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4 ways brands rock summer music festivals

Less than a week after Chicago’s Lollapalooza music festival wrapped up, fans will descend on San Francisco for three days packed full of jams at Outside Lands. While these enormous productions continue to sell out in record times, marketers are champing at the bit to engage Millennial music-goers through festival experiences.

Brands will spend more than $1.34 billion sponsoring music venues, festivals and tours this year, a 4.4 percent increase from 2013, according to a report from IEG. “The goal here is for brands to understand that there is a sharing element to all of these adventures,” says Greg Vodicka, a Millennial marketing consultant at FutureCast, a Kansas City, Mo.-based insights and analytical marketing consultancy. “People are talking about these festivals in the same breath that they’re talking about everything else in their social media life.”

Brands that want to add value to these shareable experiences will go beyond traditional banners and water bottle giveaways to have authentic conversations with festival crowds.

Uncharted territory

While companies like Coca-Cola and Anheuser Busch have dominated sports sponsorships for decades, music festivals present new and unique opportunities. “Music offers a different way to reach the consumer. It’s a really great target for Millennials, and females in particular, which you don’t typically find,” says Ben Levy, business development coordinator at Navigate Research, a Chicago-based sports and entertainment market research firm. “It’s not as cluttered, and brands have more of a prominent space, unlike a wall outside a sports field where you have 25 brands all screaming at you.”

In the event marketing space, a brand’s presence traditionally has been determined by the size of its footprint. Different levels of sponsorships secure a banner, tent or logo on the back of a t-shirt, for example. “But really am I experiencing that brand if I just happen to wear your logo on the back of a shirt among other logos of brand sponsors?” Vodicka asks, adding that successful brands find ways for fans to participate and share their adventures. “How can you deliver something that is more of a branded experience of a product rather than just a branded interaction?”

Here are four ways for marketers to add value to music festival experiences.

1. Be authentic

“In sports, fans tend to be OK with over-the-top branding, because they realize that it’s making an impact on the product on the field or on the court, and that money goes to signing players. In music, you have to be really careful in recognizing that it’s an art,” Levy says. As the official sponsor of Lollapalooza’s live stream, Red Bull had exclusive access to content from the festival, which it shared on its various digital channels. The live stream website also featured curated content about different artists who performed as well as official after parties for the event.

2. Use brand authority

One way for brands to be authentic is to talk about topics indirectly related to their products and services. “Any brand can talk about its function,” Vodicka says. “What brands aren't as good at talking about is what’s outside of the function, outside of my direct product or service.” Vodicka offers Reebok as an example. At a CrossFit event, the athletic apparel retailer offered samples of lean protein bacon—not shoes or sweat bands. Athletes need great nourishment in addition to the right gear, and Reebok used its brand authority to attract many people to its booth, Vodicka says.

3. Measure opportunity

“ROI is tough whenever you’re talking about disruptive ideas,” Vodicka says. Most marketers aren't tying music festival engagement to sales volume potential or sales growth, for example. Instead they’re focused on building relationships. When talking to the C-suite, marketers should hone in on opportunity and potential, Vodicka says. For example, “How many people are at this festival, versus how many of our target audience are among those people? How many potential new customers are at this festival? How many potential win-back customers? These are all conversations that the C-suite love to have.” 

4. Extend engagement

Whether a music festival lasts for a day or a week, marketers have the opportunity to engage with fans for much longer. “You can’t just invest three days and expect to get a return on that and hit all of your marketing objectives,” Levy says. Some brands will have promotional material like sweepstakes for special access in the weeks and months leading up to the event, for example. Others will recap what happened at the festival. As brands collect more data on-site from things like photo booths or cashless wristbands, they’ll find new ways to re-engage with fans outside festival grounds, Levy says.

In the future, successful music festival marketing will address consumer pain points at these events, Vodicka says. “What are these big, unmet consumer needs and how can my brand solve that pain point? The answers to those questions are going to be million dollar ideas.”

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