Nick Morgan, CEO of The Fair, examines the growing trend of ‘festivalisation’ in events.
The Festival; ‘an organised set of events, such as musical performances’ has grown in both meaning and scope to become a type of experience that now crosses venue, audience and sectors and is becoming the aspirational experience – type across the event sector as a whole.
Festivals are a platform by which a group of people can come together to learn, celebrate, watch, make, share – they are enhanced environments where memories and connections between people are made and where people want to come back to again and again.
Making use of the festival format isn’t new, it has long been used by brands as a means to provide customer experiences for many years now. It’s a no-brainer really – a field full of potential customers that perfectly fit the brand demographic being treated a face-to-face brand experience, will be four times more likely to buy.
Festivals are content-rich, they need to provide experiences within experiences to keep their audiences coming back and with a very savvy customer group with high expectations and more competition for to attract them, festivals are have to up their game every year. The amount of content brought together at a festival and the marketing that goes on throughout the year to keep audiences interested is a combination that turns these audiences into what every brand wants – loyal brand advocates.
The curation of off-line and on-line experiences to produce something that doesn’t shove a theme/brand partnership down audiences’ throats, but which naturally flows, takes a lot of planning and is a role within itself. Brand partnerships are carefully woven into the narrative of event experiences, and organisers put significant budget into creative, actors, production and venues. This investment comes with great rewards and as a result, they have a loyal client base who then have a high quality benchmark that is hard to emulate.
Traditional exhibitions, trade shows and conferences have adhered to a set format for as long as I can remember but their delegate expectations are changing. This could be because the experience economy as a whole is so powerful now, it could be because a new generation of delegates come from a highly connected environment where they expect a level of experience from everything from doing their weekly shop to going to the local cinema.
Enhanced customer experience is the key here, and to get a true festivalisation experience, the MICE industry need to engage with the festival industry. The industry has to adapt and yes, given that floor space is often a huge cost in itself, on first review, festivalisation may be deemed to be expensive and non- traditional sites may be seen as a risk but investment will pay off in terms of tenancy at shows and attendees. It may cost more but there is return on investment in future years in terms of increased tenancy, attendees and brand partnership revenue that ticks all the KPI boxes.
At the same time that festivalisation is becoming more and more popular, the festival industry itself is facing huge challenges – the contradictions here are significant and my fear is that the word ‘festivalisation’ will end up outliving ‘the festival’ and will just become a new marketing buzz word far removed from its roots.
What I would like to see is investment into festivalisation and for it to be done well – in order to make this happen, perhaps we do need to rip up the rule book on format, production and customer journey and start again but this time, working together across sectors to make something new and truly engaging.