Written by Melissa Mathews of AudienceNEXT
Mathews is media strategist for AudienceNEXT: Media Strategies for Your Business Growth.
Planning a large, festival-style event? Make sure you have the proper growth strategies in place first.
Even an award-winning fine wine has humble beginnings. Simple grapes are cultivated in a vineyard, picked at just the right time, then crafted lovingly into a beverage, which is then packaged and promoted, so that in time many will come to savor its intoxicating delights, spread the word, and come back for more. And so it goes with a festival.
From its humble beginnings, the Asheville Wine and Food Festival was just a group of friends gathered down by the river, celebrating all that’s great in the food and drink world. Fast-forward to this year’s event (August 18-19), and the festival is set to be bigger, brighter, and more pleasing to the palate than ever before. Featuring top regional chefs, mixologists, and fine brewers, along with numerous vendors, the festival promises delectable dishes, fine wines, and more than a few spellbinding tips. Now, more than four thousand attendees are expected (That’s a lot of friends!), along with multiple vendors, and a wide variety of exciting attractions.
Attendees + Vendors = Profits. Simple as that.
Festivals such as the Asheville Wine and Food Festival, the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands, and even BaconFest, all provide community-wide benefits in addition to profits. The most obvious, immediate advantage is a boost to local businesses. Patrons need places to stay, places to eat, gasoline, and incidentals galore. The economic benefits can be significant. Less tangible—but very cool—is the feeling of community when local people, products, and services form the heart and soul of the festival. Showcasing the local community invokes “hometown pride,” giving way to both social and economic benefits. Finally, festivals have educational benefits—whether that’s learning about a new cuisine, experiencing a new genre of music, or appreciating a forgotten craftsmanship.
Service with a Smile
Since the festival’s official launch in 2009, the number of attendees and vendors have steadily increased to the point that it’s drawn serious attention from surrounding culinary cities, such as New Orleans, Charleston, and Atlanta. A number of new events were added to the menu (including SWEET, an elegant, dessert-orientated evening, and ELIXIR, a mixologist competition), and to promote such expansion, it was imperative to continue to please existing attendees and vendors, while attracting new ones suitable to the concept’s evolution. Both the attendees and the vendors are your patrons, so keeping them happy and feeling valued means they’ll not only return, but also spread the word. Who wouldn’t come back to an event where they experienced an incredible time or a something that benefited their business? And let’s face it, people talk—whether it’s face-to-face, or via social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Word gets around, and the more valued your patrons feel, the more they’ll relate that to others, so even more people will come to know about your event.
One of the best ways to get people feeling valued—and talking—is through scheduled social media campaigns. Vendors can market their products, and attendees’ involvement with those vendors helps build excitement. For example, a free ticket giveaway extends reach, along with getting your audience very excited. Discounts on food and wine have similar effects. They create positive feelings, too.
Once you know who your ideal patrons are, research the demographics to see what those patrons would perceive as value.
A Recipe for Success
Three things to ask yourself: Do you really know who your patrons are? Are your patrons who you want them to be? Will you be able to feed your patrons’ needs so they feel happy and valued? Know your demographic. An ideal patron is ready, willing, and able to invest. They spend money, spread a positive message, and return for more the following year.
In addition to your patrons, there are four additional practical ‘P’s you’ll want to stir into the mix when creating a successful festival:
Providing the right product is paramount. There’s little point in producing an amazing festival concept if you’re getting word out to the wrong people. For instance, you wouldn’t attract many people to the table by promoting a rap music festival to the sixty-five and older crowd. Adding mixology to the wine festival a few years ago addressed a youthful trend in the region. With the implementation of feasibility study findings, ELIXIR evolved to include two more festival days—AMUSE and ESSENCE—before becoming its own Asheville Cocktail Week in the springtime.
Having your product right is great, but you’ll also need to get your pricing right. Once you know who your ideal patrons are, research the demographics to see what those patrons would perceive as value. Can your ideal attendees afford to sink their teeth into the festival? Can your advertisers afford to sponsor it? Creating competitive pricing can be a lot on your plate when you’re trying to support growth, but it’s possible. Since Asheville Cocktail Week took place three months prior to the Grand Tasting, discounts were applied for early bird tickets to the latter. Not only did this jump-start ticket sales, it also made attendees feel appreciated for their continued patronage and created additional value for them.
The placement of your festival—in terms of advertising (to attendees) and sponsorships (on behalf of vendors, exhibitors, etc.)—calls for careful consideration, but your loyal participants should be served their “just desserts” first. The opportunity to sponsor your event and achieve beneficial branding adds to their feeling of being valued. Likewise, the quantity and quality of the vendors and/or sponsors creates a greater feeling of value for attendees. Cooking up feelings of happiness and value keeps your patrons coming back year after year, hungry for more, and gets the word out organically. Then there’s physical placement. Staging an event in an indoor venue, with space reserved for seating, attracts a different group than tents and benches al fresco—which tends to attract younger crowds. Making new friends while keeping the old is how a festival expands, as it’s beneficial marketing to a broadening audience, but you mustn’t forget catering to your loyal patrons. Does your marketing message reflect that? Have you made room at the table for repeat visitors?
Finally, your festival needs promotion, and right now social media is king. Digest this: In 2016 promoted Tweet engagements on Twitter were up 91 percent over previous years and continue to show steady growth, while Nielsen data showed people were nearly three times as likely to remember Instagram sponsored posts rather than other forms of online advertising. Meanwhile, desktop and mobile ads on Facebook have more than eight times higher click-through rates than alternative web ads.
That being said, social media marketing can be a difficult concept for some to swallow, let alone leverage effectively to increase patron numbers—whether they’re advertisers or attendees. Appropriate content, scheduling, and tag performance all demand coordination. You can hire a social media specialist, but finding the right person can be challenging. You could try managing the campaign yourself, but that can end up being a costly marketing mistake, as well as an exercise in hair-pulling frustration.
However, there are courses available online specifically addressing these issues, alleviating both the challenge of employing a social media marketer, and the task of trying to figure it out yourself. Promoting a festival is a whole different ball game in terms of social media marketing, as it involves things like real-time tweets, crowd building, scheduled blogs, etc. These courses teach you how to implement social media strategies with understanding, so you can oversee your own successful festival campaign. Reputable places like the National Institute of Social Media (NISMonline.org) provide both introductory and advanced courses where you can learn how social media really works, and how to make it work specifically for your festival. In most cases, these online courses are a good idea, whether you’re overseeing a social media specialist or implementing strategy on your own.
Watching trends is also relevant to success, as it can prevent your festival from growing stale.
Was it a Crowd Pleaser?
Gauging the success of your festival is a good performance indicator for future festivals. Did your sponsorships and ticket sales result in profit? Was it beneficial for your vendors? Appealing to your supporters’ tastes is key to creating a successful festival. Feedback from attendees via social media is another way to gauge success. Did the right people come? Were they from the anticipated demographic? Did they fully appreciate the event? Collecting and evaluating comments left on social media platforms provides invaluable information for organizers, since the insights blatantly reveal what needs to change and what should stay the same, to make your next festival even more amazing.
Watching trends is also relevant to success, as it can prevent your festival from growing stale. A revival of handmade goods in the area and appreciation of the palate has shifted the SWEET event to the more inclusive SWEET & SAVORY—an elevated evening after the Grand Tasting that promotes scrumptious delectables and unique handmade items from nearby communities.
The ticket sales portal, Eventbrite, is a great source of trend information. Recently, it revealed that 80 percent of people surveyed use technology during and after an event—which is great for organic growth—and an intoxicating 99 percent of millennials recommend food and wine after a festival—which is great for your vendors.
Remember, creating feelings of happiness and being valued leads to returning patrons. Happiness gives way to positive memories that leave people’s mouths watering for more, and feelings of being valued lead to loyalty.
See you at the festival!
Full details and schedule of the 2018 Asheville Wine & Food Festival at AshevilleWineAndFood.com
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