• The Event School

Events? So what are they really for?

Updated: Apr 26, 2018

I was lucky enough to be complete Seth Godin’s altMBA recently, sharing thoughts and learning with many leaders from North America, the UK and Asia.

The altMBA asked us to answer some important and fundamental questions on our journey through the workshops, one of them being – what is it for?

This was my response on our favourite subject, that of Events.

What are they really for?

I believe that with Events, we are not in the business of selling the event day, we are in the business of providing experiences. Personal and public journeys, a milestone within a phase of peoples lives, which will be remarked upon in real life, shared and amplified online.

Yes, we are providing value on a functional level, access, features and benefits, but more importantly, we are providing value at an emotional, social, and even if done well, at a level of self realisation (think of a Ironman or marathon finisher).

An example I have been involved with was ‘Nike She Runs’. A functional description would list this as a 10km run, for young women, held at night. But it was more than this. It was an example of enabling customers to be what they wanted to be, or become.

We looked at the market, and identified a change we could seek to make, and the audience we sought to make it with. The world didn’t really need another running event, but within the overall market it was young females that needed a platform to embrace running, be empowered as a community, and conquer fears such as running alone, at night.

Identities were created based on worldviews that ‘she’ identified with, what the customers were seeking to become. That identity was beyond running in an event, the identity was framed with the right words, imagery, and the change we were seeking to make.

It went beyond running. It was for women who wanted empowerment, a sense of purpose. A goal, as a tribe, to take on the streets of Sydney at night, an experience to share en masse.

It was something to share together, in real life and to provide content online. For her, it was about being there, not missing out.

“People like us, do things like this” as Seth might say.

It was about accountability to herself, to train and prepare for a public performance, she had to show up and represent herself. She had ownership in it, an investment of herself, and she helped build the community around it. This is what ‘events that get it’ offer, the many layers beyond the actual activity itself.

Nike is, I believe, a perfect example of a brand that Michael Schrage says has a ‘vision of the customer’. Nike has a very clear picture of who tomorrow’s customers will — and should — become. Even if the customer doesn’t know it. Nike are masters of change and innovation. A brand which is not afraid to drop an event at its peak, a product line, a currency (Nike Fuel), or an entire sports line (Nike Golf). Even if the customers can, not, believe they would do it. This is not a brand concerned with ‘sunk costs’.

So ‘She Runs’ had a fit, and when a mismatch occurred in that young women didn’t really love the idea of being a runner enough, Nike changed it up, and shifted to Nike Training Clubs,  recognising running wasn’t at the core of value for this market.

Recent global event success stories Tough Mudder and Colour Run also know that it is about more than the event activity itself. Colour Run is the ‘happiest 5k’ and isn’t really much about the running at all. Obstacle racing wasn’t a thing when Tough Mudder started, and remains a small part of what the customer ultimately seeks to become. The Mudders ‘pledge’ is based on a craving for challenge, but also an authentic set of values to believe in, for the customer to become. Founder Will Dean built a tribe, he started with the ‘Why’, and then built the ‘What’ and ‘How’ around it.

As Schrage identified we should look to luxury goods as the masters at selling what their customers want to be. They’re selling branded lifestyles, not just best-in-class products and services. And events are in a powerful position to leverage off this customer lifestyle aspiration. As Tough Mudder founder Will Dean put it ‘experiences are the new luxury good’.

In an example from the closely related world of entertainment (She Runs was arguably the business of active entertainment), is the brilliant Rockin 1000 event concept.

It is pretty cool to do something like play the guitar yourself, even cooler to do it together in a band. But when you share that experience in an event with 1000 others, it is ridiculous. These customers got what they wanted to become. And it has been shared by 42,627,827 of us since.

This I think, is what events are for.

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