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Meet the Vendor
Event Marketing Strategy with KAABOO's Brian Wingerd
by Chris Carver
on September 14, 2016

INTRODUCTION (feature #1 of 2 in our series with the team behind KAABOO)

Developing a brand is about building trust in your product. And building trust takes time. And when you're in a competitive space like the festival industry, you're in for an uphill battle. So... if you're going to compete, you have to understand the persona of your customer, provide an experience they can't get anywhere else and then break through all the noise to sell that baby. 

I've been looking around for a while to find someone that could give a real in-depth perspective on event marketing strategy. And there's not a more timely case study than the second year festival in San Diego: KAABOO. 

There's a lot we call can learn from this. 

Location: Del Mar, California
Est. Attendance: 40,000
Number of Musicians: 87
Number of Artists: 56 
Number of Comedians: 16
Number of Celebrity Chefs: 11
Number of Credentials: ~3000
Number of Porta Potties: Zero

Event Marketing Strategy for KAABOO interview with Brian Wingerd
Event Marketing Strategy Tip #1: Know your customer or in this case customers. Also that pasta looks incredible.

Seeing that I'm a geek about marketing and branding, I was psyched to sit down with Brian Wingerd (KAABOO's SVP of Marketing) and hear how he and his team are approaching things. 

Basically... this was a chance to understand:

1. What went into developing the KAABOO brand.
2. How they are approaching sales and marketing as the event approaches.
3. What critical metrics they track and why.

Plus a bunch of other real-world advice and event marketing tactics I thought would be fascinating for anyone in this industry (or business in general).

A little caveat: KAABOO is one of the first customers to use our platform, soooo... I'm a little biased :)


Event marketing strategy #2: Have a brand that stands out. Photo of KAABOO's resident Artist Amanda Lynn

Ready to jump in Brian?
Absolutely, but hopefully you can find a way to delete the curse words. I've never been able to graduate out of that mentality.

I think this audience can handle it.
Oh, perfect. Then I’m ready!

So where did you grow up?
I grew up in Clay Center, Kansas.

And what was a 15-year-old Brian like?
15-year-old Brian wanted to be a dentist, but didn't realize that his scholastic career was not going to be a very good one.

If you were a piece of festival equipment, what would you be?
I would probably be the RFID scanner because I would need to know who you are, where you've been, what are you doing, where are you going.

Exaaaactly what you want to hear out of the marketing guy.

So before we jump into KAABOO, I understand you used to produce large golf tournaments.
That's right. Funny enough there are a lot similarities.

How is producing a major golf tournament similar to producing a large scale music festival?

Frankly, it's all about advancing for both. The more detailed and structured you are in the pre-planning and production planning, the better your event's going to be. Big golf, big music, big monster trucks... it's all the same.

And Speaking of advancing: I can say that I'm hearing really good things about your product (LENND). Based on my experience in using it in advancing the things that I needed, it worked flawlessly. I was super stoked.

Love the plug brother.

Event Marketing Strategy #3: Create an experience that people want to share. It helps with great design. Photo Cred: KAABOO

When you think of KAABOO as a brand, how do you describe it to folks?
I would say that any event is just like the auto industry. You've got your value brands out there, you've got your iconic brands out there and then you've got your luxury brands out there. We’re seeking to create the new category in an already oversaturated market with music festivals and we are becoming a luxury brand of those events. We want all ages to come but we frankly focus very heavily on the 30 to 55 year old who has limited amount of time. Our brand is hyper focused on creating a luxury experience for those who still want to partake in these types of events.

Photo Cred: @KAABOODelMar

From what I understand KAABOO is like four festivals in one. With Music, Art, Comedy and a pretty intense culinary experience.
That's right.

So how have the non-music components helped to established the brand of KAABOO?

That's actually a really good question. I would say that that's what has driven our word of mouth in year two. Music will always be the engine to our car, but comedy is the luxury sound system, the food maybe leather seating, all of those metaphors you can stitch together.

Again... spoken like a true marketing guy.  

Hah, the hope is that the programming will allow people to say, "oh no, no, it's way more than music festival". The contemporary art that it's showcasing is probably one of the best in San Diego. It helped us reach into other categories and other audiences by word of mouth.

Photo Cred: KAABOO (check out this incredible VIDEO on the making of the major KAABOO art insallations): 

From a event marketing and advertising standpoint, does it make it easier or more difficult to have four areas of focus?
Well, the answer is actually both. It makes it easier in the sense that we have a high-caliber culinary aspects and programming. It allows me to work with our chefs and our chefs' media channels to gain exposure and bring new guests to KAABOO who may not care about Jimmy Buffet or Aerosmith.

Where it makes it difficult is on the music/festival side. It has the potential to hurt your credibility because there are those who believe festivals should be music alone. These people may think you've taken your eye off the ball and are trying to create a massive theme park when everyone's there for the roller coasters, nobody else really cares.

So It really is a balancing act.


Event Marketing Strategy #4: Influencers are a great way to elevate your brand and ticket sales. 

If KAABOO were a person, who would it be?
It would be that renaissance friend of yours who seems to be good at just about everything.

So what marketing channel has had the highest Return on Investment for you guys?
It's actually email. I'm an email junky. I'll sign up for whatever, whenever, however, and if you're delivering me stuff that I like, I stay on. If you don't, I get rid of it. That plays into our strategy. So those who sign up with us understand that we don't spam you, we don't hammer you, we give you the updates that you need and with that trust comes an understanding that when we tell you something is going to sell out, that's not a marketing ploy.

Well shit man, I want to see if our interviews are up to your standards.
Well so far, I love them. And can’t wait to see more.

We are building a list of the world's top event professionals. Reserve your spot now. Click here.

You're now in the second year of the festival, what are the top 3 things you are thining about as head of marketing?
Number One: is to ensure that we set the appropriate expectation before someone gets in their car. Have we told them where to park? Have we told them what to bring? Have we told them what not to bring? Have we told them what to expect? Do they understand the programming? All of those elements are critical.

Number Two: is whether we have put together the right strategy and elements for all of our guests to want to socially share that they're at KAABOO. What's the brag factor?

Number Three: is making sure we’ve put together the right feedback system that allows our guests to share their experiences with our team (positive, negative, all of it). I want them to feel as if they are a part of building this brand with us and feedback is critical.

How much are you focused on average ticket price versus total number of tickets purchased?
Frankly, my job runs in two parallel tracks. One is quantity of passes and there have to be … there are expectations within each level of ticket. Then there is an overall attendee number figure given to the entire event that I must be hyper focused on. We need 40,000 people there. However, I can't go out and sell 40,000 $120 passes. It's a balancing act between silos. You obviously want as many people there as possible but in order for me to be considered someone who's doing a good job in keeping project in startup mode and moving forward, I have to be just as hypersensitive to what the average ticket price is.

Event Marketing Strategy #5: Pricing is an art as much as a science. Be careful when you discount, done wrong it can devalue your brand.

What are the top three marketing metrics you track?
There’s several, but three key metrics are:

First is how engaged is our tribe (from a social standpoint)? Are we putting stuff out there that people like? I don't necessarily need people to share to grow our audience. I need them to either jump in, say that they're excited about something, say they didn't know about something, ask them question about some sort of programming. My social channels are the number one thing I monitor.

Event Marketing Strategy with KAABOO's Brian Wingerd

Secondly, I track everything that comes into our box office/guest services on a daily basis. I watch what people are asking,  what their concerns are and overall feedback. If there are seven, eight, nine separate people who are saying I didn't understand X or were concerned about Y, that means that my department either didn't clearly communicate or we didn't communicate at all so that metric is number two.

Number three: Is content we’re putting out actually selling the intended inventory? Did we put out a campaign about VIP passes and all of a sudden, three-day GA passes went up? Even though that may be good, that means we've missed a message on how we've communicated that to those channels.

What advice would you give to other festivals in managing their brand and their marketing?
I would strongly encourage anyone in my position to pick up a phone and talk to three past buyers a week and ask them why they purchased. That’s an exercise that I wholeheartedly believe in.  

So, what’s one piece of feedback that still blows your mind?
You would not believe how many people said they purchased based on the fact that they heard from a friend that we didn't have any porta potties. It's hard to market, we got better shitters but it really was interesting in how we needed to continue the message.


I think the “our shitters are better than yours” slogan would work.
Right. That totally speaks to luxury brand. :)

Nothing like a little Jack Johnson live when you’re on the can.
Love it!

Do you have any marketing or branding books you read or podcasts you listen to?
The marketing guru who always resonates the most with me and that I get the most out of on a daily basis is Seth Godin. Just in how he breaks down the human emotion of what marketing is supposed to be.


How much do you think about the buying psychology of the consumer and how does that impact your strategy?
It impacts me greatly in the sense that I am the demographic that I market to. I'm a parent of two. I am married with a wife who would need to buy off on that purchasing decision. So, how do I honestly make this about a product that is worth it and has a value for you to purchase? Because it's not necessarily the money as it is the time.

It's a different mentality from those who are going after millennials. Their disposable income is much lower, but they have a lot more time. So, if my disposable income is larger and I've reduced the need to overcome that variable, we need to figure out how to explain to a 42-year-old why they need to schedule time off with their partner or their friends or with their kids (away from youth sports or whatever) -- why it is worth it? So I think about the psychology of the consumer quite often.

Event marketing Tip #6: Always paint the vision

In your work life, are you insecure about anything?
Oh, yeah. I would say it took me a long time and I still struggle with this - when someone has a better idea than me, which is honestly quite frequent. How do I allow that person to run with it - but frankly, once I started letting go of that a little bit, it's amazing what happens.

As a marketer who's responsible for a specific amount of products sold, you're always insecure about your numbers. Did we sell enough? Is it where our company needs it to be? Those types of things. So, I would say I'm insecure about that still, sure.

Parting Wisdom.
"You simply have to show up." There're so many people that when things get a little hard, they'll fall out. If you keep showing up, you'd be amazed at what happens.

Also, in this business, you cannot be organized enough. Once you think you're on top of it, you're starting to lose it. There has to be a perpetual paranoia that you're not organized enough.

Interested in hearing the stories of more event professionals? Subscribe for weekly updates

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