The Intersection

The Art of Experiential Storytelling

In the latest Intersection video, Johnny Earle — aka Johnny Cupcakes — explains how he built a cult brand using disruptive events.

When Johnny Earle, aka Johnny Cupcakes, opened a retail shop (his fourth) on London’s Regent Street in 2011, hundreds of fans waited on line for hours — some of them camping overnight — to be among the first to visit the store. And when Earle rented ice cream trucks the following year and sent them onto the streets of New York, L.A., and San Francisco loaded with $50 t-shirts, his team sold out at practically every stop.

How does this 30-something serial entrepreneur build hype for a brand that sells — well, cupcake-themed apparel? Through disruptive events and unique customer experiences, he told PSAV’s Jamie Muro in “Experiential Storytelling,” the latest video for The Intersection, presented by PCMA and PSAV. “Any time anyone orders a Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt, it’s always been my responsibility and number-one goal to make them feel it’s their birthday,” said Earle, founder and CEO of Johnny Cupcakes, explaining the strategy behind exciting and engaging his customers. For instance, Johnny Cupcakes retail stores look (and smell) like bakeries, and the company’s t-shirts often come in custom packaging and with small but funky extras such as vintage trading cards. “[Customers] are excited to be part of something. I think the value of creating a unique experience is work not feeling like work, and making other people excited and happy.”

Earle’s branding ethos boils down to “taking it a little bit further,” he said — and it’s a strategy that can also in the realm of personal branding, said Judi Holler, hospitality veteran, speaker, and founder of Holla! Productions. “People want to connect to the story of something,” said Holler. “How, then, are we creating unique personal experiences when people are dealing with us? Why would someone choose to work with you, to hire you, to partner with you, over all of the other people in the industry?”

Judi Holler

The answer is simple, said Holler: Give people something they need. “The way to start building a brand that people love and trust is to, first and foremost, help other people get what they want,” Holler said. “It’s as simple as that. Instead of always having your hand out, ‘what’s in it for me?,’  how can you help others, how can you provide value, and how can you get people connected to other people?”

Events do this almost effortlessly by creating spaces for networking, observed Holler, and it’s worth reinforcing that networking aspect continuously — even in conversation. “Instead of small talk, and talking about how busy you are, I love to ask, what problems are you having? What problems are keeping you up at night?” Holler said. “How you connect [attendees] to others who can help their career is when a shift starts to happen. It elevates your brand and reputation. You immediately create trust and create a network, an army of soldiers who are willing to go to bat for you.”

While people don’t necessarily need a $50 branded t-shirt, said Earle, they do need to feel connected to something larger than themselves. “I’ve always taken my advertising budget and put it into building unique experiences,” Earle said in the video. “And by doing that, other people do the advertising and marketing for us, and it spreads like wildfire.”

Johnny Earle’s Tips for Experiential Marketing

1. Consider putting more, or all, of your advertising budget into creating unique experiences.

2. Understand why people should attend your meeting.

3. Video capture of your event is a powerful tool to promote attendance at your next event.

4. When you do something nice, you give people something to talk about.

5. Attention to detail is a great way to build your “brand” reputation.

Want to earn CEUs? Watch the Intersection video at

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is associate editor of Convene.