Brands go Outdoors

Alistair Turner explains why ‘business’ wants to party and meet customers outside

Companies are going outside more and more these days. As they look to grow their businesses, promote their products and services, and incentivise their customers and staff, they are choosing outdoor experiences instead of traditional indoor formats. Why?

It’s important to understand this fundamental question, because behind it lies a massive business opportunity, but one that has a very clear ‘handle with care’ sign on it. To understand it is to appreciate it and get ready for it. It’s not traditional events business, but it can be highly lucrative, repeat business.

It also comes with a language of its own; events turn into experiences, people turn into consumers, VIPs to stakeholders, talking becomes interaction or engagement, and fun is gamification or engagement. It’s time to learn a new language, it’s called ‘brand speak’, it’s used by your future customers, so let’s get started… with this article!

Watering can and sign saying 'brand'
Pic: Getty Images

Remote relationships
You may have noticed that major brands are a little more well, techy these days. The top companies on the planet sell social networks, screen time, mobile technology or information. They are a new breed and they behave differently. The reality is a business can have a relationship with a customer without ever having a physical interaction. Take amazon, you can spend an hour on the website, buy a product, get it sent, receive and wear it, without ever speaking to anyone from the business. This is great for the consumer, but scary to the brand.

Research increasingly points towards a diminishing of loyalty between consumers (people) and brands (companies), and it’s this lack of interaction that lies at the heart of it. Brands want relationships as much as anyone, and the only way they can have them in a digital age is though events.

This is evidenced by the major spenders in events in 2017; Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have all put major investments into either sponsoring events or holding their own. They want to go out and meet their customers, shake their hands and show them a friendly face. Face to face is critical to them and it’s flying up their sales, marketing and business agendas. 

Timebased Events
Pic: Timebased Events

Coming together
If it’s important externally, it’s equally so internally. Increasingly work forces are fragmenting, the big office block with a 9-5 work force is eroding and leaving a collective of micro departments, working alone, remotely and linked together by digital networks. None more so than major tech and social companies, but this isn’t just about them, banks and building societies are just as likely to have a remote work force as anyone else.

Again, while social networks and modern working practices fail, the events industry picks up. Teams need to meet on a regular basis, but they also need to come together en masse, they need to be incentivised and rewarded; and this isn’t just a Christmas party, it’s gone way further than that.

Imagine a fun fair, built from scratch in a field, a stage with comic and music acts, picnic areas, bars and food stalls. All expenses are paid and the experience isn’t just an afternoon, it’s a weekend. Production is high because the brand understands that to motivate someone you have to do more than give them a gift, you have to leave them with a memory. An incentivised work force is highly profitable, a happy client and customer base equally so. Brands have event managers with the specific objective of creating en masse feel good factors and they see the value and the return on big investments.

Why outdoors?
So why outdoors? The simple reality is that brands started all this indoors – magnificent set piece Christmas parties, hospitality, high production conferences, exhibitions and expos. This is where the industry gained its confidence, but now it’s looking at other forms of fun that its customers, stakeholders and clients are having, and it wants to replicate them. Brands also want to align themselves with great experiences. Send clients to Bestival, or create your own? Have a Christmas Party in a luxury hotel, or a summer party in a field, as a festival, with entertainment for families as well as employees?

Every day the events industry is seeing bigger production, bigger investments, and more ambitious activation of outdoor events, from brands. They call this experiential – the act of creating memorable experiences to create loyalty and understanding between a brand, its public and its staff.

There is also a huge amount of one-upmanship. This is a competitive world and brands know that customers have a choice in the same way employees do; events are increasingly an investment in loyalty. 

Popular outdoor event
Pic: Getty Images

A piece of the action
So how can outdoor venues take advantage of this trend? First and foremost, it’s about understanding that there is a market and going to find it. Many of these brands use production agencies and experiential event companies, so it is well worth getting to know them, and talking to them about their client list.

Equally, going direct is increasingly an option as more and more companies up-weight their events departments. It’s worth remembering that it’s not just about targeting event managers, but marketing and brand managers as well; the budgets are shifting from the CEO’s Christmas party fund to the event manager’s 12-month customer and internal engagement programme.

Before any of that though, it’s worth reconsidering the product you offer to the corporate market. Its ambition and investment in events is strong, but they also demand the very best service, and they need professional suppliers for their events. It doesn’t matter how good the space is, if the service isn’t there they will lose confidence and go somewhere else. As ever in events, this is about the detail, knowing your ‘product’, having a close understanding of capacities, safety guidance, access, local amenities, everything from where power can be got, to local hotels and accommodation. The event organiser will make you a partner in the event and they will need to know that you know these things. They will see you as infrastructure and just like every other venue, caterer, production company etc. will need you to know your product inside out.

The TalkTalk Great Getaway one day festival for staff held at Ragley Hall Pic:  Timebased Events
The TalkTalk Great Getaway one day festival for staff held at Ragley Hall
Pic: Timebased Events

If you’re on top of all of this then you are officially ‘open for business’ and you’ll need to get the word out. Every event producer loves new areas, venues and destinations, so target the early trend setters first. Create a compelling proposition for the market, and sell the emotion as well as the infrastructure; the sizzle as well as the sausage so to speak.

There are social and digital networks where these guys can be found, and of course industry media can be incredibly influential in these areas. But these are increasingly digital beings and they sit at desks in front of computers, so look at search, SEO, digital communications, PR and marketing, with people that know these businesses and where to find them. The main message is that you’re open for business, you want their event and you’re ready to give them the service they deserve.

Finally, it’s important to learn the language of the new event organiser of 2018. They have evolved from organisational beings to marketing people. They care about logistics, detail, infrastructure and operationals, but they also talk the language of brands, engagement, experiential, internal communication and return on investment.

There is value in this. A brand that can create an experience for their customer can create loyalty, memory and goodwill, a major commodity in good business. From a staff and customer perspective, the same is true. Increasingly companies are talking about talent, innovation, creativity and other people-led values. They need to find the best, and they need to keep the best; these events are their shop window to their staff, to show they care.

More and more businesses and brands are seeing the value return in events, and they are looking to create wider and more interesting experiences. Their ambition is not limited by the venue options in front of them. They will build temporary structures in places of beauty, they will build stages for entertainment, funfairs for family, and festivals for everyone. When they do it, they do it properly, because they understand the negative effects of a bad event as much as the positive ones of a good event.

So take a look at this market, do your due diligence and it could be the start of an excellent business. Trust in supplier is still sacred in business; if you show yourself trustworthy, this is an audience for you.

Alistair Turner is founder of EIGHT PR & Marketing, an agency working solely in the events industry. As well as working directly with government, he is special advisor to the National Outdoor Events Association and past-president of the International Live Events Association.


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