Music legend Brian Eno once said that while not a lot of people initially bought The Velvet Underground’s debut album, everyone who did started a band.
For my son’s fourth birthday, we invited everyone over. And by everyone, I mean our local relatives, family from out of town, kids from swim class, all of his school friends, all of our family friends, neighbors, pets, you name it. In all, around sixty people were in and around our tiny row house all at once spilling into the yard and onto the stoop, not a free stick of furniture in sight. There were benefits; bringing different groups, a chance to see people we’ve missed, etc. But ultimately, since we were so busy being hosts and making the rounds, we didn’t get to really get to spend as much time with the people that matter the most to us. In fact, lots of people who came didn’t really “stick:” our kids don’t go to school together, they quit the swim team, what have you, and we really don’t see them much anymore. Lots of people bought the album, but they didn’t all start bands.
As much fun as a big turnout can be for experiential marketers, a smaller gathering gives us the opportunity for intimacy and connection. Despite the manic fun of my son’s birthday bash, I much prefer a smaller yet still lively cocktail party, where great conversations can turn acquaintances into lifelong friends.
There’s been much speculation about how and when events will come back, and what demand for them will look like. Ask yourself: what have I been craving while in quarantine? Maybe for some it’s the crowd at a sporting event, or the throngs of people at the beach in summer. But for most, I imagine it’s more the everyday things: closeness, human contact, fellowship. Seeing a smiling face in the flesh, not on a screen. When it’s time to resume events, we should remember this feeling, this craving, and try to satisfy it in a way that feels substantive.
Post-pandemic events will certainly need to scale down in terms of size to allow for social distancing, but we can scale up their impact by providing greater value to the audience. We can do this by inviting influencers, thought leaders and others, many of whom are eager for new partnerships, and they can act as force multipliers. We can upgrade our production values so that every touch point makes an outsized impression. Most importantly, we must focus on the uniqueness of the experience—is it special? Will the people who saw it talk feel compelled to tell other people about it? Will they leave this event having changed their views about your brand for the better? If you can’t answer affirmatively with absolute certainty, you need to pick up the guitars and get back to the rehearsal room.
If you represent a brand that typically hosts huge events, this may feel like downsizing. You should instead see this as an opportunity to spend more quality time with each attendee, to deepen core relationships, and to challenge yourself to make a greater impact on the audience, and to turn those attendees into advocates.
Inspire people, and they will spread the word of your brand to an audience much larger than you could have ever packed into any arena.
Give them great music, and they’ll go start some bands.