The business of pleasure: The rise of B2B festival marketing

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Samsung's UNPACKED event demonstrated a festival approach can work for B2B

What defines a festival? The words 'celebration', 'inspiration' and 'sharing' tend to top the list. Given these associations it makes sense that annual conferences, employee engagement events and sales meetings are getting the ‘festival treatment’.

So is this the new way to do business?

Despite the current popularity, this is not a new trend. SXSW, for example, launched over 30 years ago in 1987, with 150 people registered, and sponsored by the Convention Bureau in Austin. It was still the 1990s when the tech festival element was added. The event now brings over $300m to the area and refers to itself as the “premier destination for creatives across the globe.”

In terms of attendees, Barcelona’s B2B focused Mobile World Congress and the consumer-only Glastonbury festival both boast of numbers north of 100,000 people.

So, can we really mix the two seemingly incompatible disciplines of B2B marketing and a consumer festival mindset? This is where the ‘event festivalisation’ trend — an audience engagement strategy where corporate sponsored events are infused with elements of the consumer-facing festival — comes in to play.

Below are a handful of tips we can leverage to blend educational and informative aspects with the ‘fun’ traditionally reserved for festival-style events and activations.

Power to the people

Instead of dictating which sessions they go to, what food they eat, when they network and so forth, provide audiences with opportunities to customise their own journey.

Just as festivals have different stages and talent, pop-up food stalls, brand activations and other forms of entertainment for festival-goers to explore as and when they please, focus on curating multiple different experiences and offerings for attendees.

At last month’s Xerocon Brisbane, for example, Xero used colour-blocking to enable guests to seamlessly transition from their chosen break-out sessions to preferred activities in the Communities Zone, which included an area where attendees could customise their own skateboard, attend wellness zone, visit barbers, and more.

Focus on the shareable moments

Festivals are brimming with social-sharing moments. These can be applied to the B2B world, too. Cool set designs — such as August’s Samsung UNPACKED launch in New York, where INVNT created an immersive ‘cathedral’ structure that showcased branded content in unique ways — Insta-worthy food items, interactive installations and design elements such as neon signage all add to the festival vibe.

Infusing corporate events with elements of the festival will get your event socially-trending and extend its reach beyond the physical, as your guests feel compelled to share their event highlights with their own networks. It’s a win-win situation; the action elevates attendees’ social currency as it incites fear of missing out (FOMO) in those who aren’t there, and it extends the reach of an event well beyond its four walls.

Hone in on your micro communities

Craving live interactions is inherent to the human psyche, especially today when we’re spending more time in our digital worlds than ever, and a sense of belonging. Creating a series of ‘tribes’ or dedicated areas for attendees based on their unique interests, backgrounds ,and professions can facilitate effective networking, thus enabling people who otherwise may not have crossed paths to do so — just like they would at a festival.

Take TEDxSydney, for example. The event’s hub area features a series of different tribes, all of which relate to the brand’s values and speak to attendees — who are considered thought leaders, game changers and those who seek to be inspired — unique interests. This year they included everything from an LGBTIQA+ tribe complete with boom box, DJ and dance acts, to a Body, Mind & Soul tribe which hosted meditation sessions.

Personalise, personalise, personalise

You’ll only really know who your micro communities are if you take the take the time out to gain the small data information about your target audience – not just the demographics but their interests, passion points and event objectives.

Technologies like predictive analytics enable us to extract granular information about our audiences, so that we can determine what they want and how they want it – and not on gut instinct alone. When applied to the festivalisation trend, it enables us to determine which corporate/festival split to go for, and we gain insight into the ideal festival-inspired elements to include.

Bring the balance

Above all, ensure there’s a degree of balance. Careful thought needs to be applied to events involving more conservative brands (think finance-related brands in particular), so plan wisely. Remember too that the trend isn’t reserved for smaller-scale companies, and that global consumer brands can buck the trend.

PepsiCo launched its festival style PepCity in central New York back in 2014 , right in the middle of SuperBowl fever. It was an event celebrating the music, art, food and theatre of New York, and despite there not being a mention of football, it proved hugely popular.

All in all, infusing corporate events with elements of the consumer-focused festival is proving an effective way for brands to meaningfully engage their audiences and extend the reach of their live experiences.

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