Empathetic Event Marketing

Karen Fewell gives insight into the psychology of marketing outdoor experiences during the pandemic.

Emotional marketing feedback on a laptop screen
Photo: Getty Images

The pandemic has disrupted daily routines and lifestyles and although our personality traits are relatively stable, they do evolve through life and in response to major events. It is likely that at least some of us will have been left changed by the events of this last year. There is already evidence of a profound change to consumers’ needs and desires, which is understandably impacting current consumption habits and we can expect to see longer term behaviour changes too. But what does this mean for businesses promoting outdoor events and experiences this summer?

When thinking about your marketing messages, it is really important not to generalise as we have each experienced the various lockdowns and restrictions in our own way. Some people have been alone, others in a crowded home, a number have experienced great sadness, health concerns or financial hardship while others have embraced the opportunity to slow down, go for walks, relax and enjoy quality time with their immediate family.

This is a time for you to really get to grips with empathetic marketing and to spend time fully understanding your customers through well considered research.

Emotional marketing
I have always believed that to be a successful marketer you must first understand psychology. Applying psychological principles legally, ethically and respectfully can attract and engage consumers, and persuade them to buy.

On average, we’re exposed to 5,000+ brand messages every day, but we’re aware of about 86 and only 12 of which will make a lasting impression (Yankelovich, 2016). It is thought that 95 per cent of our cognition and decision making happens in our emotional brain (Zaltman, 2016) and so rational marketing messages are unlikely to engage the customer in the way many marketers hope. One of the ways to appeal to our unconscious mind, which can process 500,000 times more information per second than the conscious mind (Lipton, 2015), is through emotional and empathetic marketing.

Applying psychological principles
There is nothing I want to do more this summer than go to a festival, dance under the stars, eat from food trucks and have a new fun experience but I have niggling doubts as to whether I should be booking anything just yet. Over this last year I have been told it is unsafe to mix in large groups so I should probably save my money and, if I do book anything, check what the refund policy is. As much as I want to enjoy myself, see my friends and meet new people I still need re-assurance that going to an event is the right and safe thing to do.

Marketing this year is still going to be a balance between promoting the experiences that many people are craving while also highlighting how you plan to keep guests safe and protect their risk of financial loss. Psychology is a large and complex topic that goes way beyond this article, however, here are a few psychological principles you can try applying to address these challenges.

– Feeling safe
Feeling safe is a prerequisite to happiness and is ultimately about trust in the organisation putting on the event. When consumers trust brands to take care of their safety, they can relax and focus on the experience. In Dr Robert Cialdini’s book ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ he talks about six persuasion principles that businesses can use to encourage people to buy, one of which is ‘authority’. The principle is around the idea that we are more likely to trust experts – we feel they are more skilled and therefore we can trust what they are saying. Think about the impact a video from your health and safety manager explaining the precautions you have put in place will have compared with traditional marketing copy. Even though as event organisers you must provide a safe environment you must not lose the human touch.

Cialdini also refers to judgemental heuristics which can simply be described as ‘mental shortcuts’ that help us make decisions and problem solve quickly. Think about the mental shortcuts your potential event attendees will make about safety from the photos you use. Be very careful about using photos from previous events, customers will be looking for safety cues such as staff wearing masks, visible sanitiser stations and whether relevant signs are displayed.

Be wary of using photos showing crowds – previously they may have created excitement, now they are likely to sit uncomfortably with your audience. This may mean you need to take new images or be very selective over the use of existing photography.

–  Avoiding financial risk
Throughout this pandemic there are some consumers who have really thought about how they spend their money, what they prioritise and how they avoid financial risk. Recent events will likely result in more people taking note of your terms and conditions, refund policies and customer service approach. We all have cognitive biases which influence our decision making in a somewhat illogical manner. If you are interested in reading up more on cognitive biases search Wikipedia for a list of over 150 of them – it is a fascinating read. One that is particularly relevant around financial loss is the zero-risk bias, which is based on the notion that consumers will be more attracted to an option that completely eliminates a single risk rather than one in which all risks are reduced but none are actually eliminated.

For a brand that has tailored its offer to account for the zero-risk bias, think of Premier Inn and their Good Night Guarantee. At present there are many risks associated with booking to attend an event in terms of local restrictions, self-isolation, illness and related cancellations. Consider how you can brand up your risk reduction scheme and show customers how you are putting their financial wellbeing first.

– Promote experiences that create memories
With all the additional pressures of marketing and running events in 2021, you cannot forget about the anticipated experience. For this, think about the peak-end rule which Daniel Kahneman defines as “a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e. its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience”. For event planning, this gives you plenty to work through in terms of how you will make your event memorable.

Negative experiences are recalled more vividly than positive events so really think about how to avoid undesirable final moments such as crowds gathering as they leave the venue or cars jamming the route out of the car park.

It is thought that being able to recall positive experiences can direct us to seek these situations out again and this can be helpful for marketing to previous attendees. Use feedback from previous events to seek out the peak moments of your experience and expect the most intense point to differ between attendees. Chip and Dan Heath in their book, ‘The Power of Moments’, argue that a peak moment requires at least one of four elements, with the best having all four: elevation, pride, insight and connection. Use your findings from attendees to create marketing material that helps customers to recall those memories.

Before rushing in and assuming everyone wants to get outside and socialise this summer, first take some time to talk to previous attendees and potential customers to understand their needs and concerns. Marketing this year will only resonate if you truly understand what your customer is looking for.


Karen FewellKaren Fewell is passionate about neuroscience and psychology and how they relate to marketing. She founded her consultancy Digital Blonde to help others achieve great results through marketing strategy, content marketing, PR and social media. Her team helps clients to understand consumer behaviour and how to prepare themselves for the future and the ongoing digital transformation.

During lockdown, Karen has helped businesses with crisis communication, creative marketing and business solutions, futureproofing, training, and making sure their plans are right for the current and ever-changing situation. www.digitalblondemarketing.com

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