For more than 12 years, Appmiral has been making festival apps for some of the world’s biggest music events, such as Pukkelpop, Roskilde, Rock am Ring/Rock im Park and Festival X, as well as sporting events such as the Dutch Formula 1. Indeed, by the end of 2022 over 3.25 million fans across 23 countries had downloaded the Belgium-based company’s apps.
Of all the different communities, one particular type of fan has embraced the technology over any other.
“The metal community is one of the highest engaging communities out there in the music world,” smiles MD Robin Van den Bergh. “We see download rates 80 to 100% in those big metal festivals. And when it comes to iOS and Android, we see that metal has a higher Android audience than an iOS audience. So yeah, there's lots of things that you can learn about those crowds.”
Here, Van den Bergh discusses more of those insights, how festival organizers can get the most out of their app all year round, how they can use it to improve the customer experience and build loyalty, and more…
What do festival goers consider most important in a festival app?
During the event is still one of the most important phases. As in, I need to know where everything is, I need to know who's playing at what time. So the classic timetable, that is still the core of an event application.
But we see more and more, the applications are starting to become loyalty programs –the audience that is engaged in the application, they will get something extra. And that's what we are pushing our clients to do, to make sure that in that application, there's things to be found that no one else has. It could be news, could be early bird ticket access, could be content.
But the question is, who [should] receive that content first? And for me, it’s the people who are ready to keep their application on their phone, not just through the event, but also before and after the event.
Because that has a lot of marketing opportunities – they are people who are engaged with your brand, they are connected to your brand, you can have a one-on-one connection to them. You should nurture it, because it's very important and it's very valuable.
So organizers are realizing they can do a lot more with their festival app before and after their event, particularly around loyalty and sponsorship…
I think so. It would be a crazy investment if an application you spent so much time on is only relevant for three days a year.
The marketing opportunity that is lying ahead if, after the event, [organizers add] more marketing stuff, exclusivity stuff, loyalty stuff, that's a no brainer. For those big events that have communities, they are very well positioned to play this game. And their communities are asking for stuff like this.
"Now we see that festivals already are selling tickets the day after the event, or before Christmas for the northern hemisphere for the summer festivals."
Do you think there's an optimal time for event organizers to start communicating with their community through the app?
Ticket sales [used to be] a few months before the actual event. But now we see that festivals are selling tickets the day after the event, or before Christmas for the northern hemisphere for the summer festivals.
We've done a lot of research on this: for a 25-year-old or 22-year-old – the main festival target audience at this point – they do three or four festivals a year. It's not that much. So you want to be part of those three or four, and it's a very competitive game out there.
So I think, due to the ticket sales coming earlier and earlier, and that ticket sales always start with a rebranding of the website, why isn't the app already out there as well? It's one of your channels. It's part of your marketing mix.
In the beginning it was a replacement thing for a booklet during the event, but now it's just a solid piece of your marketing mix. So for me, it should be live all year long. We're getting there. Ten per cent of our clients understand that.
You mentioned that 22 to 25-year-olds may be going to three to four festivals a year. Any there any other insights around fan behavior you’ve learned from your data?
We see that there's a big shift going on in traveling. When I was young, our idea of going on a holiday with friends was like, we're going for two weeks to Spain, we booked a hotel and we go clubbing or something like that.
That's not happening anymore. Young people, they say I'd rather go five days or six days to a festival and have my tent with my friends and see the best artists in the world. So there's a huge tourism shift going on, which is very interesting to see.
"Technology should be the facilitator, it should be the enabler, definitely not the dictator."
Are you seeing organizers use their festival apps to increase either on site spending or money can’t buy opportunities?
I do think that by that time, probably it will be food and beverage.
But it's not pushing, it's more like facilitating, I think. And I think people at that point, when they’ve already spent so much money to come to your festival, I don't think they want to be pushed anymore. The analog experience should definitely take over, because at the end, that is what it's all about. It's about having that moment where you're in front of the DJ booth, the crowd is going crazy and the sun is going down.
At that point, technology should be the facilitator, it should be the enabler, definitely not the dictator.
And I'm not sure if you really want to be pushed to increase your spending at that point, it's more like maybe triggering you. So we see that with [location software company] Crowd Connected, they let the festival area speak to the audience, because there's just so much to see and so much to know and so much to learn.
And sometimes they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of Euros on some kind of activation, and they think for the ultimate experience, you should visit that area. Go check it out. And I think it's okay that you get a push notification walking by saying, ‘Hey, go check out area x because of this, that and that.’ Nice, why not? But upgrades or VIP during, I don't see it that often.
What are the best practices for organizers using push notifications?
I think the best practice is [providing] classic information – your favorite artist is going to play 30 minutes later. Probably you're walking around, you're hanging out with your friends, you're drinking, you're making fun, so you're not looking at your phone at that moment. So the push notification can just wake you up and say, ‘Hey, this is relevant for you, check it out.’ So that's completely okay.
Secondly, when it comes to safety and security, there's lots of examples these days where extreme weather can do damage. So it's important that we can explain to the audience what they need to do in cases of emergency.
Something that we also see here in Europe is actually a lifesaver. If there are bad pills going around that event, we've had lots of examples this year where there's some community thing going on within the push notification, and everybody's warning [each other]. And multiples of these bad pills were returned or were thrown away because of that. I don't know how many lives that saved.
So those are good examples of how push notifications are relevant to the audience at that moment.
What do you think the next big innovation in festival apps will be?
I think it will be data driven. As in having all those loose ends tied together, and making sure that you can facilitate the journey for your visitors from A to Z, that it goes seamlessly.
Again, the core of the event is still that analog experience. Everything around it should go as smooth as possible, and as relevant as possible. And I think everything starts with a proper data strategy, data infrastructure. And where everything is integrated, because that makes that seamless magic.
People do not like it if things are not working. These people are only spending five or six hours a day at your event, so the magic has to happen then.
A festival owner is not just the guy who books great artists and makes sure that they're playing on stage, their job has expanded so much. They're also ecommerce players, they're also the technology companies. They should provide data back to the sponsors, because also they need some kind of ROI proof.
So I think the biggest thing that everybody needs to do, and what we see right now, is that our products are sustaining that entire experience – their integrations, ticket wallets, customer data platforms, marketing automation tools, customer care service chatbots, that kind of stuff. Help your people.
You mentioned being able to provide data back to sponsors. How are you seeing the smart operators use their festival apps to attract sponsors?
The sponsors also are brands, and they're looking for new leads, looking for new business. And they see that email is not converting. And they see that the algorithms of the big classic social networks are really squeezing them. So that's a fact.
And the idea is, okay, how can we be more creative with our marketing budgets? Because we see that ever declining conversion rate on the classic Facebook advertisement, that kind of stuff. So how can we do something really cool [and] get our KPIs?
And I think festivals are in a really unique position to make sure that these marketing spends from the big brands are balanced between the classic, but on top of that you have these accelerator events, things that can really stand out. And we see more and more brands understand that it makes sense.
Also, when you see the download results of mobile applications during summer, we are there in the Top 10 with Tomorrowland and with all these big events on a national scale, between the TikToks, between the Facebooks, between the WhatsApps.
If [your brand is] there, that means that you have the user attention. Of course, they're maybe not spending two or three hours a day on their application. But still, if [sponsors] play their cards right, they can have a decent amount of screen time. And for me, screen time, that's the new gold of the organizer. That's what they should be selling.
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