How to Experience an Experience

Roller Coaster LI


Can someone be a connoisseur of experiences? They certainly can be with wine and roller coasters, so why not? Wine tasting has been raised to an art form (or at least a form of entertainment), with clear steps, techniques, and evaluation criteria. As we think about having experiences it is reasonable to apply the same concepts. How do you experience an experience to get the maximum enjoyment, and create them to get the most impact?

As I look back at my life of both creating and consuming experiences I find that there is a “right way”… so I have created an approach, or means, of becoming an experience connoisseur.


Most of us think of an experience as an event, or an accumulation of moments that are linear with a beginning middle and end, but this is an incomplete picture. Experiences actually begin earlier than we think and end later- if at all. The key to being a connoisseur of experiences is to have enlightenment about the components of an experience, and discovering how to enjoy them beyond the event itself.

All experiences have the same 4 components, whether they are simple events like errands or big holiday splurges. These components are Anticipation, Preparation, Participation, and Memory. Knowing these components, their various attributes, and how they add up to an experience can be invaluable. Beyond enabling individuals to be experience connoisseurs, they can be the building blocks of new strategic experiences that most brands today desire to create.


Anticipation is a mental state involving the way we perceive we will feel about a future event. It is the component most often left out when thinking about an experience because it falls outside of the actual event. But the build up can be as enjoyable as the event itself because it triggers the release of dopamine- the brains happy chemical- when we imagine what we will experience. Like a dog getting excited at the mention of a walk, we too experience anticipation when we think about something we enjoy (we just don’t have tails to show it).

Because it involves the mental projection of the future event, a brand that has provided consistently enjoyable past experiences can leverage anticipation. A clear vision of the enjoyment one brand delivers will diminish the role of other competing brands. This is the genesis of brand equity as the anticipation-dopamine connection creates a brand craving. Strong brands foster strong anticipation.

As a connoisseur, learn to relish your brain’s perception of the future event. If you are “spontaneous”, also know that you may be cheating yourself out of a key experience component.


Preparation is an activity versus a mental state. It involves acting on the anticipation of the event through the making of plans, lists, maps, scripts, and agendas. Preparation is like collecting the ingredients and mixing them before putting a cake in the oven. It is as important as the baking. Whereas anticipation is a personal experience, preparation is more social and often ritualized. When preparing, plans are shared with friends and family, providing positive feelings of validation and a sense of self-confidence. In this way social affirmation can make the actual event more enjoyable through the minimization of anxiety.

Brands that provide tools that can aid in planning with innovative mobile and digital touchpoints, and even coupons and promotions, embed the brand more concretely into the experience.

Connoisseurs enjoy the preparation as a way to externalize their anticipation by acting on it and sharing it. In a way, they can test drive the experience with their friends to see how it fits.


Participation is the event itself, and is usually comprised of many smaller events that happen within a fixed period of time. Ironically the event is often the shortest duration of the experience, yet has the burden of living up to the emotional high of anticipation and the social scrutiny of preparation. Participation is the cake in the oven, and like the cake mix, the goal is to be transformed from one state to another.

Successful participation in an experience changes us, and great experiences change us in positive ways we didn’t anticipate or prepare for. An experience that merely fulfills our anticipation, regardless of how high they were, is not a great experience. Brands that are committed to customer experience need to understand how they can be transformative, and how they can continually innovate to surprise.

Connoisseurs know that the participation is the core of the experience, but is hollow if there is no positive surprise. 


The last component of an experience is memory, and it is the memory that endures. In some ways, the memory component of an experience allows you to have the cake and eat it too- the experience is intact long after the event is over, available to experience again so long as it was worthy of remembering. Since the brain stores negative experiences better than positive ones (likely because we needed to remember dangerous situations), experiences need to be well above our anticipations to stick.

Brands should innovate ways to leave non-physical souvenirs via surprises and delights that are worth remembering and sharing as they create experiences. And memories can begin to seed in the earliest moments of anticipation. (And social media can be an accessory to memory, but not a substitute.)

Being a connoisseur of experiences means appreciating the anticipation, preparation, participation, and memory of the events in your life. Memories get stronger when shared and richer with retold to include the anticipation and preparation, not just the participation.

Like eating a cake versus creating one, experiences are not just the event itself, but also include what comes before and after. Being a creator of experiences means addressing these 4 components as a brand innovates customer experiences and seeks to delight their audience. Focusing on the event is cheating yourself, and under-delivering a brand’s experience potential.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Tweet the author at @chillbidley


One thought on “How to Experience an Experience

  1. Love how you laid out the 4 components. I agree that brands should look for ways to EXCEED the anticipation to cement the positive experience in the memory. Good brands meet expectations. Great brand exceed them. Thanks for this!


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