The participant landscape is undergoing a fundamental shift. What we’re witnessing is the rise of the experiential consumer in a “Go Pro” era where everyone wants to be a hero in their own movie. More and more money is being spent in search of experiences that can serve as the backdrop for that movie, which presents a huge opportunity for event directors.
People are hungry for events they can participate in socially and visually, and they want proof of it. From hard-core competitors to I-just-want-to-finish-ers, the who, how, and why of participation has changed.
Here are 6 evolving trends that give evidence to this rise of the experiential consumer:
1. MobTM Events. What defines these types of events most is the hyper-social, often team-based, and super fun atmosphere. Events like Electric Run™, The Color Run™, Ragnar Relay Series®, The Walking Dead Escape™, Gladiator Rock’n Run™, and Run the Jailbreak™ have exploded onto the scene and participation numbers have grown to tens of thousands in only a handful of years (if not months, in some cases). Previously, growth this rapid was unheard of in the endurance industry. The differentiator? Offering consumers a completely unique experience.
2. Increased Finish Times. . Of course winning or PR’ing is still important to many people, but it’s no secret that course times are being extended further and further. For example, marathon finish times have increased by 20%.* Performance has been diminished, but that also means your audience is broadening. People are now driven more by wanting to check off an item from the bucket list or claim bragging rights for finishing, regardless of the time they finished in. For participants it’s about the journey, rather than the destination.
3. Affiliation with a Good Cause. . The extension of course times and the viewpoint that events are experiences has opened the door to people who want to participate in events as a fundraiser. The primary motivation is not to PR, or even to get in shape, but to support a favored charity by using the event as a platform. Many endurance events are aligned with a charity partner, which gives exposure to that charity and a venue for participants to show their support, creating a more fulfilling experience.
“Experience is the new luxury. Having a Ferrari isn’t cool now. Cliff diving and filming it is cool. It’s about doing something really rad and then posting a photo or video online (to social media).”
Founder & CEO of Electric Run
4. Growth in Female Participation. . More and more women are participating in events, especially in half marathons. Women represented almost 60% of half marathon fields in 2012.* Why? Because studies show that women are motivated to register based on cause affiliation (see #3), fitness, and social connections. Events that are built around experiences versus competition embody these elements, especially the social element, which attracts women.
The growth in female participation presents you with a great opportunity to expand your participant base. For example, one event director told us that he markets almost exclusively to moms because they are the decision makers—they’ll register, drag dad along, sign up the kids, and bring three friends.
5. Growth in Team & Social Participation. . The increase in group participation and social activity around events goes hand-in-hand with everything else we’ve been talking about. This phenomenon rose from “fun” events (non-competitive, Mob-style events) and has now permeated more traditional and competitive events. People want to try something new with their friends and post about it on Facebook, using the event as an extension of their social life. This means you have a golden opportunity to increase your numbers and reach people who wouldn’t normally participate in races.
6. Families & Youth Events. By getting all ages involved in your event, adults can participate without sacrificing family obligations and kids can have fun and learn healthy habits. This is your chance to include the whole family in both pre- and post-race activities to enhance the event experience. Small adjustments can be made to your logistics so you can offer race day child care, set up family “zones” for play, or even open up your finish line chute so mom or dad can be the hero that runs across the finish line with their kids.
If there’s one thing you take away from this article, it should be this: to drive participation and brand awareness, your event needs to capture the experiential consumer.
How can your event do that? Instead of a one-day race, think of it as a 365-day event experience. Each stage of the event lifecycle is a chapter of an event story that should provide a unique experience to participants: registration, preparation, participation, celebration…and back to registration. Establish a viral loop by creating an unforgettable event experience that is fun, social, and shareable.
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