FESTIVALISATION: WHAT WE LEARNED WHEN NASHVILLE CAME TO LONDON

You may not know this, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than pulling on my cowboy C2C1boots, grabbing some Tequila and hollering along to a procession of country artists singing about drinking beer, buying trucks and falling in love.  I’m not ashamed to admit I’m one of ‘those’ bro country groupies, where it’s less about the rhinestones and cheating and more about partying and hot-pants (Daisy Dukes to be exact!). So when Nashville hit London last weekend for the annual Country 2 Country festival I was first in line!  But over a weekend that witnessed 12 headline arena acts and over 30 emerging artists, plus merchandise stalls, meets and greets and cinema screenings it got me thinking about how we bring some of that passion and enthusiasm to exhibitions.

What exactly IS the festivalisation of  business events?

It’s a term that’s started to emerge over the last few years as festivals in general have become more popular and accessible, with consumers looking to spend their hard earned cash on experiences and making memories, as opposed to material ‘stuff’.

In Oct 2018 Event Manager Blog defined the term as ”… an audience’s desire to be plunged into a multi-day spectacular”  (Click here to read). They also argue that it comes from the blurring of lines between business events and creative industries, citing SXSW as the perfect case study.  From everything I’ve read in researching this blog, it seems to be about injecting more fun into the business of trade shows, creating more opportunities to connect with the audience through multi-sensory platforms and above all creating more memorable experiences for delegates and exhibitors.

But what did I actually see and hear at C2C which could help organisers and exhibitors bring more of that festival vibe to their live events?

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1.VARIETY IS KEY – country music is such a wide genre bridging blues, pop, rock even veering into jazz and R&B at times and to appeal to the widest audience the programme needed to reflect that. We had everything from a 20 year old who’s yet to release a track, to Lyle Lovett who covered 3 or 4 different sub-genres in his set alone.  For live events, it seems to be about offering more than just the standard exhibition booths and a live theatre. Events that are embracing festivalisation are adding chill-out decks with live bands, speed networking areas, fringe events, visitor judging panels, interactive learning zones – areas that create a point of difference, provide edutainment and where people want to be seen. For exhibitors, it’s about creating different experiences within your footprint to appeal to different stages of the buying journey, for example a simple video to watch for new contacts, through to a full product demonstration for hot leads.

Check out this blog from Exhibition News on great ideas for spicing up the formats of events (Click here)

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2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE – which has always been crucial to the success of a      business event but becomes even more so when you throw festivalisation into the mix. Festivalisation for festivalisation’s sake may look forced and contrived – delivered based on what the audience wants to see and hear, festivalisation feels natural and engaging. The Country Music Association are heavily involved in C2C and want to use it as a platform for launching their next Garth Brookes or Taylor Swift but they are fully aware the audience will only tolerate sitting through unknown and less polished acts with the promise of a Keith Urban or Brad Paisley to come.  Creating cool at your event is great, so long as it’s meaningful to audience and relevant to them doing business – which after all remains the key reason for them being there.

Creative Group share their thoughts on knowing your audience when introducing festival elements here

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3. SURPRISE & DELIGHT – whether an exhibitor or event organiser,  we always encourage clients to talk about all the brilliant aspects of the show in the weeks before doors open. However, what really got talked about, shared and envied last week were the last minute personal appearances or secret gigs that people just ‘had to be at’. Whilst you’ll want to shout loud and proud about everything you’re doing to get the visitors there in the first place, thinking about creating personalised, memorable moments that visitors only know about once they’re at the show could create a different level of buzz that lasts beyond the doors closing. For exhibitors, this is crucial in thinking about what visitors get from you at the show, that they could never get from behind a screen.

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4. SHARE YOUR STORY – over 30 emerging artists were fighting to be heard over a weekend where the majority of visitors just wanted to drink beer, catch up with their friends and pass time until the arena show starts. How did they make their voice heard and hold attention long enough to hopefully squeeze a couple of album sales out to make their trip worthwhile? It’s probably easier for singer-songwriters who by their nature are storytellers, but without fail they seamlessly blended why their story was important with brilliant musicianship. For the 30 minutes they were on a tiny stage they inspired the audience to care about them, and delivered faultlessly.  As an exhibitor, it’s not about being the biggest, it’s about being your best and being authentic. Know what makes you brilliant, understand why your audience will care and then tell your story passionately.

For more ideas on storytelling at events click here

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5. HAVE SOME FUN – more than anyone, we passionately advocate that trade shows have to deliver value for the visitor and return for the exhibitors and organisers. Business is a serious business right? But, all of us are increasingly seeking experiences that entertain and also enrich our lives. Social media banter between acts, ‘my crowd is bigger than your crowd’ campaigns, hangovers, stories and being human all brought humour and connected with the audience.  Have we possibly become too serious in the trade show industry?  Is it time to have some more fun and let the audience be part of creating that as we all seek to make our event or stand more memorable? World Record attempts for Marshmallow Eating at a food show, or giving visitors the opportunity to draw your new logo whilst blindfolded all create small moments of diversion from the serious business of business that might last longer in the memory than flashy graphics and a leaflet. Do let us know what your Memory Moment is going to be for you next event?

So after a week my voice is slowly returning to normal and I’m just about managing not to nod off at my desk but the memories of a fantastic experience still burn bright. In C2C the organisers created an opportunity to connect with like-minded people, learn about what’s new and emerging as well as appreciating what’s established, persuaded me to part with my hard-earned cash, shaped amazing memories and a whole 51 weeks before it happens, inspired me to buy tickets for next year’s event. Now wouldn’t it be amazing if we could generate the same response to trade shows and exhibitions?

What are your thoughts on the Festivalisation of exhibitions and trade shows?  What are you doing to being the vibe of the field into your event?

If you’ve been inspired to Festivalise your event or trade show stand but aren’t sure where to start why not get in touch at proextra@12th-man-solutions.co.uk – we’d love to help you!

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