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July 13, 2023

Hyperculture Marketing's David Puckett on the Importance of Owning Your Data, Maximizing Festival Ticket Conversions and more

To their legion of adoring fans, David Puckett is best known as drummer for We Came As Romans, the Michigan metalcore act he joined in 2017.

The sticksman is, however, also the CEO and founder of Hyperculture Marketing Group, a full-service agency that assists music industry creatives with everything from paid social, paid search, SEO, SEM, email marketing and SMS marketing to CRM management and tech stack consulting, and which counts amongst its clients acts such as Alicia Keys, Papa Roach and Megan Thee Stallion.

Then there’s Hyperculture Holdings, through which Puckett works in venture capital, private equity and angel investing, with the company’s investment portfolio currently boasting nine companies.

That he manages to maintain these enterprises while recording and touring globally each year is clearly the mark of a master multi-tasker.

“There this idea going around that when you’re on tour you’re busy,” he smiles. “But as someone who’s been touring full time since 2007, most of the time when you’re on tour it’s just a bit more inconvenient to be busy.”

To demonstrate he runs through a typical day on the road with We Came As Romans, which takes into account things such as soundcheck, assembling his drum kit and, on headlining runs, VIP meet-and-greets, and points out that typically there’s only two hours a day when he’s unavailable due to band commitments. And then, of course, there’s the fact that Hyperculture Marketing Group has a staff of 10 “employees who are way smarter than me, way cooler than me and way more qualified than me”.

“It’s just a different kind of busy," he explains. “At home I’m working a solid eight-hour block. When I’m on tour I’ve got smaller two hour blocks. It’s just different.”

Here, Puckett draws on his experience both as a professional musician and marketer to discuss the importance of owning your data, the social platforms delivering the best ROI for tour marketing, strategies for festival ticket conversions, and more…

David performing with We Came As Romans

How much importance do you place on owning your audience data, whether you’re a festival, an event, an artist, or venue?

If you want your business to get past the five year mark, and you're not aggregating your customer data in an intricate way, you're not going to make it.

But you do have some parties that are now really aggressive about making sure that the artist isn't getting access to their fan data – data sharing clauses, data restriction clauses in contracts, just a whole bunch of stuff to keep the artists from having access to the customer data.

A lot of third parties are looking at it from the perspective of, well, if we give them the data, they don't need us to communicate with those fans on their behalf anymore. And so it's getting very fractionalized.

Coming from an artist [perspective], my first seven years of touring were in a conversion van with six to seven other guys getting no per diems, no buyouts, no money a day for food, literally dumpster diving behind Little Caesars and Trader Joe's to eat.

"That's what happens when you leave your ability to communicate with your fans up to other people. You get screwed."

So I'm looking at it like, man, I spent seven years away from my family and my friends to build these relationships. I don't give a shit what third party you are, you didn't sleep in that van with us to make that fan. So I'm pretty aggressive about wanting to make sure that artists own the fan relationship, because that's what our fans want as well.

If artists really aren't focusing on figuring out creative ways to give their fans great experiences and grow their own first party data channels, you're at the mercy of every third party that you work with.

You are at their mercy as far as if they're going to change their algorithms or not.

So if you're really relying just on organic social media to reach your fans, find me an artist that's thrilled about how many people they're reaching on their Instagram posts now versus three years ago. It is throttled, and they're not happy. They're posting about their tour, and only 10% of their fans are seeing it. And that's what happens when you leave your ability to communicate with your fans up to other people. You get screwed.

Are there any interesting new channels you’re seeing artists using to gather fan data?  

There’s a bunch of really cool channels.

Set.live is a fantastic tool that We Came As Romans use, and they have a bunch of really cool features. And the way we used it on our last tour is they have a fan voting component, where you can have fans enter their information to be able to vote in real time for X, Y, or Z. And the artist has their own login portal, and I had mine behind my drum set.

And the way that we implemented it was doing real time fan voting in the middle of our set. We wanted to give [2013 album] Tracing Back Roots a moment to shine, we wanted to play three songs. And what we came up with was, we're going to play the first two, and the audience gets to pick the third one.

Before we played our first two, our vocalist called it out, ‘Pull out your phone, go to set.live right now.’ And one of the things I really love about that platform is it's geo fenced, so they don't have to go to a website and then scroll and then pick their certain event. If they're in the venue, it takes them directly to that event page.

And then they enter whatever information you're wanting to get from them. And they have the ability to vote. And it was a really cool way to pull our fans into the set, give them an experience that a lot of artists haven't leveraged yet, and we were converting about 25% of headcount a night.

I actually had set.live build an integration with [CRM platform] Klaviyo. And any time someone would vote, three to five seconds later, their information is in our Klaviyo account. And then we're able to segment that person and say, we know this person attended this specific show.

And then we can also segment them against historical analysis: Have they ever purchased a VIP ticket from us? Have they ever purchased from our webstore? Are they subscribed to our newsletter?

So we actually had automated email and SMS flows or structures built out in Klaviyo that we’d serve to people that had voted at our show from set.live, that had purchased from us versus those who hadn't – completely different user experiences for them.

Another one that I am a huge fan of – and complete transparency, we're invested in this company – is called Swapt. They're really pushing the boundaries on what's possible with a QR code, down to where they can roll out QR codes that pull up landing pages that have unreleased embedded music that is impossible to duplicate or send out as a URL to someone else.

We have some artists leveraging that right now around their tour, where we have QR codes up around the venue and folks can scan it to get access to 30 seconds of an unreleased song, which is really cool and super powerful.

They can also track scans back to certain locations around where people were at an event. We were able to identify that users waiting in line to the bathroom convert at a higher rate than users waiting in line at the bar, which then gives us more informed decisions about where to place those QR codes in the future. So it's really, really interesting.

How important is email and SMS marketing to you?

They're both unbelievably important. I think there's this idea from people who were around in the email marketing boom that it died – it never went anywhere. There's actually data that shows that it has grown as far as visibility and your return on investment.

Your average ROI for a solid email marketing platform is 40x what you're paying monthly for the subscription. It is the best return on investment you can get for any type of performance based marketing channel.

SMS is new, it was very unregulated at first, and so everyone's like, well, you're getting 98% visibility. It's not gonna stay that way. But I think it will maintain at a very good spot. I think it's important to get both.

But one thing that I really try to be mindful of, and I really try to talk with our clients about, is someone opening an email and someone opening a text happens at two very different points throughout their day. One of them is way more invasive than the other, being the text.

I'm bullish on both of them. Ideally, you want to find two channels that can funnel data back to a singular source.

So if you're looking at an SMS platform, and they won't allow you to do CSV exports, or they don't have an integration with [a CRM], all your customer data is going to be stored in two different backends. And then you're not going to be able to get a full view of your customers.

Get your fans to opt into both [email and SMS] in different ways. And then communicate with your fans differently on those in ways that add more value to them than what you're asking for.

Twitter and Meta dominate the social media marketing space, but I’ve also spoken to people who are seeing good results on platforms such as Pinterest and Snapchat. Are they two platforms that you use, and are you seeing any other really good alternatives to the Meta universe?

We use both of them depending on the artist.

If it's a death metal band, probably not going to be on Pinterest. But for Alicia Keys, who's a client of ours, we actually see great results on Pinterest.

Megan Thee Stallion, she had a partnership with Snapchat, doing some really cool stuff around a TV show on the platform. And we were running a whole bunch of ads on Snapchat around that; all that stuff's great. So I think it really depends on the artist. And it depends on the objective.

If the objective is pushing something to your existing fans, are your existing fans on that platform? If the objective is to grow your fan base, are the fans that you are wanting to acquire active on that platform? So I think it's a case by case basis.

As far as other platforms, we've seen a lot of success with Reddit. They'll do AMAs with an artist, and a lot of the time they'll do it in the hard rock space. And if we're campaigning for Band B's album release and they want to grow in market share with Band A, and Band A’s vocalist is doing an AMA on Reddit, we will buy all the ads on that Reddit thread when that artist is doing an Ask Me Anything. So when their fans are engaging with that artist, they're seeing Band B's stuff everywhere.

Another platform we're seeing great results from specifically in the live event space for ticket sales – and this is still surprising to me – is doing paid search campaigning on Bing and Microsoft channels. Don't quote me on this, but I think people are having like a seven to nine x return on every dollar spent there in regards to ticket sales and live events, which rivals what we see on Meta, or paid search on Google or anywhere else.

And because all these different platforms are bid based – you're bidding against other people that are buying – not as many people are spending on Bing, and so the cost per 1000 impressions is a bit cheaper. We're not spending insanely aggressively there, but we are getting a lot of quality conversions from fans who otherwise may not have been addressed. 

During the lifecycle of an event, what are the most effective marketing tools you have to move tickets?

For a newer festival that doesn't have historical customer data to leverage, your ability to drive transactions, in my opinion, is really tied to your ability to communicate the value that you're giving to that person.

And so figuring out whatever ways you can to communicate clearly and with confidence to your fans, to give them confidence in your brand, is going to be really important. Whether that's brand partnerships; I think a tour of the festival grounds is something really cool.

From there, you can start to pull on those urgency or scarcity buttons: we're doing 1000 tickets that are marked down 30%. Or we're doing 30% markdowns on tickets for the next 72 hours.

It has to be a clear deadline. And ideally, you want to have confidence that [the offer is] going to sell out. Say you're rolling out 1000 tickets that are discounted, and then you're pushing that for two months because you can't sell out of them. Man, if no one else is buying, there must be something wrong, right? That doesn't give me confidence.

But even if you did 100 and they sold out in five minutes, well, oh shit, I just lost out on something. No one likes missing out on things. So now I'm gonna be keeping an eye on when the next thing is and I'm going to take action really quickly.

So I think that for newer festivals, really communicating clearly, focusing on your differentiators and the great experience you're going to give them – give them confidence.

For the love of God, please make sure you have the best customer support team possible. And then from there, yes, leverage scarcity. Leverage urgency, leverage some flash sales levers and value adds.

"For a newer festival that doesn't have historical customer data to leverage, your ability to drive transactions, in my opinion, is really tied to your ability to communicate the value that you're giving to that person."

There was actually a country festival we were campaigning for. And we came up with an idea that all tickets over a 72-hour time frame come with two free drink tickets. That outperformed the early bird campaign at a discounted price. Economically speaking it was way more profitable for the festival, because what are they losing on a full price ticket? And this is a three-day camping event, so you're looking at like, $250 to $300, and they're giving away two Bud Lights!

Everyone wants to focus on urgency and scarcity, and you need to leverage those, but not a lot of people feel you should focus on value adds: ‘Full price, but you get this too.’ And those are easier to sprinkle in throughout the entire lifecycle of an on sale campaign.

For existing festivals that have an elaborate and extensive customer database, super serve the hell out of your existing customers. Even if [you] haven't announced a single artist yet, you can buy tickets now for 50% off. And you only maybe give that to people who have bought your festival tickets three years in a row, four years in a row, those superfans that are looking forward to your event year over year.

Get that cash from them first and foremost, because if you give them a great experience, the consumer psychology in their mind kicks in and they're gonna go, ‘This is normally 150 bucks, I just got it for 75, that frees up so much money to spend on booze, on food, and on merch’, and some of that all goes back into your pocket anyways.

But then that gives you the ability of once again leveraging that urgency. Day one, let's say you did that with your existing customers and you sold 500 tickets. And then day one of on sale, you roll out a campaign where you're doing 25% off, or first 750 purchasers get this, well now you can include those 500 in that first 750. And you move 250 at full retail, and it sells out in a fraction of the amount of time and now you've got that social proof and that urgency to leverage to the masses.

There's just a clever bunch of fun stuff. There's a really good book called Buyology, that is on the neuroscience behind consumer psychology. I would say read that and just do whatever it says!

Visit Hyperculture Marketing Group here, and follow on Instagram. Follow David on Instagram and Twitter.



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Article by
Rod Yates

Rod is the Marketing Content Manager at Audience Republic. He was previously the editor of Rolling Stone Australia and Kerrang! Australia. Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich once sent him a toaster – which was very thoughtful of him.