Connect With Clients Through Experiences: PPAI Expo Keynoter

Striding onto the PPAI Expo stage in Las Vegas this week, Johnny Earle endeavored to tell a story. It wasn't just a story about success. Rather, it was a story about how a guy with a simple idea (selling unique custom T-shirts) could connect with rabid fans in ways that most major brands could only hope for.

"The experience is the product," said Earle, aka Johnny Cupcakes, who owns two retail stores that look like bakeries but sell absolutely nothing you can eat, as well as a successful T-shirt e-commerce site at "We trick hungry people every day. They come into our stores thinking they can get a baked good but they leave with a T-shirt and an experience they won't soon forget."

Earle, wearing a black T-shirt with his company's Johnny Cupcakes logo imprinted in white, implored his PPAI Expo audience to think of their marketing and promotional activities as experiences for their customers. "Success isn't about what you make today, it's about how you make it and how you package it," said Earle, who gives people T-shirts they buy in bakery boxes, rather than plain bags consumers would receive from other retailers. "That's the differentiator today. Package things creatively and be humorous. These are the kinds of things that customers remember. You have to give people a reason to purchase from you as opposed to from anybody else. That's your personality and your brand."

Indeed, connecting with customers today can't just come from providing good customer service or responding to inquiries rapidly. It's giving them a real reason to be loyal to your brand. And, to Earle, that can only be created through marketing experiences. In addition to using pop culture and regular holidays to create fun and unique T-shirts, Johnny Cupcakes also creates other shirts designed to get attention. Like the one they recently created around a breakfast theme. The shirts can only be purchased before noon at the company's stores, and each purchase comes with actual breakfast food - the only food you can find in Earle's so-called bakeries.

"The more you can create experiences around what you do, the better you'll be able to connect with your audience," Earle said. "In every workforce, creative thinking must be applied. Little creative details are the only reason why somebody is going to choose to purchase from you over anybody else."

Lastly, Earle told the audience to write down "twelve-plus" things that make you and your business unique. "Not just your name or your history or that you love service customers," he said. "It has to be things that give people a real feeling. That's your point of differentiation."