Lessons from Cuba: Experience is Everything

February 2, 2017

Jenny Wang

Jenny Wang is an associate strategist at FreemanXP, where she works on portfolio planning, research strategies, and brand messaging to help her clients reach success. 

I knew going to Cuba this past year would be a culture shock. I was anticipating getting lost in salsa music and diving into the daily life of a local — a detour from my ordinary routine.

But actually being in Cuba helped me realize the importance of face-to-face experiences. The language barrier (I don’t speak fluent Spanish, and most Cubans I met — including my host family — do not speak English well) created a real communication challenge.

I quickly came to realize that there is a universal understanding between human interactions and the messages we are trying to convey.

While in Cuba, I was able to communicate not by speaking, but by showing — through visuals, hand gestures, and the like. So although I couldn’t necessarily understand what someone was trying to verbalize, we were always able to connect, as humans, in a way that could never be replicated in any other medium than face-to-face. It’s this human connection that helped me to understand the messages they were trying to convey.

Looking to create a deeper, human-level connection that transcends any language? Here are three takeaways from my travels that marketers can apply to their brand experience strategy. 


Traveling opens your eyes. By getting lost in the culture and geography, you learn from it. You can’t get that by staring at a computer screen. Just like stepping off the plane in Havana, a good brand experience should leave the participant truly immersed in an environment that cannot be replicated anywhere else. As individuals journey through the space together, instant connections are made.

Also, make sure your brand experience offers access to exclusive news, the latest trends, products, or special events — things you wouldn’t be able to find online.


How do you create connections with others without true face-to-face engagement? I can try to learn Spanish through, say, Rosetta Stone. I can even join groups online to virtually meet people from different cultures — but that doesn’t give me a real understanding of the people and the culture. I gain much more by meeting people face-to-face, learning about them, and interacting with their culture hands-on. Similarly, event participants gain much more from engaging with other attendees live, in real time. This allows for brainstorms, bouncing off ideas, and personalized interaction. It’s the human connection.

Part of the magic of brand experience is when individuals come together on their own. Ensure that there is time in your programming not just for networking opportunities, which can sometimes feel a bit programmatic. Leave small pockets of unscheduled time for kismet interactions to unfold naturally.

Make it human

At one point during my trip, my host family was trying to warn me to be cautious of pickpockets in the city center. Words weren’t working — the language barrier was too vast. But when they acted it out with their hands, kind of like charades, I was able to understand. As humans, we innately comprehend each other through body language, non-verbal communication, and visuals. As the world gets smaller and more participants come to brand experiences from around the world, this is an important form of communication to remember.

Design the physical space of your experience to continuously nurture your messages. This can be done visually and through non-verbal forms of communication.

I often get asked why I travel so much. It’s because I gain experiences that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to through any other channel. Similarly, live events and brand experiences offer the same benefit for marketers looking to truly engage their audiences. There is no other channel that creates a more human marketing message than the face-to-face experience.

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