Festival Experience and Engagement

The Fair and Big Cat Group’s Nick Morgan on the rise of below the line and creating festival communities.

CHANGES in consumer behaviour and how brands are responding comes up in conversation continuously and I am of the opinion that this can only benefit the events industry.

There are two key goals here that ultimately result in sales: engagement and loyalty, and it’s fair to say that events captivate audiences and tick both these boxes.

However you want to frame it – sponsorship, brand activation, brand engagement, experiential marketing, experience economy, live architecture or below the line – events have so many possible consumer touch points that the move towards the live event space as the must-have marketing tool is inevitable.

There has been a massive sea change over the past few years around our spending habits moving towards experiences over physical products. We are asking much more of these experiences; we want a relationship with brands.

This is where live events and, more specifically festivals win.

Experiences are powerful. They create real emotion, real connections and memories far more effectively than more passive, traditional marketing methods. Brands strive to connect with their customers and dabble in great standalone experiences that might include a high-profile artist or DJ, or the latest street food trends. Going to a gig, the cinema, the theatre, seeing your favourite DJ live or sharing a meal all bring active participants together and ultimately create communities.

Great entertainment, engagement and the creation of a community is the essence of the festival experience, and with so many ways of amplifying this available now (inspired by great marketing, I must add), festival brands are gaining more reach. They know more about their audiences and they are creating fiercely loyal advocates that consumer brand, charities and corporates want to get in front of.

Brands work in partnership with festivals and events better than ever before. Sponsorship was often a standalone campaign, but things are changing for the better. Festival and event owners are looking for additional revenue streams that support them, based not just on money but those who resonate with the whole production and who become part of the event provenance and narrative. This is particularly important to our millennial audiences and equally to the over-50s who control 89 per cent of all disposable wealth in the UK.

From event tech to pouring rights, the values of event partners and the shows themselves go hand-in-hand and there can now be a seamless transition between all the experiences to be had over the course of an event with no ‘in-your-face’ advertising and no obstructive selling.

Adopting new tech early gives more opportunity for massive data capture, which bolsters customer knowledge. We’ve used RFID and are working with our partners to look at adopting technology like iBeacons.

Within the next 12 months, you will be able to go to a large festival and an iBeacon will track your movements and at the end of the festival we will be able to, amongst many other things, compile you an unique playlist potentially re-playing all the acts you saw with their live sets.

It’s not all about scale either. Festivals with audiences of up to 5,000 like Gottwood and Noisily are able to grow with their audiences and engage with early adopters. This is a perfect scenario for brands, but the question is whether shows want brand association, and how this will be received by their audiences.

GOTTWOOD 2015 (image source: www.factmag.com)

Festival brands also seem to have more flexibility and vision for their fans, partnering with other promoters and labels to produce the best possible shows. A couple that spring to mind are Born and Bred and Rinse FM, Lovebox and Fabric and Snowbombing and Metropolis. These partnerships only strengthen their positioning and give their respective audiences a chance to get to know them in a different context.

Brands that are often at the top of their marketing game already recognise that emulating developments in the live events industry has massive potential and now they want to own their own shows.We get approached by brands with an event idea that often ends up with a festival event as the output, and we will always advise on making the most of the budget by maximising the experience.

This might mean that a two-day show with camping isn’t the right way to go. Why not decide not to overstretch the budget and make an experience you can grow and develop as an extension of the brand itself. Why not set the goal to own a certain type of experience and grow this with your consumers? Why not find a festival partner that you can grow with?

Think of lnnocent’s Unplugged festival series (which started at festivals and now has its own sold-out show) or Red Bull’s indisputable synergy with extreme sports and music festivals (which evolved from gazebo pop-ups backstage and now is the market leader for these events). As well as MasterCard’s extremely clever Priceless campaign (going for more than 18 years) positioning themselves as the active enabler of experiences, we can see that with the right tactics, brands can create active communities and they are constantly looking for ways to interact with and mobilise audiences.

innocent un-plugged festival

Innocent Unplugged (image source: www.eventmagazine.co.uk)

“Great entertainment, engagement and the creation of a community is the essence of the festival experience.”

Many festivals have their own established apps and are starting to use tactics that are more widely seen in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and charity brand campaigns. Some great engagement examples include the use of gamification at Eastern Electrics’ #REVEEL interactive Pac Man game, which, for every blue ghost that participants ate, revealed another act and gave fans the chance to win tickets. We Are FSTVL has a game based around the live festival zones that allows you to get involved in the story behind these zones and win drinks tokens.


Easter Electrics #REVEEL (image source: www.easternelectrics.com)

The UK outdoor, music and festival sector is worth more than £3bn and growing. Coupled with a thriving music industry, an experience-driven economy huge scope for data capture, extended reach through seeding and sharing content and the shift towards a diverse demographic with more disposable income, it’s pretty clear that there is a positive future ahead for our industry.