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April 4, 2008

Nigel Nathan: Don't fear the internet

The dramatic rise of live events is related to three things – the dynamic of a brand’s relationship with its audience, the rise and rise of the internet, and the simple fact that the value delivered by a live event has never really gone away, simply dropped off the radar, and now it is being recognised once again.

The height of the ‘dotcom boom’ of 1999/2000 was characterised by the mass hysteria and panic of those who saw the rapid expansion of the internet as the death knell of human interaction – of real transactions, made in real time between real people – of the face-to-face medium.

In reality, of course, the internet serves as an information resource and as a shop window, but it has not, and never will, replace the relationships that are built between a product or brand and its publics in a live arena.

Therefore the internet – and the rise of web 2.0, where content is controlled and opinion formed by the users themselves – rather than being a threat to what we do, actually provides a massive opportunity. The internet creates a type of ‘consumer frustration’, in that the messages are there, the pictures are there but the brand experience is not – and it is the brand experience and the emotion associated with it that allows the personal relationship to develop.

Live events relieve internet unfulfilment – live events provide the opportunity to interact with a brand, to see, hear, feel and touch and to build a genuine relationship. Of course the internet also allows brands and organisations to promote their live events, creating an anticipation around them, and facilitates the wider communication of content (via webcasts, podcasts and viral marketing) to an audience who will buy in to the next event of its kind.

The real proof of any marketing pudding, of course, is when those at the cutting edge of the industry adopt and promote it as their own invention. Currently the media marketplace is filling up with agencies and consultants devoted to ‘experiential marketing’ – which is live events and face-to-face to the rest of us. When a training course becomes available entitled “Experiential – a brand saviour, or just the new guerrilla?”, it is clear things are about to take off.

Nigel Nathan is EC&O Venues’ group managing director and chairman of the Events Industry Alliance.

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