Democratizing Your Experience: Five Reasons to Give Power to Your Participants

By Rick Kiley, Co-Founder of SoHo Experiential

As a member of today’s digital-savvy world, I’m certain you are aware that it is election season once again! Between the slogans, the polls, the 24/7 news cycle, and the talking heads, it’s easy to lose perspective. All that said, the election process is the key to a flourishing democracy. What’s more, elections provide experiential professionals with a template for ensuring that participants are more deeply engaged in the event they are attending.

The idea behind democratizing an experience is very simple. Instead of creating an event with a linear format that will always be the same, regardless of who is attending, we program a series of moments that, depending on what the audience wants to do, steer the program in a new direction.  Essentially, instead of writing one story for the event, we write a “choose your own adventure” style experience.

Today, consumers expect to be able to customize anything: sneakers, cars, cocktails, you name it. That expectation persists for their entertainment as well. Fortunately, with only a few added options for customization from a production standpoint, event producers can create a multitude of experiential paths for our guests. Paths that get to they choose, rather than paths chosen for them.

If you aren’t already democratizing your experiences, don’t hesitate to start. Here are five reasons why.

1. People Care More Once They Make a Choice

Have you ever been to the racetrack, or attended a Kentucky Derby party? I love The Kentucky Derby. The bourbon, the hats, the anticipation…I also like watching the race — The excitement of listening to the announcer amp up the energy as the horses make their way towards the finish.

Now, have you ever placed a bet on a horse race, Kentucky Derby or otherwise? I don’t care if it’s the minimum $2. Have you “had a horse in the race?” I have. I pay very close attention. Once the race starts, I stand up. I scream his name, and yell, “GO GO GO GO” until hopefully, he wins. The contrast between watching the race with nothing at stake versus having a vested interest in the outcome is stark. With the former, I can sit back and be passive. With the latter, I stand up and shout to try and influence the outcome. In short, I care a whole lot more.

It’s no different with events. If you give your guests a choice of four activities, and let them vote on which one to participate in, trust me when I tell you that your attendees will be invested in their choices, and thrilled if their selections prove to be the consensus option. We used to produce an event where attendees would take a virtual trip to one of 10 global destinations, and every time the winner came up, those who voted for it would erupt in genuine celebration. Every time.

The simple math here is that if you empower consumers to make a choice at an event, and they see that choice pay off, their engagement and memories of the experience will deepen significantly.

2. Democratized Events Provide Powerful, Quantitative Data

We are living in a data driven economy, as you know. Every search on Google, every “like” on Facebook, heck, every location we go to with our mobile phone is yet another piece of Big Data intel. So, it’s nice to be able to carve out a piece of the data pie with our programs.

The simple fact is that when we offer up a choice for participants, we can tabulate their answers. When reporting to our clients, we can report on the general preferences of attendees, as well as preferences on an individual level. People’s choices become part of their profiles and, as a result, can inform clients about which aspects of their brand story might make the most impact.

3. Democratized Event Data Helps Tailor Post-Event Communications

Let’s say you are producing an auto show launching the next Tesla model. At a certain point in the show, you give attendees the option to see one of the following:

  1. An interactive map of all the locations where you can plug the car in to recharge it
  2. A short video about its state-of-the-art aerodynamic design
  3. An interactive graphic about the new dashboard features

Even if the consensus is B, you will know who chose A and C as well. After the event, savvy marketers can either directly use this information, sending attendees follow-up information about their areas of interest, or take more subtle action such as ensuring that communications to group B include photos of the exterior design, instead of the interior.

All of this data is actionable. Furthermore, it’s more dependable than data captured through focus groups or other research. Participants aren’t influenced in their responses since their only incentive is to decide on an outcome that will elevate their personal experiences.

4. Democratized Moments Offer Potential to Reward “Active” Participants

Not all event attendees are made equal. Sometimes you draw an actively engaged consumer with an appetite for knowledge and 100,000 Twitter followers, and sometimes you draw a tag-along who is only there as a favor to a friend, and who can’t stop playing Candy Crush. Democratizing your event will not only identify these High Value Consumers (HVCs), but will also afford you the opportunity to reward them for being so engaged.

Through many experiences, there are programmed opportunities for attendees to be singled out for special treatment (“Can I have a volunteer, please?”). Rather than selecting someone at random from the audience, consider picking the person who engages with the most interactive elements, or engages first, or the quickest. Consider selecting the person who has tweeted the most about your interactive engagements, and give that person a chance to participate in a unique, socially shareable moment.

We don’t need to wait until after the event to follow up with our most engaged attendees; by democratizing our event, we can make them feel special before they leave the room.

5. Your Tour Team Will Thank You

As anyone who has been on the road, bringing an experience to life on a daily basis, will tell you, after a while, your experience can begin to become mundane. Even the most professional and experienced crew can get bored and become complacent at the event. With complacency comes the potential for production error, and production errors are just not allowed.

One nice side effect of a Democratized event is that every day the events will be a little bit different; hence, your tour team is more actively engaged in what’s going on. This is a big deal. Given the choice of producing the same event for 100 days, or an event that is dynamic and offers something new each day, your tour team will thank you for the opportunity to shake things up.

The next time you are at an event, see if it includes moments of democratization. If it does, observe the level of attendee participation and investment in the outcome. If it doesn’t, see if you can identify what components could be enhanced by offering guests a choice. See if you can identify opportunities for customization. Every moment that you can empower consumers with a choice will strengthen your, and their, experience as a whole.