Attendee Behavior: The 2 Main Reasons Why People Go to Events

February 19 2016

During the last 2 ½ years at SpinGo, I’ve worked on a personal level with dozens of event makers on new marketing approaches, and talked to hundreds of event attendees about why they do or don’t attend events. I am in a unique position because 1) I am my target demographic and 2) I am studying my target demographic. When it comes to event attendance, I’m the scientist and the lab rat. 

 


 

Today's Event Attendee

 

I am a "millennial:, meaning I:

  • Grew up with Internet fluency. It is the primary way I share and consume information.
  • Am socially active. Married with lots of friends married and single.
  • Am employed full time. I have available income.
  • Am passionate.
  • Play the violin in a local European folk group, St. Boheme.
  • Am health conscious. I participate in races and outdoor activities.
  • Am an active volunteer in my neighborhood.

Also, like most other millennials, I am commitment shy. I’m not as bad as others—at least I’m married ; ) But in terms of entertainment, I’m just as flakey as the rest. I’ll come back to this—but for now I want to share a brief comparison of two of my recent event attendance decisions:

 


 

2 Examples of Event Attendance Decisions
 

 

Example 1:  Musician - Tallest Man on Earth at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA. 

I love the Tallest Man on Earth. I mean, I really love him. I have listened to his music daily for the last 5 years, and you know I belt it shamelessly in my car as if I was on the mountain tops he sings about.

One day last February, I heard 1) through SpinGo and 2) through a newsletter that he was playing in the Bay Area the following May. In 24 hours, I:

  • Spent $100 on two event tickets.
  • Spent $400 on two plane tickets.
  • Arranged lodging with a friend living out there.
  • Took that weekend off work.

It was a big commitment, and every penny and minute I spent was worth experiencing that music that I love so much.

 

 

Exampe 2 - Festival - RISE Lantern Fest in Mojave Desert, Las Vegas, NV.

I would not consider myself passionate about lighting thousands of lanterns on fire and watching them float into the sky. In fact, I was aware of, but did not attend, a similar festival just 20 minutes from my house. BUT, when a couple friends pitched the idea of attending the RISE Lantern Fest in Vegas—which is roughly 5 hours from my SLC home—I couldn’t say no. Road trip? Yes, please. Festival with music and food? I’m in. Sure-to-be priceless memories with close friends? Sign me up.  Once again, I found I had:

  • Spent $200 on two tickets.
  • Arranged local lodging through a friend of a friend.
  • Budgeted $150 for food and gas.
  • Taken that weekend off work.

This event won a big commitment from me, regardless of the fact that my attitude to the actual event was … “meh”. 

 


 

The 2 Reasons Why People Go to Events

 

 

The above comparison illustrates not just my personal event attendance patterns, but those I’ve seen in surveying hundreds of attendees.

People go to events for two reasons

  1.  Passion. A specific interest.
  2.  As a medium for spending time with others.

Reasons for attending events usually amounts to some combo of those two things.

The best events are a heightened match of those two.

As an event organizer, it is important to realize attendees will come to your event because it is solving one of those two things.

Now this is something we’re all probably generally aware of, but I want to dive a little deeper into how that affects attendance decision patterns.

 


 

Decision Patterns

 

 

Awareness & Decision

  • Awareness - The result of most marketing. You saw it on a billboard, you saw it on Facebook, you heard it on the radio. These are all passive impressions.
  • When I’ve surveyed audiences at events, the answer “I can't remember.. just around” is surprisingly common. They can’t even remember where they heard about the event, but they can tell you exactly what (who) actually got them to go.
  • Decision - This is the commitment, and almost always involves other people. Either you decided to go and have invited someone to come with you, or you were invited. Either way, events are inherently social, so is the decision to attend is too.


Now let's look at how that Passion<———>Social spectrum looks during the Awareness<———>Decision life cycle.

 


Awareness: Passion
Turns out the passion-based attendees are usually the first to find out about the event because they follow email newsletters, interest-specific social handles, blogs, word of mouth, or they know the organizer and don’t need much convincing to commit. They committed because they commit to that interest in one form or another anyway. 
In a survey of 87 attendees, 72% attended because of a "special interest", and 24% attended from an ad.

Decision: Passion
This involves planning ahead and/or rearranging their schedule and inviting others. 

Awareness: Social Medium
These are your attendees who don’t even realize where they heard about the event. They glanced past a sponsored post on social media, saw ads on a website, heard it on the radio, saw a billboard, TV, local calendars, and flyers.

They Put the decision off. This is where the commitment shy thing comes in. They think, "Maybe I want to go, but I might have to work late, or that cute kid on Tinder might finally ask me out, or is there food there? How much does it cost? Most importantly, who is going to be there??? Because I am inundated every day with social media, advertising, constant information onslaught, I have options, too many options, and I am going hold on to all my options until I have to make a decision." Awareness for the social medium attendee is important, because it lays the foundation to the decision stage, but it is rarely enough alone.

Decision: Social Medium
Someone invited or prompted them to come. In surveying about 232 event goers, I found that each attendee brought an average of 1.5 more attendees with them. So every 10 attendees at your event brought another 25 with them, and these additional 15 are your attendees who made a decision based heavily on social factors.

 



Decision Pattern Examples

Let's look at some examples of how this actually looks.

Example 1: Black Tie Affair - Friday Jan 29, 2016 - Independent event maker. Open-invite party. General interest. Something fun for an open weekend evening.

 

 

  • Amanda, top left: Says explicitly that her decision is based on other people.
  • Look at all the soft-ball phrases:
    • just so you know haha”
    • what do you think?
    • this could be fun? : ) 
    • what do you think???? : ) : )
    • thoughts?
    • this would be fun!
    • this seems cool
    • we could go to this
  • Each and every comment has tagged another person - involving another person in the decision
  • Just look at all the question marks!
  • Notice how the tag-ees aren’t responding- the joint decision is being taken to a text/phone call

 

Example 2: Get Lucky EDM Festival - March 12 2016 - V2 Presents Entertainment Group
AKA a “rave”. Niche interest. Not for everyone. 


 

  • Firstly we see Hector in the middle, who not only has bought tickets two months in advance, but is broadcasting it.
  • Bailey, top left- you know what her next paycheck is already spent on.
  • Notice the shoutouts to the event maker:
    • Thank you V2 for such an amazing lineup
    • Oh v2 thank you so much
    • Soked you guys brought some hardstyle
  • Not only are they loyal to this EDM nich, but even to sub-niches- ‘hardstyle’
  • Joser, bottom middle - ‘set times?’ He’s already making micro-planning decisions.
  • ZERO friends were tagged here to chime in on the attendance decision. These attendees are going, friends or not.

 



Attendee Breakdown

 

 

In attending several events to survey the attendees there, I found that out of 242 attendees, 97 were responsible for the actual attendance decision, and that they brought another 145 attendees with them. The pattern went like this:

I’d approach a small group of people, and ask how they heard about the event. Some of them would shrug their shoulders, offer an inconclusive answer, then turn to an individual in the group saying “he knew about it and invited me”. Here at SpinGo, we’ve begun calling these ringleaders “initiators” for initiating the attendance decision.

So, then I’d drill in on the initiator, asking how he heard about it and what made him decide to come. Of these 97 initiators,

  • 67% discovered the event from an interest-specific based channel (interest specific social handles, blogs, email newsletters, knowing the organizer, knowing a previous attendee, etc)
  • 33% discovered the event from an ad and simply decided to come

These initiators are your gold. They are magnifying your efforts, evangelizing your cause, building your momentum.

 



Recommendations

Incentivize, enable, encourage your passion-attendees to share and invite friends. Create a relationship with them. A few examples:

 

 

  • Reach out personally, offer discounts or VIP experience to them and 3 friends, or discounts to the next event
  • Hand pick an individual from your audience, followers, recipients, etc, and offer them free admission and 50% off for everyone they bring
  • For free events: follow the same structure, but with value-adds instead of ticket discounts
  • For free events: Work with local restaurants in the area to be able to offer 50% off to a certain attendee, and 25% off for everyone they bring with them. We tried this, and got a very positive response from local restaurants.

 


 

In Summary

Attendance motives: 

  1. Specific interest 
  2. Social medium

Different events land in different places on this spectrum. Where does yours land?

Awareness and decision patterns

  • How are attendees finding out about your event?
  • Is the decision to attend heavily social?
  • What sentiments can you catch about how attendees’ decision factors?
  • Who are your initiators, and how can you connect with them?