I was fuming. I’d paid hundreds of dollars for a VIP ticket I’d managed to snag just in time, with the help of four devices laid across my bedroom floor. I couldn’t wait to see my favourite artist in the flesh - and here I was, halfway back in the stadium, behind all the 100 level seats that cost half of what I paid for VIP. Sure, there was a bar in our section, but Justin Timberlake looked like a 1990’s Polly Pocket from what felt like miles away from where I stood. The overpriced G+T in my hand was not the "VIP experience" I was after.
Suddenly, a ramp descended from the roof and onto the stage. I looked up from my frustrated stupor and realized what was happening. JT was walking onto this ramp, that was about to soar above the crowd. I watched in sheer delight as he hovered over the space between me and the stage, the gap closing by the second. I could barely contain myself as I realized that the oversized barrier I’d been leaning on all night was about to be his new stage! The ramp touched down, and he descended the stairs in a brilliant flash of light right before my eyes like some sort of celebrity angel. While my friends fumbled to grab their phones, I stared completely in awe as he walked towards me, held my outstretched hand and smiled as he sang my favourite song, straight to me. My heart exploded.
This is my "fan moment”. Ask anyone you know, and they’ll likely have a story that lights up their eyes like only the sweet nostalgia of a life-changing memory can. For my colleague Lenny, it’s when the Canucks scored in overtime during game seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Blackhawks. He’d been working tirelessly as an intern for months, and this break meant the magic got to live on for another few precious weeks. For my friend Amanda, it was the chance to meet Michelle Obama after she came to speak in Vancouver, and tell her how much her example had inspired her own path. My dad still remembers Led Zeppelin flying over the crowd during his first concert. If you think for a minute, I'm sure you have one too.
Part of what makes these moments so magical is their apparent serendipity. Sure - you could’ve been in the right coffee shop at the exact moment your idol needed a latte - but it’s seldom that random. Although these moments have a stars-aligning feeling to them, there’s a clear and often decisive path to where you landed.
It’s easy to become bitter about the money-making machines of music festivals, sports leagues, blockbuster movies and celebrity cultures. But if these fan moments are some of the happiest, most defining memories of our lives, isn’t it a noble cause to ensure more fans have experiences like these? For the first time in history, we have the technology required to find super fans and guide them towards experiences guaranteed to blow their minds.
What's in a (Screen) Name?
Social media networks are so embedded in our lives, that our profiles gradually become a digital representation of our real selves. With every post we scroll past, like, or publish, networks like Facebook and Instagram collect more and more data about who we are and what we like. Every time we listen to a song on Spotify or skip past it, the network maps our affinity to artists and genres. These digital fan identities are an unprecedented opportunity for entertainment, music and sports brands to find their best fans and serve them personalized opportunities and content.
Not unlike your best friendships; relationships are built on a mutual disclosure of personal information. Fans trust their idols tremendously, and therefore are more likely to share pieces of who they are with their brand. This goes beyond meet and greets - fans are more than happy to share their birthday, interests and contact information with the bands and teams they love, in hopes of receiving more opportunities to interact with them. Many music and sports brands recognize this trend and collect fan data through social login, contests and user-generated content aggregation. But few of them reciprocate that relationship, which can ultimately lead to disgruntled fans feeling like their idols “don’t get them” and moving on. So how do we build two-way relationships with our fans?
The Data Path to Magic Moments
Let’s go back to the Justin Timberlake concert. My fan moment began long before JT stepped on that platform - it began eight months before the concert, with me scrolling through Facebook before falling asleep one night.
Between my photos from friends and family, a post appeared. Justin Timberlake’s official page - that I’d followed almost 10 years previously - just announced he was coming to Vancouver that summer, and offered an exclusive pre-sale in exchange for my email. I immediately signed up using a social login and invited my best friend to join me. Then, I fell asleep and didn’t hear from JT for another few months.
This initial connection was an essential part of this campaign. Advertising a data-collect campaign to the fans of Justin Timberlake’s page was the smartest way to identify which of his Facebook “fans” were still actually interested. Merely advertising an “awareness” campaign to the fans with no call to action would’ve been a huge waste of budget, given the immensity of his audience. Providing that opportunity for the true fans to express their interest in a way that let JT’s team compile them into a list was the crucial first step towards my fan moment.
Now that his team had an authenticated list of actual fans, they could stop spending a ton to reach his entire Facebook fanbase. When it came time to actually sell tickets, all they had to do was email the list a reminder. I received an email the day before the pre-sale, which prompted me to set my alarm to ensure I didn’t miss out. The fact I opened that email and forwarded it to my friend likely meant I was further identified as a highly engaged fan.
The morning of the pre-sale, JT’s team took things to the next level. As soon as I woke up (about an hour before the pre-sale), I opened Facebook and saw an ad stating that a limited number of VIP tickets were released into the pre-sale pool. This meant that if I was one of the first fans to buy, I could receive a $2000+ ticket for the price of a $200 front row GA ticket. Obviously, I was thrilled. I tagged my friend, and messaged her the link immediately.
Although I can’t say for certain, I would assume that they’d targeted me - a budget-conscious university student who’d recently expressed interest - knowing that I would immediately buy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the audience they hit with these ads was a narrow subset of their original fans audience. Adding conditions like education and financial demographics on top of my affinity for JT meant that the combination of a pre-sale and an urgent price increase meant a guaranteed sale. Combining affinity with urgency and the sense of getting an exclusive deal was the perfect recipe for a super fan to buy.
With a newfound sense of urgency, I dug through all my drawers to find any old devices so I could check for tickets the second they went on sale. Luckily, one of my four devices managed to snap up two of the reduced-priced VIP tickets. I immediately bought them and messaged my best friend. I was one step closer to my super fan moment.
This combination of data collection, email marketing and highly targeted social ads is the best way to use fan data to personalize your experiences. But were there things JT could’ve done more to make my experience even easier?
@taylorswift blew my mind (and my voice box) at her stunning #1989 show today at @bcplacestadium. Seeing tens of thousands of people singing, dancing and feeling the moment together not only deepened my love for her music, but also for my company @tradablebits, whose mission is to connect fans with the people, brands and teams they adore. #tswift #fangirl #inspired #livemusic #lighting #crowd #mindblown #taylornation #1989worldtour
The Future of Fan Experiences
Investing in creating these magical moments for fans is an extremely profitable strategy. With just one experience, an artist can guarantee their new super fan will buy merchandise, listen to new albums, relive their experience at every tour, follow you to festivals, watch your Netflix documentary and rave about you to all their friends - for life.
So how do we make sure the right fans receive these opportunities? Yes, good social ad targeting and emails help. But there are a few crucial flaws in the path from first contact to heart-swelling fan moment that beg to be fixed.
I alluded to the first in my story: cross-network fan relationship tracking. I can only assume that JT’s team was using a technology that considered every time I posted about JT, engaged with their campaigns, messaged my friends about him and eventually bought a ticket. In the absence of a unified CRM, these interactions would be stuck in silos and therefore not illuminate just how dedicated I was until after I managed to buy. Many people talk about an artist with no intention of buying. Many people buy with no real affinity to the artist - their friends or children merely dragged them along. If you want to reach super fans and serve them personalized experiences, you have to find them first.
If you have all your fan interactions in one place, then the second opportunity is a ranking algorithm. Sure, your social media intern will notice the incessantly-tweeting borderline-obsessed super fan - but they’re already converted. What you want is the fans with high affinity that haven’t yet experienced that life-changing moment. These on-the-edge fans are much harder to find, especially manually. But if you create an algorithm that watches your multi-network fan profiles every day and dynamically sorts them by level of interest, you have a much higher chance of hitting the right person at the right time. Simply focusing on website retargeting, or people who have recently listened, or people who entered in a contest one time, will not find your best fans. You have to consider all factors at all times in order to find your best fans of that particular moment.
Finally, if you have a unified CRM and an algorithm to show you your best fans, you need a way to serve content directly to them. What if I didn’t have to use four devices and cross my fingers to get that VIP ticket? What if - since they already knew who I was through my social login - JT’s team served me a PRE-pre-sale, wherein they used my authenticated digital identity to provide me exclusive access to the ticket pool. This would not only solve issues with scalpers - it would ensure that the best fans got the best seats, and therefore the best opportunity for a magical fan moment.
Some artists are already trying this through hacky methods like tokenization of their music or exclusive access after a fan has bought merchandise. But these still miss the point - if you ask the on-the-edge fan to invest before they’ve “fallen in love” with your brand, you come off as overly commercial and profit-driven. It’s not the same experience as the fan feeling like you recognized them as an individual. You’re just rewarding purchasing behaviour. Instead, if you truly built that reciprocal relationship, the fan would know that all they’d have to do to prove they were a fan is do what they’re already doing - listen to your music, interact with you online and tell their friends about you. Authenticated ticketing platforms, connected to unified CRMs with fan ranking algorithms are the best possible way to ensure more fans have magical moments.
Marketers so easily get lost in analytics and forget the humans behind their festivals, concerts and games. Don’t lose the moments in the metrics. Build better fan experiences by harnessing the data behind life-changing fan moments.
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