3 Tips for Brands Activating at Festivals in 2019

Overcome experience fatigue with these fresh ideas

When the weather starts to get warmer across the U.S., it can only mean one thing. Festival season is upon us. From film festivals to summer music festivals to beer festivals and hot sauce festivals, there is an experience—and likely a capsule wardrobe—for everyone. 

Tapping into the experience economy and Instagram culture, festivals like Coachella have grown from 25,000 attendees in 1999 to a projected 750,000 this year. With this increase in attendance came brands looking to engage with eager festivalgoers and be seen as authentic and connected to this one-of-a-kind experience. And it worked. Brands from all over the world and all sorts of industries now activate at festivals, hoping to capture the ever sought after millennial dollar, influencer buzz and lifetime brand loyalty. 

But with more brands activating, experience fatigue is on the rise and it's harder to break through the clutter. Instead of engaging consumers in meaningful ways, many brands are making huge financial investments to create pop-ups that serve merely as spots to grab free swag—no longer creating the lifestyle-first experiences that truly resonate with consumers.

So, as we begin festival season, here are three tips to ensure your activation resonates with consumers. 

Ensure the festival aligns with your ideal audience

Just because a festival is cool and makes for a fun business trip doesn't mean brands should be making a huge investment in creating an activation. It's important to truly understand who attends these festivals to make sure it is in line with your overarching strategic goals. While it probably sounds like marketing 101, it's incredible how many brands activate at events because "We've done this every year" or "Our competitors are there, so we should be too," or even worse, "My daughter says it's cool." 

Ask anyone who's been attending SXSW for more than 10 years: Audiences evolve. Not every festival is going to be the right fit every year, and just because it is or was the most popular ticket doesn't mean it's going to deliver the results you're looking for. Meaningful and impactful experiences can happen anywhere. Make sure you're not distracted by what's cool in lieu of what makes sense.

Avoid the same old formula

For some brands that have activated at festivals for many years, it can be tempting to continue to create an iteration of the same experience year after year. You have a formula, and it works: A house that has free food and an exclusive DJ at night, or a space that can touch up your makeup and/or get your hair styled with the latest space buns or Double Dutch braids. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Instead of being the only QSR restaurant giving out free hamburgers, now you are one of five. 

Instead, think about the lifestyle this audience is seeking and come up with clever ways to integrate your brand. Offer access to exclusive experiences (like a festival within the festival ... I'm looking at you, Revolve) or limited-edition products that consumers can't get anywhere else. Integrate altruism (the Game of Thrones blood drive at SXSW or State Farm's Neighborhood of Good) in a clever way that makes sense. Push yourself every year to adapt to the current cultural conversations and find new and more relevant ways to connect with this easily bored crowd. 

Solve event pain points

With social media breeding a culture that is obsessed with posting the latest and greatest, FOMO is an essential pillar of any festival experience. While brands must continue to create shareable moments for consumers that leave their friends at home feeling they're missing out, it's important to remember the IRL experience of a brand can create a lifetime user instead of just a memory that disappears in 24 hours. 

Beyond charging stations and hammocks to take a midday snooze, what are the real pain points of festivals and how can your brand/product help in the moment? Put yourself in the attendees' shoes and find a way to solve a problem they don't even know they have yet. Replacement shoes at a nearly always swampy Lollapalooza. A VIP golf cart that can take you from one stage to another. Sound-protecting headphones for rent to save your ears without sacrificing quality. A clean, VIP ladies room. Need I say more? 

The experience economy is alive and well; it's just growing up and changing. However you approach the 2019 festival season, it's essential to look at the whole opportunity to make sure your brand has something relevant to add. Challenge the status quo, get scrappy and create an experience that outlasts the festival and delivers passionate brand advocates. 

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Gabrey Means
Gabrey Means is co-founder and chief creative officer of Grow Marketing.