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October 1, 2008

FESTIVAL FEVER 3:The power of mobile technology

In the third and final feature on festivals, Ian Whiteling looks at new form of ticketing using mobile phones that's growing in popularity, and could create not only a better consumer experience, but also add value for sponsor brands.

With the festival season now over for another year, the last few weeks have seen EVENTS:review reflect on this growing phenomenon from a marketing perspective, questioning whether brands are benefiting or being hindered by this increasingly crowded marketplace.

The key, as always, is the audience, in terms of their experience at the event and the organiser’s ability to attract and communicate with them. Festival-goers everywhere are constantly frustrated by events being sold out far in advance, only to find touts selling tickets at inflated prices.

This practice reflects badly on the whole festival sector. However, sending a virtual ticket in the form of a barcode direct to mobile phones, which can then be scanned on entry, is becoming an increasingly popular tool to counteract illegal ticket trading.

Mobile revolution: A festival-goer accesses her barcode ticket

Sundae treat
A growing number of boutique festivals are using mobile ticketing in the fight against touts, and many are also tapping into the additional benefits that the technology offers, as the Summer Sundae Weekender 2008’s organisers and festival-goers discovered.

Held in Leicester in August, the independent festival, this year headlined by Macy Gray, Supergrass and the Coral, has pioneered the use of mobile ticketing. As with any new technology, acceptance is vital, and Summer Sundae has shown that music fans are happy to use mobile ticketing for event entry in place of the traditional paper ticket.

This itself is a major milestone, and the festival found that once enough of its audience uses the technology, more benefits can be realised.

Building loyalty

Summer Sundae uses the Tixmob system, which allows customers to purchase their ticket online and receive a barcode texted to their mobile, with the alternative option of receiving an email for home printing if they prefer. About 5,000 of the 6,000 festival-goers at the popular event used their mobile phones or printed barcodes to gain access to the festival. This, of course, vastly reduced illegal ticket trading, while using far less paper and postage, making the process far greener.

What’s more, with such a large proportion of festival-goers using the mobile option, the Summer Sundae organisers found they suddenly held a lot of useful audience information, which essentially amounted to a database of existing customers. This has already been used to contact fans after the event in the form of a ‘thank you’ text message, helping to cement their loyalty.

Further targeted messages can be sent consisting of either greetings or information about next year’s festival, with the ultimate aim being to build a mobile and online community that will encourage people to buy tickets for next year’s event.

Increased sales
“Our primary objective was to cut out touting and the Tixmob system worked exceptionally well,” says Summer Sundae’s festival director Richard Haswell. “The event went very smoothly on the door.

“The other great thing is that we also now have a comprehensive, highly targeted electronic database of our customers,” he continues, “providing us with an instant way of communicating with a focused group of people, which has got to be good.”

Haswell is also very happy to report that this is already having an impact, with ticket sales for Summer Sundae Weekender 2009 already getting off to a flying start.

Brand and research benefits
The Summer Sundae experience is a demonstration of how festival organisers can use mobile technology to communicate effectively with their ticket buyers and build brand loyalty, beyond the more obvious curb on illegal ticket trading.

"We are delighted that Summer Sundae was satisfied with the system's overall performance, particularly in stamping out touting and forgeries at the event,” says Tixmob managing director Ariya Priyasantha. “We will continue to work closely with the organisers, operations staff and consumers to improve our system further."

This can only be good news for organisers and festival-goers alike, not to mention the potential for communicating sponsor messages and even researching into the brands that a festival’s audience would be most receptive to.

Furthermore, any technology that improves the festival-goer experience will reflect well not only on the event and its organisers, but also, crucially, on the sponsors. In fact, mobile ticketing could well be something that brands will look for from festivals in the future.

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