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Festival sales processes are old fashioned, says Jeroen van Glabbeek, CEO at


Whether it’s rock, rap, house, dance, pop or jazz, there’s always a fanbase ready to trade home comforts for a weekend of music, fast food and dixies at a festival.

Yet, while music tastes are diverse and trendy, and organisers are eager to cater to them, it’s surprising that the outreach and sales process is still rather old-fashioned.

Festivals are big business, but margins are getting squeezed all the time. Glastonbury is the UK’s largest festival with a turnover of £37 million, but this only translates into profits of £86,000 – under 50p a ticket. To stay profitable and relevant, there’s an urgent need for event organisers to create new revenue opportunities and encourage fan loyalty.

Luckily, with today’s technological solutions, it’s possible not only to get to know your customers better but also to deliver the best, most satisfying fan experience possible through an approach called ‘conversational commerce’.When fans are having a good time they’re more likely to spend at your festival and come back next year.Organisers can achieve this by rethinking how they approach and interact with fans directly – bypassing costly and rather generic display social media ads – and how they process payments before, during and even after the festivities.


The personal touch

Many festivals become like annual pilgrimages, with fans returning to experience it all over again year after year. However, with so much choice on offer, you can’t guarantee your event will be top of mind when festival season arrives. How you approach fans in the build-up is critical to whether they chose your event or a competitors.

Fortunately, the data you collect on customers the first-time round can be used again to engage them with highly personalised and relevant content in the future. The true value of data is how it helps you get to know your customers on a personal level; what artists did they favourite on your festival app last year, and what drinks did they order? This information can be collected in a Customer Data Platform (CDP), and used to determine which fans are the most likely to buy a ticket for the next event. Useful data – such as contact details, which tickets they bought and when can be put to good use in building a loyal, recurrent fanbase.

It’s important to remember that every customer is unique, and this will be borne out by the data you collect. It only makes sense then that the way they like to be approached differs drastically. By using data from the CDP, it’s possible to understand the fan’s preferred messaging channel and use that as the default route for engagement. A generic email will likely end up deleted or in a customer’s junk folder, but by proactively approaching the fan on the messaging channel of their choice you greatly increase the chance for engagement and conversion.  

As the smartphone grows in importance as a basis for ticketing and customer engagement, channels like SMS– that still enjoy a 98% open rate – will remain important, but festival organisers also need to think of the future. The trend towards Rich Communications Services (RCS), Apple Business Chat and Over-The-Top (OTT) messaging services like WhatsApp will develop rapidly as customers seek greater convenience and the ability to transmit in-call media. Catering to these rising services is key to future-proofing communication and engagement with customers by talking to them on their preferred platforms and ensuring that all personal data is collected, used and stored in GDPR-compliant manner.

Regardless of the channel used, however, once the tickets have been bought there are usually still weeks or months before the festival actually begins. All too often value-adding customer engagement completely disappears between the point of purchase and the start of the festival. This period of time is an invaluable opportunity to build excitement in the fan leading up to the event.

Between the ticket sale and festival date, more information becomes known as bands are confirmed and merchandising and supplier deals are signed. Proactively communicating these updates via the customer’s messaging channel of choice will build their excitement for the event and help them plan their time for maximum enjoyment. What’s more, informing them of special deals and merchandise ahead of time will only maximise revenue opportunities once they get there.  


Taking the stress out of payments

When the tickets are available, most festivals release a teaser in the month prior to the selling date and a couple of reminders on the days before. For the most popular festivals, hardcore fans will queue up online hours before the ticket sales page comes online, constantly refreshing in the hope of getting there early.

This process is never fair to the customer. The person with the fastest processor on their machine almost always gets their ticket first. The experience can also be highly stressful, with frequent disappointment eventually leading to dissatisfaction with the festival and the danger they may give up on ever trying to go.

Fortunately, there are many ways to overcome these pitfalls. Once you have proactively reached out to festival fans, you can offer a preregistration by asking them how many tickets he or she wishes to receive and what kind. This way a fair drawing can be organised where everyone who preregistered gets the first opportunity to reserve tickets and a notification telling them whether they were successful. Additionally, new fan profiles can be created and added to the existing ones on the festival organisers customer data platform – all enriched and updated in real time based on customer preferences and purchase history, allowing for highly personalised engagement.

Fans will then receive a payment link on the same messaging channel they were first contacted on – or a different one based on their preference. You can set the system up so that if they don’t pay within a set amount of time the tickets are offered to another pre-registered fan. Once payment is complete, the tickets can be sent directly to the customer or made accessible through a festival app or an OTT app of their choice, with the solution already being deployed by the likes of Formula 1.

With the same app-based approach, you can improve the customer’s payment experience during and even after the event. By linking their account to the festival app, a customer can open a festival ‘tab’ to order refreshments and merchandise in-app, enjoy the festival experience and settle the bill automatically after the festivities are over. This means no more standing in line to order, losing cash or having to shout over the music for a bartender’s attention. All fans need to do is show the QR-code automatically generated after making their order. The solution is being pioneered by the organisers of Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands this year.

When payments is an effortless part of the fan’s festival experience, you’ve achieved true conversational commerce. When you cater to all communication channels and ensure payments processes are embedded in each, the customer can contact and do business with you the way they want. They have both the optimal customer experience and the incentive to come back to you again and again. 


The new communication age

Personalised contact and conversational commerce are only the first step. If you want to understand your audience to their core, imagine all the other platforms your audience use and link them to their festival account. With the consent and approval of the fans, all relevant social media accounts could be linked to a single customer data platform. This way, you could analyse their favourite artists and make relevant suggestions to the customer in real time, such as which stage to visit and when to get the best views.

Of course, you have to be aware that this is communication and engagement on a mass scale, so you need a platform that can do it all – from data collection to messaging and processing payments. With the right tools and data infrastructure, however, the truly customised fan experience of the future is there for the taking.