XLIVE 2016: Four Lessons from Festival Industry Leaders

Vendini Festivals, Marketing

Formerly known as the International Music Festival Conference, the XLIVE Conference is the premier event for leaders in the festival industry. And as the industry continues to grow and evolve, so has the conference. This year, XLIVE went through a major rebranding in order to expand its scope beyond music to include festivals in the technology, food & beverage and e-sports industries. In the process, they’ve also added more than 100 new exhibitors. This year, I was honored to be selected along with 9 other young professionals to join their Young Festival Entrepreneur Program. This program connects up-and-coming pros with festival industry veterans, which demonstrates the commitment XLIVE has to the continued growth and evolution of business. If you weren’t able to attend this year, here are four of the major takeaways we learned from XLIVE 2016.

Welcome to XLIVE 2016

Image courtesy of XLIVE

Welcome to XLIVE 2016!

1. Brand Partnerships are Getting More Strategic and More Creative

Long gone are the days where your sponsor just sets up a tent at your event or places a giant logo on your stage. The one word being repeated over and over at XLIVE was experience. Everything has to fit in the equation that adds up to the guest experience, including sponsorships. Alex Machurov of Superfly (producers of the Outside Lands festival) says that brands should be “solutions to the overall experience”. Brand activation is how the brand interacts with the consumer on the day of the festival and this interaction should fit the story of your overall festival. Evan Dell’Aquila of Toronto International Film Festival says that he starts conversations with brands depending on the event’s needs. Take an audit of the guest journey at your festival before bringing in vendors to ensure alignment between your event and the brand.

XLIVE 2016 big ticket conference session

Image courtesy of XLIVE

Talking big ideas at the XLIVE « Big Ticket » session.

2. Digital Marketing is Essential to an Event Marketing Plan

Although many festivals still use traditional marketing such as billboards and radio ads, there’s no denying that digital marketing such as email campaigns and social media are a must. Jeff Lasen of SnowGlobe Music Festival says that 90 percent of his marketing budget goes towards digital. Building up an email list is a necessary thing, especially for milestone events such as line-up announcements or ticket sale emails. It is important to build up an inventory of content to use for your digital campaigns. For some digital campaigns, the purpose will be to build your email list, but for most campaigns it will be to convert people to buy your tickets. With email marketing, the messaging should be engaging and create a sense of need. In addition, incentivize your event’s artists to leverage their large followings for your marketing needs. Digital is also useful when it comes to sponsorships. With sponsorship retargeting, you could target your sponsor’s ads to your audience.

3. Beer Festivals are On the Rise

You always hear about how music festivals are becoming more saturated, but another type of festivals is also on the rise. At XLIVE, some of the beer festivals’ leaders shared ideas on unique things that they are doing in their space. For them, It is important to create a lifestyle brand that lasts all year long. Kate Jacobson of the Kona Brewer’s Festival tells us that maintaining the theme of sustainability is a huge factor in her festival’s success. For example, they host a ‘trash fashion show’ every year at the event.  Working at a local scale, such as giving marketing assets to breweries or setting up a booth by the brewery, can be very effective. You may even make some custom marketing assets for them to distribute.

4. RFID is Still a Main Topic of Conversation When it Comes to Festivals

What’s a festival conference without discussing the topic of RFID? All the perks of using RFID were addressed: customer data, sponsorship data, beacon activations, cashless payments, creating FOMO with the wristbands. However, the cons of RFID were also mentioned, such as the inflexibility of RFID to upgrade tickets on the day of (check out our previous blog on RFID to learn more.)

XLIVE 2016 young festival entrepreneur winners

Image courtesy of XLIVE

The festival future is bright—this year’s XLIVE Young Festival Entrepreneur Program Winners.

What’s the future of RFID? Using it as more than just access control. It is best to optimize for all the benefits by appointing a designated person to be in charge of all things RFID for your festival. Using RFID creates a lot of data points from your festival. In order to fully gain insight into your attendees and create a better experience, you should map all these data points and have someone fully wrap their head around all these touch points to create meaning.