With each generation comes a new set of tastes, cultural norms and demands. EventsBase editor Kevin O’Sullivan asks David Coletto, CEO of leading Canadian market research firm Abacus Data, about changing audiences for events ahead of his keynote at the National Events Conference in Glasgow on Monday.
KO: What do you think best defines a “millennial” and how are they changing the way events and festivals are being delivered?
DC: I define millennials as anyone born between 1980 and 2000. Although it is unwise to lump millions of us into one group, assuming we all think and act the same (because we are, in fact, the most ethnically and culturally diverse generation in history), there are some things shared by most of us. For example, most of us were raised by baby boomers who were far more protective of us, coddled us, and instilled a sense of optimism and can-do-anything attitude we see manifested in our outlook. We are also the first generation of digital natives, growing up in a world of rapid technological change. We adopt and adapt to new technology much faster than earlier generations and love being connected constantly. And so, these differences are bound to disrupt markets. Events and festivals are no exception.
KO: You have said that generational change is ‘disrupting’ many markets – including events and festivals – but how much of that is socio-economic and cultural as opposed to just technology based?
DC: Most of it is technological but it’s the cultural and socio-economic factors that have further accelerated generational differences and disruption. Certainly, the great recession was a major factor in many young peoples’ lives. The cost of living – whether it be housing, education, or transport – is a burden that impacts our disposable income. That’s true in Scotland, the UK, and with millennials in Canada and the United States. But the differences go beyond temporal events like a market crash or economic downturn. It’s also related to how we were raised. Many millennials experienced a very different upbringing then generations before them. Hierarchies in families were weakened, we were consulted regularly by our parents, teachers and other influencers in our lives.
Most of us were told to go after our dreams and the self-esteem movement instilled a sense of optimism and collaborative spirit that is unique to our generation. All these factors are changing our priorities, shaping our decision making, and leading us to disrupt markets – both consumer, and yes, political. Ask Theresa May what millennial disruption really feels like. It can sting and surprise! But technology has created the greatest gap in generational behaviour. As digital natives, the way we get information, communicate, and make decisions is different. And our digitally saturated lives have created an intense desire for more sensory experiences. Our obsession with food, music, travel, and yes, events – is a response to a life that is so centred around mobile devices and digital technology.
KO: The latest research has shown that people attend events to connect with others, experience something different, and share it via social media. How can events and festivals best hook into those motivations?
DC: It’s all about the experience and the ability to share that experience. When marketing your events, ask yourself, are we showcasing the programme, the venue, and the whole experience in a way that would make someone want to share it? If I attend this event, will it make someone else I know envy me? Social media has fed a natural desire for feedback that is particularly strong among millennials. Imagine you’re at this amazing music festival, listening to one of your favourite artists playing your favourite song. You pull out your smartphone and capture a short clip of the song and post it on Facebook. How quickly did you go back onto Facebook to see how many of your friends liked the post? I’d say you probably did that a few minutes after sharing.
KO: How can events and festivals create brand loyalty when millennial consumers are perhaps less likely to be repeat visitors?
DC: I think it’s a bit of a myth that millennials are not brand loyal. We are loyal to brands that continually delight us, make it easy for us to interact with them, and deliver unique, personal experiences. When those conditions change, however, we are not afraid to look for better alternatives. We are attracted to upstart brands and the newest trend (we all are to some extent) that have a compelling story and buzz. Every group has one or more influencers and many decisions are impacted by a referral or a review. Build a community of advocates, delight them with amazing experiences, and keep the programme fresh, unique, and real and you will have an easier time getting us to come back time and again. But I will say, it’s so important to know your audience really well. That’s the first step in marketing and it still surprises me how many marketers assume they know their audience and come to the wrong conclusions. You’d be surprised how much you can learn when you ask us what we want and how your event or festival might attract and delight us.
KO: What skills does a 21st century marketer need to connect with the millennial audience?
DC: How about this? Deliver a compelling, authentic message built around a story that aligns your event or festival with my personal brand on a platform I use regularly. Phew, that’s a mouthful. What I mean is that authenticity is critical to powerful marketing to millennials. That means your intentions need to be good, your message needs to be honest and real, and stories need to be central to the pitch. We live in the era of personal branding. Everything I share on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram says something about who I am. They are our personal store fronts and if you want us to come to your event or festival it has to align with the kind of person we want to be perceived to be. In other words, what does it say about me that I attend your event or festival?
KO: Are the days of camping in a muddy field, drinking cheap lager, and watching a headline act from a mile away officially over?
DC: I hope not because those are the most authentic, memorable events. But I think you’ll find that the immense diversity within my generation will mean different people are looking for different experiences. Increasingly, we’re finding how important the quality of the food is at events. We want to experience not just the music or art, but the local influences of the place we’re visiting and food is a big part of that. This summer I took part in a bike event in Vermont, USA. It was called the Farm to Fork Fondo. Basically, it was a bunch of cyclists touring rural Vermont and stopping at farms to sample food made from products grown or raised on these farms. We became completely immersed in the local culture, we met farmers and chefs along the route, and we had an amazing experience along the way. This event merged my love of cycling with my love for food and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Stop into any higher end restaurant in Glasgow, Edinburgh, or London and you’ll likely see a lot of young faces at the tables. Most of them really can’t afford to eat at those restaurants and yet they splurge for the ‘experience’. At the end of the day, the events and festivals you plan bring people together. Sometimes we experience something new while at other times we experience something familiar or comforting. But we are always with people sharing that experience. Millennials aren’t that different from older generations on this basic premise. We all want to make memories we can share, remember, and look back on. We all want to be delighted, entertained, and feel a connection that is missing in our day to day lives. Events and festivals have such an opportunity to grow and evolve with this new, powerful, and potentially disruptive consumer group.
David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data, a leading Canadian market research firm that specialises in understanding the impact of generational change on business and politics. He will be the keynote speaker at EventScotland’s National Events Conference on Monday 27 November at Strathclyde University’s Technology & Innovation Centre, Glasgow Follow David on Twitter at @ColettoD or send him a note at david@ abacusdata.ca.