I recently celebrated the start of my 19th year working at Superfly. I didn’t realize the date had come around until a number of LinkedIn notifications from friends and colleagues reminded me. It caused me to reflect on my own journey. It’s been incredible what the last two decades have brought us in the world of experience.
Actually it’s unprecedented in the diversity, scale, creativity and inventiveness of our collective efforts: elevated culinary experiences, Taco Bell hotels, the evolution of Burning Man, pop-ups for things from David Bowie to Friends to the Museum of Ice Cream and, of course, a myriad of festivals that changed the business trajectory of many companies, including ours with the inception of Bonnaroo many Junes ago.
The first deal ever done by Bonnaroo was fitting: Volkswagen. It was a cold-call made in April 2002 answered by Jim Wolter, who led the Southeast region. I told him of this brave new world of heat, hippies and happiness under the Tennessee sky. Sponsoring Bonnaroo—or any festival at that time—was still unchartered waters, but Jim was ready to dive in. It was the first of many deals and broader commitments of brands leveraging experiences over 20 years.
In 2005, Lollapalooza set aside its road warrior ways and settled down in Chicago as a multiday music festival (Weezer and Widespread Panic were the headliners for anyone interested in trivia). That move coincided with another brand roll of the dice: the launch of the AT&T Blue Room, a new content platform that livestreamed Lollapalooza nationally. Streaming, as in vogue as ever, wasn’t so in 2005. Lollapalooza marked both a reset of an iconic brand while AT&T took a first step toward evolving from phone company to content provider, topped off with last year’s $80 billion-plus deal for WarnerMedia.
It’s no small feat when brands take destiny in their own hands. Enter BravoCon. Bravo was one of the few TV properties to take the leap into a tangible Bravo-led celebration of their community. Within seconds of on sale, tickets were gone, bringing thousands of passionate fans to New York from Tacoma, Wash., Tulsa, Okla. and Tampa Bay, Fla.
While those uncharted waters are much different than today’s challenges, brands find themselves in an uncertain space, and we can’t lose the momentum or the success we’ve gained through years of hard work. Second to our communities, brands are the necessary conspirators that validate our thinking, build our dreams and elevate our vision.
Live experience will be back, and perhaps with a greater level of appreciation and gratitude. It’s important to acknowledge that these moments together will have new meaning and new tentpoles moments will emerge. When we regather, it will be with all the intent in the world. We’ll bring our open hearts and rosy outlooks. Rights of passage we may have taken for granted in the past will become tentpole moments.
Imagine what back to school will mean for millions of parents (and children) across the country. While I’ve been fortunate enough to co-teach our kindergartener these past few weeks, I, like many parents, look forward to the first day of school. Will that become a new national holiday? A celebration for the six-month teaching shift? And can we use that same day to celebrate the work of our teachers, with whom we can now relate? Perhaps we host intimate dinners with all the parents and teacher(s) from your kids’ class.
There are limitless possibilities for brands to enhance the new meaningfulness we will all feel. Brands can support small business reopenings and build programming around the unique retail shops that are the heart of our communities. Not to mention, these experiences are smaller in scale and in controlled environments. Undoubtedly, our first (and second) experiences will be local. Couldn’t a brand create a slew of programming by partnering with our local barbershops and beauty salons after neglecting our personal care for the past few months?
What community customized events can you create leveraging your own brand equity? While brands from Zoom to Houseparty have ensured we’ve stayed in touch during the lockdown, perhaps a brand can host a series of networking events for those industries most affected by Covid 19-related job losses. Over 20 million people have filed for unemployment. You want to build brand equity? Help someone get a job.
I’ve been fortunate to witness brands rise to the occasion in the past to help and support communities in creative ways during challenging times. While the situation we face today is different in so many ways, our response need not be. Build for the short term and plan for the long term. Brands that recognize the opportunity and power live experiences will hold in the not-so-distant future are already planning. Now is the time to identify and build around those moments that will inevitably have more significance in a post-pandemic world.