world to see? This is our 21st century substitution for shouting “Look what I did! It was great! Look at it! Don’t you wish you did it too?! My life was exceptional and magical and different and interesting today because I DID this!"

Enter the likes of The Color Run, Painting with a Twist, The Lab, and the Museum of Feelings. What do a 5k run, a drink-wine-while-you-attempt-to-paint class, a virtual reality art installation at a music festival, and a Glade-sponsored pop-up museum have in common? All four tap into the power of experiences.

By giving their audiences ownership of their own, individualized, personal adventure by carefully curating experiences, these companies have created a dynamic alternative to more static, traditional marketing techniques which fail to allow for personalization and adaptability based on the individual customer being reached.

The Museum of Feelings was a free, limited-time-only pop up exhibit in the Financial District of New York City that promised to “react to [your] emotions” and “turn them into art” that quickly went viral on social media and in the press. Cleverly disguised as a marketing ploy by Glade, the museum invited you to pass through seven different rooms, each one meant to convey a different emotion. “Joy” contained a forest of green LED lights hanging from the ceiling, “Exhilarated” featured a trippy kaleidoscope of mirrors, and “Calm” boasted fog and a cloud-like carpet beneath your feet. And, of course, each room’s “feeling” was further enhanced by a corresponding Glade fragrance that was pumped into the air. On paper, the museum seemed like an over-the-top, absurdly-budgeted, glorified advertisement. In real life, it proved to be a stunning experience that engaged the senses and begged to be remembered.

Similarly, the HP installation designed and curated by and dubbed “The Lab” was a main selling point for the inaugural Panorama Festival on New York City’s Randall’s Island. There was a 360 degree virtual reality theater, a cotton candy machine transformed into a musical instrument, an inflatable playground, a wall of mirrors that responded to the presence of individuals, and a larger-than-life pinball simulation. The goal of these wildly outrageous yet ingenious art installations? To make the music festival more than just a music festival; to create an immersive experience that engaged festival goers to the fullest degree in order to draw them into the alternate universe given to them by Panorama and HP.

On the other hand, Painting with a Twist and The Color Run aren’t brand-sponsored experiences. There’s no mother company pulling the strings to market their product or service through a tailored experience -- rather, these companies’ value propositions are the experiences themselves. Despite this difference, the core idea is the same -- put together an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind experience to attract customers and more importantly, to retain them. For instance, at Painting with a Twist, managing director Mike Powers says diversifying the experiences by having multiple themed classes (pop art, landscapes, portraits, etc.) and changing the wine selection each season leaves customers with a fresh, new experience each time they walk through the doors of one of the 190 locations nationwide.

The Color Run is different than Painting with a Twist in that it provides an extremely similar, if not identical experience each time a customer participates, but its ability to manipulate experiential code is what has led to its success. The Color Run’s combination of exercise (a release of feel-good endorphins), bright, powdered paint, and upbeat music triggers feelings of optimism and hope, emotions that fall in line with their mission to encourage participants to donate to partner charity organizations; this endeavor has been wildly successful as they've raised $4 million for numerous non-profits after just five years of operation.

What is it about experiences that are so “magical”? Why does bringing an experience to life for your audience equate to greater brand loyalty and higher customer satisfaction? How are so many experience-based companies finding so much success? The answer: experiences can’t be replicated. You just had to be there.

Lynnea Bolin, MSD Intern