How Summer Music Festivals are Embracing Customer Experience

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Glastonbury Festival 2015-1So Glastonbury is over for another year – a pilgrimage made by 200,000 people to its homeland in the West of England, set in farmland that was as muddy as ever.

But times are changing. Both the Glastonbury festival-goers and the acts that perform there are ageing, although it’s unclear whether one is the consequence of the other. More certain is that, with so many rival festivals springing up across Europe and the U.S., it’s getting harder for promoters to lock in headline performers.

The result? The rise of ‘challenger brand’ festivals – typically smaller in attendance but perhaps more accommodating and empathetic as a result. Alongside the traditional music and arts events, this new breed of festival caters to a more family audience, looking for a holiday break experience for all ages and backgrounds. An example is the Somersault Festival in Devon – which, alongside main stage music, features surfing, yoga, rock climbing and even a circus. And despite a hugely successful event last year, Somersault announced it was taking a break this year, due to the wettest ever June requiring the need to ‘allow the land some time to recover’. Eco-friendly, holistic – but can you imagine Glastonbury ever thinking like that?

Festival purists might scoff that such a trend towards a more considerate festival represents selling out its soul to a middle-class consumer unwilling to trade creature comforts for authenticity. But such a conclusion would be both harsh and out-of-date. Whilst the traffic jams, mud and squalor of Glastonbury living may be long established, that is no excuse for institutionalising a poor quality of experience.

These boutique festivals may be physically smaller, but this doesn’t limit their ambition. Standon-Calling has expanded from what began as a birthday BBQ in a small Hertfordshire village in 2001 to a 10,000 capacity event this year. Yet it is as proud of its graffiti workshops for teenagers and Dog Show for families as it is for its music.

Leading By Experience

Just as caravan parks, theme parks and of course the Center Parcs phenomenon have improved facilities and activities to widen their appeal to family-friendly lifestyles, so consumer expectations are influencing how festivals are designed and run too.

The newcomer festivals are shifting the emphasis away from ‘endurance event’ towards an ‘immersive experience’, where visitors can throw themselves into new environments and activities without necessarily having to downgrade home comforts as a consequence.

This trend does not spell the death knell of the big festival event – far from it, with Glastonbury 2016 tickets selling out in less than half an hour this year. But these Challenger Festivals do represent a growing demand for accessibility, and dare I say it, the maturing of the festival experience.

For the festival industry itself, it’s a shift that is demanding a re-think not only of how they operate, but what they want their legacy to be.

And for other industries looking on, it’s yet another illustration of how aligning consumer trends with a wider customer journey can uncover fresh opportunities from untapped customer segments.

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