If you are a marketer with an eye to the future and you don’t know who Erik Hauser is, you’ve got some catching up to do. Aside from serving as founder and creative director at Swivel Media, who introduced Wells Fargo to Second Life, Erik is also director of the International Experiential Marketing Association, and moderates the Experiential Marketing Forum, which he started up. As if that weren’t enough, he additionally maintains a busy schedule of speaking engagements, writes a monthly columnfor Chief Marketer, and probably does a bunch of other stuff I don’t even know about yet. I got in touch with Erik because I was curious to find out if there was anything aspiring marketers should know about experiential marketing from a career perspective. During the course of our conversation, however, I realized that there was much more that they could learn from Erik’s career itself.
“I just want to create. My whole life is a creation. I’m just a creator,” he says. This drive to create has led him, in his words, “from a complete unknown to the most recognized name in the space.” Indeed, he has, in some ways, created the space we call “experiential marketing,” not so much because he came up with the idea or was the first one to do it, but because he has, via the EMF and the IXMA, created the space in which issues of experiential marketing get discussed. As he puts it, “I created a roomful of giants and threw myself in.”
Erik’s success stems in part from his willingness to think big. “I got caught thinking small once, and that was when I thought about naming the IXMA the American Experiential Marketing Association.” By going with “International,” he showed that he wasn’t just talking about a national phenomenon, and he was right. Just check out the posts to the EMF and you’ll see questions and thoughts from all around the globe. “When I see someone in Italy ask a question that gets answered by someone in India, I just think, ‘People are really using this forum that I built. That’s cool.’”
“A lot of people think big, but they think big locally,” Erik adds. Whereas they might make something that stands out in its field, they aren’t really creating the field itself. Erik seems more intent on creating methodologies as well as the communities that work with them. He doesn’t want to come up with this or that strategy to solve this or that problem, instead he “wants people to strategize off the framework I created.”
Of course, operating at the level in which you create the framework rather than simply operate within it takes a lot of imagination, boundless energy, and plain old chutzpah – all of which Erik has in abundance. Beyond that, you have to possess an attitude of infinite possibility. “I think that anything’s possible, that’s the difference between me and other people. In fact, I like to operate in the narrow space between the virtually impossible and total impossibility.”
A good example of doing the virtually impossible was his successful effort to get Wells Fargo to use Linden Lab’s virtual world platform to set up Stagecoach Island, a Second Life-like 3-D world where kids can learn about finance. Getting a bank to adopt a bleeding edge technology and serve as a marketing trend-setter was no easy sell but, “I always want to do what hasn’t been done before.” It took a lot of convincing, and about a year before it launched, but Erik successfully convinced the decision-makers at Wells Fargo to adopt new reference points and literally move into a whole new world.
When Erik told me that he had originally had a five year plan to make an indelible mark in the experiential marketing space, I remarked that he must be a very patient person. “I’m the least patient person in the world,” he retorted. He then added, in his characteristically blunt style, “Patience is for losers! Strategy, though, is great. You’ve got to set long term goals and when people tell you something can’t be done, you’ve got to ask them, ‘Who says it can’t be done?’”
And then, of course, if you’re anything like Erik Hauser, you go out and do it.