In a fast-paced world where we all no longer just rely on communication but demand increasingly more than it, the virtues of experience and authenticity are the hot topic on everyone’s lips, and the answer lies in none other than events.
Listen up kids this one is important, I know everything on here is important, but as wise man once said, we are all created equal, but some are more equal than others.
It’s an undeniable fact that the world – and this industry – are changing rapidly.
The rise of hyper-connectivity and social media has completely altered and revolutionised communication, and the relationship between brands, the people, and the media in between.
This change is massive… but what actually is it exactly?
The definition of this change which is so rapid and unpredictable has been quite the elusive task. To try and halt the process to take a good look at it is fruitless, because the moment you think you’ve got it figured out, you look back and everything has moved on again.
Because change doesn’t happen in tidy little chapters.
It’s like when you were a child and it was your birthday, you’d excitedly stay up until midnight the night before because you want to feel this Disney-esque transition of gaining one whole year as the clock hits twelve.
But really, you don’t turn a year older at all.
We don’t just age every year - every single day is one forward step into existence and experience. Change is the small daily developments that add up to the bigger picture. And it’s that little and consistent nature of change which contributes to the magnitude of an entire movement.
That’s why the first and most important step in trying to grasp a change so rapid and unpredictable is to acknowledge it.
While there’s so much we don’t know, the one thing we do is that change is definitely happening, and continuing to operate in the same ways we always have done before is just not going to work. We can’t just sell and talk any more, if communication is evolving, so must the ways we communicate.
E is for… Engagement! Right?
The first port of call in trying to find the ‘solution’ for this rapid change seems to have become ‘Engagement’.
It’s become an industry buzzword, but one that runs the risk of doing more harm than good if used incorrectly. While we clamour to find ways to keep evolving audiences interested and invested in what we do, we seem to prioritise engagement, as, by definition, it’s what we want, right?
In the ardent quest for engagement, it seems immediately obvious to turn to events, because what you will get with an event is emotional connection.
But an event with the sole purpose of ‘achieving engagement’ will only be transparent and superficial, without the true purpose of the brand translating accurately.
Because you might be able to fake a bit of sincerity in advertising, but you cannot fake a relationship. Real ‘engagement’ is the magic you earn when you do it right, not something to try and reverse-engineer a crumbling foundation upon.
A seasonal example of how some brands try and manufacture this emotional connection is via the medium of Christmas adverts.
With the perfectly concocted recipe of tinkling keys, a swelling string section and an emotionally evocative theme (the lonely elderly in winter, the family pet accidentally ruining Christmas and the community rallying around to fix it) big brands have really cracked the code on emotional manipulation.
But what do they do to follow through?
It’s remarkable how quickly the novelty of good storytelling wears off when you go into the store you have renewed faith in, only to discover 30-people strong queues and irritated holiday temps struggling to keep up with the demand.
The impact of their great campaign falls flat in the face of reality.
If the experience of the brand does not align with its message, then loyalty and trustworthiness is dented far worse than if they’d done nothing at all.
E is Actually for… Events
The truth in what we must go back to square one, and understand why an event is needed.
No brand owner wakes up one morning and says ‘I want to put on an event’ for the sake of it.
In business, an event is a solution anchored with purpose.
No-one goes to a music festival because they like camping.
They go to Download Festival because they love heavy metal music.
They choose to go to Bestival because they love the theatricality and eccentricity of fancy dress.
And when you reach something with the astronomical success and reputation of The Glastonbury festival, you find people don’t even care about the lineup or the music – they go because it’s Glastonbury.
Yet still, people aren’t going just because they like port-a-loos.
The purpose sings loud and clear without any need to shout about it, and is part of the magic that builds such a strong communal feeling of music festivals - because you know everyone is there for the same reason as you. Therefore, without even knowing a soul, you’re automatically in the company of thousands of friends.
An event itself isn’t the why, but the why is the seed of any successful event.
You can’t just put on a show and ask people to care.
A brand is only a set of promises, so you must build the what and figure out the how and the where, to then facilitate the why.
For example, something John Lewis could have done to fully solidify their apparent philosophy for the inclusion of the elderly, could have been an in-store experience.
They could have run an event with Age UK in flagship Oxford Street store, demonstrating the experience and expertise of the elderly with a seasonal twist – perhaps a gift-wrapping service to help you perfectly wrap your newly bought John Lewis gifts in a way that only Grandma knows how. Perhaps a Christmas card making workshop or a baking station where kids can decorate their own gingerbread men with Grandpa’s classic recipe – an event rooted in the purpose of the campaign.
Just Kidding, E is for Experience
And if they are done right, the experience of the event, and word of mouth which follows it, will be the greatest marketing tool you’ll ever need, because great marketing used to be what you said to people, now it’s what you do for people.
In a world where we are surrounded with so much superficiality, we have grown great detectives in spotting it. Have we become greater cynics? No, from being surrounded 24/7 online and in real life, we’ve just grown more savvy to the techniques used by the media and traditional advertising. I mean, no-one is championing the pop-up ad anytime soon.
Instead, now that we’ve grown into the norm of being permanently online, human beings crave variety. Technology is not a fad, but the human condition is fluid, juvenile even. When we have one thing, we want the other, and so we have come full circle. Now we’ve grown back into seeking authentic, real experience that absorbs us and allows our electronically-medicated emotions to feel again.
And that is why events crafted with purpose and raw human experience at heart will continue to triumph.