Online branding of the offline experience: the importance of corporate branding for experiential events.
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STEWART, C. and DAVIS, A. 2016. Online branding of the offline experience: the importance of corporate branding for experiential events. Presented at the 49th Academy of Marketing conference (AM2016): Radical marketing, 4-7 July 2016, Newcastle, UK. Newcastle: Academy of Marketing, paper number 435.
In a recent survey, European music festivals organisers confirmed a lack of available headliners and increasing cost of headline acts were two of the immediate challenges facing the European music festival industry (IQ Magazine, 2016). While practical dialogue has simply recommended a move away from music as the predominant motivational driver for attendance, this only serves to shift the problem elsewhere. While successful differentiation through non-musical activities is straightforward, the problem becomes how to accurately convey this subjective, immersive experience to potential attendees. Relatively easy to achieve during the event itself, it is often the case that tickets are bought many months in advance of the festival; distinctive displays during the festival are therefore of little use to advanced ticket sales. With few other options available, organisers are forced to direct much of their festival marketing activity toward an online context. Such a focus, however, appears fitting; in 2015, 42% of European festival tickets were sold in advance directly from the festival organiser's own website, with a further 39% from 3rd party websites (IQ Magazine, 2016); only 3% were sold from on-the-day walk-ups. With such a dominance of online sales, it is more important than ever that festivals build and maintain a strong online brand presence. However, displaying 'the entire corporation on a single screen' (Merrilees & Fry, 2002, p. 213) is challenging, especially considering the multitude of stakeholders that the platform must address. Theory, both academic and practical, would suggest organisers focus on designing and delivering an online brand universe - a large online space intended to mimic the experiential place (Kapferer, 2008). However, creating an online space to showcase a corporate brand, especially one so invested in the subjective experience, is fraught with difficulties. In recent years, one solution has come in the shift from product branding to corporate branding online, with the latter providing an increasingly strategic mechanism for securing the benefits of differentiation, customer involvement, and customer satisfaction (Omar, Williams & Lingelbach 2009). However, the extent of exploration of online corporate branding is still limited and contextually ambiguous - this research responds to calls to extend this scope (Hamzah, Alwi & Othman, 2014). To achieve this, the paper will explore how festival organisers use websites, social media, apps and other representational practices to create online corporate brands, and how these online brands are then interpreted and adopted by potential stakeholders. In doing so, this paper further explores the concept of online corporate branding in a new, more experiential context.