There’s no marketing tool more powerful than a loyal fanbase. As I outlined in my previous article about the new Attention Economy, a strong brand can cut through the digital noise because fans seek out that brand’s content. But as the entertainment industry shifts more and more to digital channels, there are elements of building a culture that happen through experiential marketing that are broken online. This presents a huge opportunity for a platform that can help creators and brands bridge this gap of the emotional and experiential connections between fans and creators.
Before our insatiable consumption of digital content, brands could easily pay for a slot (and outbid a competitor) on a primary broadcast channel (television or radio) and usually see good results. But those days are generally numbered. To engage consumers online you cannot depend on discovery algorithms—you have to build connections, grow your following. This is why today some of the biggest brands are the creators themselves — actors, athletes and vloggers. These creators with substantial followers across their platforms can directly engage their consumers, building their brand and with it — new revenue opportunities. MrBeast, for example, leveraged his die-hard fanbase to build MrBeast’s Burger, a wildly successful (and digital) virtual restaurant that sells burgers without ever actually building a physical store or kitchen.
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But as we all know from our Zoom fatigue, there’s only so much of a connection that can be forged digitally without physical interaction. For one, it doesn’t afford for many other successful types of brand marketing that exist better in a physical space. Artists used to take over record stores by plastering promos all over the walls and doing in-person album signings. They built a physical experience for super fans to immerse themselves — and connected to a singular moment and community of other fans. Today the idea of a record store is doused in nostalgia. Hulu’s High Fidelity, for example, promoted their latest season with an experiential stunt taking over record stores across the country, harking back to the days of flipping through record bins and finding community among fellow fans. Streaming songs on Spotify today just doesn’t provide that same tactile satisfaction. As we move past the pandemic, record stores like Amoeba are already seeing a renewed fervor for vinyl as they reopen — which the store’s co-founder Marc Weinstein attributes to people “still want[ing] the experience of being part of a community and for immediate access to records. A record geek loves Amoeba because there are so many opportunities for real life serendipity.”
Comparatively, the digital experience of listening to music only captures a fraction of the emotional tie. The audio recording itself is important, but there are other missing aspects like the shared memories associated with going to a show. The visuals, the artist’s energy, the stories getting to and from the venue…you don’t get these same experiences when you hit “play” on Spotify. This is why fans will pay a premium for unique experiences like traveling for a concert (did you know that BTS fans contribute to around 70% of South Korea’s annual tourism?) or paying over 500% more for a ticket to Kobe Bryant’s last home game to be able to say “I was there!”. And this applies to other revenue streams too — BTS just this week announced a partnership with McDonald’s launching a special BTS meal featuring the bandmates’ go-to order. This is a tangible connection that fans can literally sink their teeth into, and completes the full experience that started with just the music itself.
A separate problem for brands trying to build their digital following is that they really don’t have a way of standing out outside of creating great, viral content. Every creator has equal access to the same tools and platforms. For advertisers on broadcast TV, there are less tentpole moments like the Super Bowl (for which viewership is at an all time low since 1990) to break through on. Super Bowl ads were the gold standard because of the size of its real-time audience. In the old world of the entertainment business — TRL was the appointment based show that every creator wanted to be on because of the same reason as the Super Bowl. It was a tentpole moment that could build a brand, dictating to viewers what’s hot and cool. Artists who were able to get on TRL had a huge advantage over competitors. Now with on-demand and democratization of entertainment across so many competing platforms, there really isn’t a single platform that provides entertainers a comparable megaphone.
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Nothing is more powerful than when we combine the emotional with the physical. When we go see live music, we not only hear audio but also experience visuals and share moments with friends. Our brain connects the audio with emotions and memories. This is the power of live entertainment and why digital-only experiences only capture a fraction of the whole brand experience. We have yet to successfully package this experience up for online-only consumption.
I truly feel the most successful way to promote something is to include people and make them feel they are a part of the brand. We need platforms that can create those magical pop culture moments. Until the bridge is built between the physical and the digital experience, we’ll continue to see incomplete brand experiences.