Feature Article - May/June 2009

Create Lasting Memories

The Power of Experential Rewards

By Catherine Eberlein Pfister


hen the comedy-drama movie "The Bucket List" hit American theaters in January 2008, the after-buzz got many of us thinking about what kinds of experiences we wanted to achieve in our lifetimes. It's something we all can relate to. Secretly, on paper or in our minds, we fantasized about what might be on our own lists. At the very least, perhaps we found ourselves comparing our wish lists to that of Carter Chambers, the character played by actor Morgan Freeman:

  1. Witness something truly majestic.
  2. Help a complete stranger for a common good.
  3. Laugh till I cry.
  4. Drive a Shelby Mustang.
  5. Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world.
  6. Get a tattoo.
  7. Skydiving.
  8. Visit Stonehenge.
  9. Spend a week at the Louvre.
  10. See Rome.
  11. Dinner at La Cherie d'Or.
  12. See the Pyramids.
  13. Get back in touch (previously "Hunt the big cat").
  14. Visit Taj Mahal, India.
  15. Hong Kong.
  16. Victoria Falls.
  17. Serengeti.
  18. Ride the Great Wall of China.

Whatever might find its way onto your own or any individual's wish list of experiences, one thing is certain. Experiences heighten all of the senses. They are palpable. They create tangible perceptions that are substantially real and memorable. Just ask anyone who has ever skied at the Matterhorn, viewed a sunset at the Grand Canyon or taken a plane ride over Paris. It's something you just never forget.

The concept of giving experiences as a personal gift has been popular in Europe for at least a couple of decades. But it has only recently begun to catch on in the United States, predominantly among savvy online consumer shoppers looking for unusual gifts for family and friends. European-based companies such as Red Letter Days and the Red Balloon, along with U.S.-based firms like Excitations, have become familiar names to this group.

Quickly fast-forward to today and we find that an entire industry—known as the experiential reward industry—is taking hold globally and specifically catering to the incentive needs of a wide variety of companies. Experiences can be used in employee recognition and incentives programs, small team-building programs, customer appreciation and loyalty programs, corporate gifts, special promotions, giveaways and drawings, appreciation for partners, suppliers and more.