Let’s go Festival

Ig web news lets go festival 01
13. Mar 2019 •• Blog post •• 4 min read

Festivals are a new and trendy event format that has become firmly established in recent years. We aren’t talking about festivals in the sense of music, film or culture, but hybrid events like South by Southwest (SXSW). First launched in 1987, SXSW takes place every year in March, combining concerts with a conference and an exhibition focusing on the digital economy, music and film. Featuring a mix of presentations, musical performances and happenings, it attracts tens of thousands of paying visitors from all over the world to the otherwise sleepy town of Austin/Texas every spring.

This year, the Online Marketing Rockstars festival brought a 40,000-strong audience of marketing experts – representing growth of 14,000 visitors – to the Hamburg Exhibition Centre. CeBIT has also attempted to relaunch itself as a fresh mix of trade fair, digital conference, networking event and open-air festival. Rejuvenated and targeting new audiences outside the jacket-and-tie community, it celebrated its premiere this month.
But where did this trend come from, how does it work and how can we take advantage of it in a B2B context?

Ig web news lets go festival 01

“Ultimately, the success of a festival event depends on finding a mix that works – and the right balance between authenticity and innovation. B2B festivals are fantastic challenges for marketing experts and creative agencies.”

— Christoph Kirst, CCO insglück

Anything goes – as long as it isn’t boring

A digital transformation is taking place in the event and congress industry and the festival trend that started out in the USA has now reached European shores. SXSW in the USA is a music festival that was upgraded with a digital conference. On this side of the Atlantic, the upgrades are the other way round and conferences or trade fairs are being modernised with festival elements.

The recipe for a festival-style event is easy: a daytime programme that usually includes presentations, panel discussions and fireside chats, with an evening agenda of networking, concerts or parties. Boundaries are generally blurred and anything goes. At some of the events speakers are celebrated like rock stars. At others you’ll find unplugged concerts taking place alongside early bird workouts and before-breakfast yoga sessions, or verbal presentations and music acts in parallel on stages of all sizes. Space is generally pretty cramped around the most popular stages, and if the audience doesn’t like something, it votes with its feet.

Important success factors for these kinds of events are a cool setting, an informal atmosphere and networking. The queue for the next presentation or a burger at the street food truck are the best places to meet people. You’ll often find startup entrepreneurs chatting to investors and interns engaging with company directors. The dress code of T-shirt, jeans and sneakers is a great way of eliminating hierarchies. Anyone with a registration badge around their neck is part of the community.

Celebrating disruption

The festival has rejuvenated traditional B2B formats and it works just as well. As in practically all marketing disciplines, the experience factor also plays a role in B2B communication. Media, music and digital culture have a symbiotic relationship and every festival is to some extent a disruptive event that completely displaces existing technologies, products and services. Decision makers and target audiences are considerably younger – or feel younger – and deliberately dispense with conventional roles and patterns. Business conventions, suits and ties – once part of the iconography of success and wealth – are now symbols of stagnation and backwardness. The boundaries between business and entertainment at festival-style events are becoming just as blurred as the boundaries between work and private life. Keywords in this connection are ‘inspiration’ and ‘networking’. Meaningful content, networking and entertainment are the salt in the festival soup. (B2B) festival makers aim to create an inspiring atmosphere that encourages people to engage in conversation. They arrange powerful, preferably well-known speakers and provide added-value entertainment that is equally educational, fascinating and entertaining. Ideally, this is the formula for everything in the festival programme, even the catering concept.

A traditional brand in a new format: the ‘me Convention’

Are marketing festivals just the fun brigade’s new congress format? Definitely not. Social upheaval, changing target audiences and new requirements are compelling reasons to dispense with old habits and come up with new strategies, ideas and creative concepts. Brands that host B2B festivals are making a clear statement that they are embracing the challenges associated with the digital transformation. For example, at the last IAA motor show Daimler surprised visitors with the ‘me Convention’ – a collaboration with SXSW. A resounding success, the collaboration has now been extended and the next ‘me Convention’ takes place on 4 to 6 September 2018 in Stockholm. Visitors to Sweden’s capital city can look forward to a packed programme of workshops, talks, interviews, panels, keynote speakers and concerts, and a venue where tech, design and creative pioneers meet to discuss the future.

The YouTube Festival – of course!

A festival event may be a revolution for a traditional brand, but for a young digital platform it’s just a natural development. At the YouTube Festival 2016, which insglück designed and has been orchestrating ever since, the festival mix of marketing content, entertainment and networking is a natural fit with the brand.
Creative minds and top decision makers in the German marketing scene meet up at the YouTube Festival every autumn in Berlin. Key note speakers from various industries provide guests with new insights and inspiration during the conference, and there is a YouTube show on the main stage every evening as a festival highlight. The cornerstones of the festival programme are the stars and stories whose success is linked to the platform. The fresh, diverse and authentic world of YouTube is transported from the screen onto the live stage. Kraftwerk Berlin, a venue known for its raw industrial charm, is the spectacular off-location. It provides the perfect framework for dynamic dialogue between the hosts, YouTubers and guests.

Content is still king

A mix of presentations, music and party isn’t the only ingredient for a successful B2B festival. Every festival event has to be tailored in terms of both programme and tonality to the brand, its customers and the target audience. Content is also still ‘king’ more than ever before as the number 1 source of inspiration. Good talks and key note speeches are the key to a good B2B festival event.
And creating the right atmosphere is also important. Simply following the trend and using a new format with an old look & feel will never work. Creativity is more important than corporate design and stringent brand architecture, but the brand still has to be recognisable.

Published at marconomy, Juli 2018.