There’s something special about the atmosphere at a major festival or popular event that reels in the crowds and has sponsors willing to dig deep into their pockets to get in on the action.
That vibe, unique to every event, is created by a multitude of factors that promoters strive to shape and influence to give event-goers an experience that is positive—and hopefully memorable.
Ever been approached by a rude or overzealous security guard at an event? Did it leave you with a bad taste in your mouth? These kinds of negative experiences, or an excessively long wait at the concession stand, for instance, can seriously tarnish an event’s reputation, whereas positive experiences—brought on by good logistical planning—help build and reinforce an event’s favourable image.
It’s important, then, to carefully analyze each and every contact point a visitor may have with an event, including those with sponsors, which can play a big part in creating a positive experience with on-site activations.
Visitor experience begins before the event even starts. Music festivals are masters at playing the pre-event game, and Montreal’s Osheaga is definitely no exception. For its 10th anniversary, the festival launched a mobile game app called The Road to Osheaga that allowed users to play interactive games and collect points to unlock the name of an artist performing in this year’s event, before the official lineup was announced. This, along with tools allowing users to build their own interactive festival schedule and customize their Osheaga experience across all platforms, generated a huge buzz and ensured festival-goers were connecting with the event well ahead of the three-day concert weekend.
Eliminating every possible irritant a festival-goer might encounter at a major event is simply inconceivable. Just imagine the kind of money and planning that would have to go into ensuring zero wait time at each and every bathroom and concession stand. But well thought-out changes can go a long way in improving perception. In 2013, for example, the Montreal Marathon faced heavy criticism for having too few public toilets available at the starting line of the race. The following year, organizers installed the same number of toilets, but this time concentrated in a designated area for easier access, and they met with no similar complaints.
The role of security staff at popular events also needs to be redefined. It’s important to remember that these are generally the first people visitors see when they arrive at an event and the last people they see when they leave. Often contracted through a security company, these individuals are used to a very different kind of setting: their focus is on maintaining order, not necessarily on making sure event-goers enjoy the very best experience possible. But as much as the effect that security staff has on visitor experience can be a problem, it can also be an opportunity for promoters to improve service. Disney Parks have figured out how to make this work. Their maintenance crews, dressed in Disney uniforms for easy identification, are given basic customer service training to be able to answer questions and bring added value to the guest experience.
Customer service has to be the number-one priority and every situation must be approached from that vantage point.
The Montreal Canadiens hockey club has created a vast digital platform to connect and engage with Habs fans all over the world, all year round. Club 1909 elevates the fan experience to a whole new level by offering members the opportunity to interact with the team and its players, upload their own Go Habs Go! chant and receive exclusive rewards, including having their name embedded in the Bell Centre ice!
A two-way street
But properties aren’t the only ones with a role to play in affecting fan experience. According to a recent study by HAVAS Sport & Entertainment, 65% of music festival-goers believe brands improve the festival experience. Sixty percent of the survey’s respondents reported interacting with two or more brands, with 85% of them liking the brand activations they visited. These positive experiences are highly profitable for brands: not only do they raise sponsor awareness (with fans recalling 6 out of every 10 brands on site), but 36% say they would be more likely to buy a sponsor’s product after experiencing the activation.
As the presenting sponsor of the smash musical Wicked, New Zealand’s ANZ Bank launched a major campaign designed to leverage its investment. A number of initiatives were put in place, including an online game that allowed top scorers to win a “Wicked Weekend,” complete with air fare, dinner, spa treatment and tickets to the musical. The game drew nearly 26,000 players during the six weeks of the competition.
To enhance the experience for show-goers before the performance, Bluetooth units were installed in the theatre, giving patrons access to exclusive content like cast interviews and clips from the launch event.
A dedicated site was also created for a “Win a part in Wicked” competition. To enter, fans were invited to submit a short video of themselves singing a song from the musical. The entries were then shortlisted, with the top three finalists going on to give a live audition and the winner receiving a one-night walk-on role in the show!
The bank further promoted the campaign by installing 3D cutouts outside many of its ATMs and branches.
With its new home in the Prudential Center, the New Jersey Devils hockey team has succeeded in attracting new high-level sponsors and securing a 98% re-signing rate. The modern sports and entertainment facility features state-of-the-art amenities, including a 3D projection imaging system, giant LED panels and high-definition video displays, that allow sponsors to more easily achieve their goals.
To optimize visitor experience and engage fans, sponsors also need to carefully plan out their campaign over time in order to make the most of their touchpoints across various channels, including through public relations, media buys, grassroots activities, promotions, social networks, employee engagement and content.
A few pointers for improving visitor experience
- Think of the needs that sponsors can fill with activations that relate well to their brand and particular expertise
- Talk to fans, conduct consumer surveys, collect data to help in decision-making
- Identify irritants and try to find inexpensive solutions to address them (e.g. training security staff in customer service, reconfiguring site layout, etc.)
- Capitalize on all available assets and invest in new technology