For four days in June, 70,000 people flooded the Dover Speedway and surrounding woodlands in Delaware to hear more than 140 bands at the Firefly Music Festival. Admittedly, this has been a mixed year for music festivals, with the Fyre Festival's epic fail dominating the headlines for what not to do. However, though attendance may have been down slightly over the last few years, Firefly was an unqualified success in creating a distinct experience that provides some valuable insights for marketers of all sorts.

While influencer marketing is all the rage, there are valuable lessons that illuminate the contrast between Fyre's approach and that of Firefly. Fyre aimed for an audience top-loaded with the jet set and pricing to match: From $1,500 to six figures. It's marketing centered around a pay-to-praise influencer strategy, including the likes of Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and other models and celebrities.

Firefly, on the other hand, relied very heavily on a heartfelt community of fans that shaped every aspect of the event and became personally invested in its success. Here are three pillars of Firefly's strategy that have built it into a seven-years-and-counting artist and fan lovefest:

Community. I've said it before, and I'll keep on saying it: All marketing strategies must begin and end with the customer. Nowhere is this clearer than with lifestyle and enthusiast brands. And without a doubt, Firefly ticks those boxes. From inception, the event incorporated input from music enthusiasts into the mix. In fact, community is one of the links in its site's top-level navigation.

However, for the 2017 event, Firefly went all-in on community. Through its 50,000-strong message boards, surveys, and polls, the event now bills itself as 100% "fan curated." That's right, all the music at this year's festival was selected by the fans themselves. And music is far from the only thing that the fans influenced. They helped shape the camping experience, merchandise design, food options, and attractions. What this does is make every fan a super-fan. They are personally invested and become devoted and vocal brand advocates. Who couldn't use more of those?

Authenticity. As with so many social media marketing strategies, things often devolve into a numbers game. Sure, each of the Kardashians boasts a bazillion followers. And yes, the Fyre event, which leveraged the massive followings of the social media A-list, sold out in about a minute. If things had gone well, we might all be singing the praises of the more-is-more strategy.

But given that Fyre ended in ashes, marketers need to give some serious thought to how they undertake social marketing and who they work with. The FTC has issued guidelines about disclosing paid promotions in social contexts. So frankly, that should be clear.

However, for many brands, what sells is more than vast and vapid extravagance. Firefly's audience is (of course) comprised of music fans who are thrilled to spend days camping in a dust bowl (or, worse a mud bog as in 2016). But the Firefly ethos runs deeper. You'll find more manners than mosh pits; more random kindness than ass kicking. While the musical genres are wide-ranging, the artists and attendees universally advocate the power of positive action. And any social strategy for a brand with a soul must rely more on micro-influencers who are passionate and have a loyal, engaged fan base. Find those with a shared passion and provide the fuel to ignite it. That's a fire that will burn bright.

Engagement. It can be easy to think that everyone under age 25 is unable to look up from a phone, with the notable exception of selfies. But it wasn't just the music that got Firefly attendees to raise their heads. Sure, there were many phones held aloft during popular tracks or to document shocking acts of fan-appreciation (Thirty Seconds to Mars); next-level crowd surfing (Twenty One Pilots); synchronized glow stick tossing (Dillion Frances); and of course those about-to-break-big acts on intimate tree-shaded stages (Bishop Briggs). Yet while one might have expected to see nothing but the tops of heads between acts in the fan-littered fields, the reality was a roiling sea of interaction.

The most effective on-site marketing wasn't the adorable setups for selfies. Rather, it was the presentation of emerging and established artists in unexpected and intimate settings. Highlights included T-Pain in Subway's Green Room, Judah & The Lion at The Coffee House presented by StubHub, and Rozes at the Toyota Music Den. Toyota gets bonus points for its incredibly popular glitter application station, which required the completion of a short survey for all the sparkle attendees could ask for. Without a doubt, the integration of brand and experience created the kind of positive impact that will resonate with consumers' live and well into the future.

There is a segment of our culture that is obsessed with immediate gratification, likes, and the perfect selfie. But what I saw at the Firefly Music Festival reinforced my belief that there is much more to young consumers. Their passion is an opportunity for genuine interaction from brands who dare to go deeper.

Published on: Jun 23, 2017
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