A seemingly ordinary suburban kitchen houses a vintage fridge that, when opened, reveals cascading stairs. Glowing, towering branches engulf you in a psychedelic swirl. A haunting wall of predatory eyeballs stare at you as you take respite inside a grassy cave.
This trippy multiverse is Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, a permanent immersive art complex in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
So what can content creators learn from Meow Wolf? With over 400,000 visitors in its first year, and a planned expansion to two locations in Denver and Las Vegas, Meow Wolf’s wild popularity is proof that immersive, interactive experiences are winning over audiences.
As Meow Wolf notes in its Instagram bio: “We are artists. We support artists. We make art.” Through philanthropic initiatives like helping fund DIY art spaces, Meow Wolf is certainly walking the walk.
With “immersive,” “experiential,” and “multisensory” part of the fresh crop of digital marketing buzzwords, there’s much that content creators can glean from Meow Wolf. I recently had the privilege of visiting the space and experiencing firsthand what the hubbub was all about.
Here’s what we can learn about brand storytelling from immersive art spaces such as Meow Wolf.
Content creators aren’t usually creating immersive multisensory experiences for our audiences, but we are putting together an experience when someone’s eyeballs hit the page. If you’re struggling to imagine this experience, start with the larger picture and work backward. What is the ultimate message or call to action? How do you want the reader to feel? To trigger that experience, grab the audience’s attention by leading with an appropriate anecdote, a shocking statistic, or an arresting visual sequence. Don’t forget context. What does that statistic or anecdote mean in the scheme of things? Perhaps it indicates an alarming trend that, if presented clearly, will prime the reader to take action.
Besides the immediate sensory thrill you feel when walking through the fantastical rooms and corridors of Meow Wolf, there’s a story that one can piece together through handwritten letters, diary entries, family portraits, news clippings, and a plethora of other visual clues. The current main narrative at the Meow Wolf complex is that you’re investigating a mysterious death in the Selig family. Visitors can engage in this unraveling of hints and try to solve the puzzle for themselves.
Whether we’re sharing a deeply personal firsthand account or profiling someone with an amazing life, we create an experience for our readers. It starts and ends with a story, and through the story we can tap into emotions, convey a message, or inspire readers.
Consistency also plays a part in the viewer’s or reader’s experience. Meow Wolf leaves a lasting impression on its visitors because it doesn’t allow for any traces of the mundane, “real world” to seep through. And while there is a wide array of artists and styles housed within the art complex, it all helps to create a unified multisensory experience. You too can engage your audience by maintaining a consistent tone throughout a piece—or many pieces—of content, staying true to your message, or injecting content with a strong, edgy brand voice.
For instance, say you’re a travel writer doing a roundup article featuring firsthand accounts of digital nomads. While you’re sharing different experiences and methods on how to travel the world as a freelance creative, writing in a consistent, strong voice may create a sense of consistency and contribute to that unified experience. Perhaps the underlying message—that there are many ways to travel when you’re working remotely—is what connects all these different stories into a meaningful whole.
It’s only after going through the labyrinthine space of Meow Wolf, with its soaring ceilings, narrow hallways, and meandering nooks and crevices, that you fully grasp what it’s all about.
And whereas a snappy corporate ad campaign needs to deliver a clever message and make an impression in very little time, those who create long-form content have the luxury of shaping the story for maximum impact. Make the most of this space and figure out the best way to communicate what your client’s message.
For instance, supplementing a heady article on a complicated topic with an infographic or bite-sized explainer video may enhance its value. A piece on the lack of affordable housing in the US may give your audience a richer experience if accompanied by a timeline illustrating key events that created the housing crisis.
The best way to help brands who want their content to resonate is through subtlety. Any integration with a client’s products or services should be organic.
Meow Wolf’s message is in its model. By weaving through its art space, with rich and powerful narratives, visitors witness directly the power of giving artists a space to experiment with their ideas and showcase their visions. The effect is intoxicating, and it leaves visitors appreciating its mission and ambitious artistic and business goals.
The space speaks for itself. This subtle approach is far more effective than pummeling a message down someone’s throat or slapping a logo on a sculpture. Case in point: the Dyson-sponsored room at Refinery29’s 29Rooms. As the LA Times noted in a review of the 2017 pop-up installation, “The collaborations between the corporate sponsors and Refinery29 are thinly disguised advertisements for shoes, beauty products, and more.” Ouch.
It’s obvious that audiences are turned off by blatant advertisements. So whatever the objective may be in our content, it’s important to have a lot of finesse as a brand storyteller. If you want to convey the message that what we eat is so vital to our wellbeing, then a powerful firsthand account of someone who has undergone a transformation from being a sugar addict to a nutrition advocate may be the best approach. Instead of blatantly saying, “good food is good for you,” the message is implied in the stories you choose to tell. The message is folded into the story itself.
As digital brand storytellers, we can learn a lot from spaces that convey messages in a tangible, physical form. By working our magic to create an experience for our audience through content, we can hit our mark, make a lasting impression, and fulfill our content objectives.
To learn more about brand storytelling, please see Storynomics, a book authored by Skyword CEO Tom Gerace and legendary story expert Robert McKee.
Featured image attribution: Meow Wolf