Crowds may have disappeared from arenas over the last six months, but has the vital historic data about them been rendered meaningless too? TheTicketingBusiness asked representatives from Activity Stream, NEC Group and Selligent Marketing Cloud to assess the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour within live events…

As COVID-19 continues to alter people’s behaviour and attitudes towards live events, ticketing and live entertainment companies are being forced to find ways to maintain value in their historic data sets.

After live events all but disappeared overnight back in March, companies began looking at new ways to remain afloat and stay connected to their customers. However, it is indisputable that this period of isolation has heightened audience fears around returning to full capacity crowds… whenever that may be!

In a recent survey by Pollstar and VenuesNow, more than half of live industry professionals believe the sector will return to full capacity in 2021 as compared to 31 per cent who say the comeback won’t happen until 2022.

Despite this hope for a 2021 return, 63 per cent of industry professionals expressed concern that fans will be afraid of large gatherings.

Activity Stream’s Martin Gammeltoft (pictured left) agrees that booking and purchasing behaviour will be different, but notes that if a company’s sales and marketing strategy was working before the pandemic, then the focus should be on learning what has changed and track if the changes are consistent, which will allow for correct strategic decisions.

He said businesses can make several assumptions about booking patterns as sales restart. These assumptions include that events may see fewer travellers, the older population could be hesitant to buy tickets, and people might decide to buy tickets closer to the event as the uncertainty fades.

“We can align our strategy with these assumptions, but the assumptions will have to be validated, and frequently updated,” Gammeltoft, whose company provides data tools as-a-service for the sports and live entertainment industries, told TheTicketingBusiness.

He continued: “If behaviours are indeed different, whether for a set period of time or permanently, the predictive power of historical datasets will certainly be limited. At Activity Stream, we trained an AI model to predict ticket sales, which was scheduled to be launched in the third week of March. Needless to say, that launch didn’t happen (as there were no tickets being sold), but when sales restart we’ll be monitoring predictions closely to see how actual patterns differ, and if differences will be lasting. The predictions might actually now serve as a very clear illustration of how sales patterns have changed.”

What if patterns have changed, but they are too weak to identify?

If two customers share all the same traits, on the surface, but they now behave differently, how do you target your campaigns? Gammeltoft explains that most marketing processes are not set up to target individually, so businesses may have to rely on lookalike algorithms to find buyers, either through paid channels like Facebook or Google Ads, or through tools that will enable them to run lookalike analysis on their own customer base. For the latter, historical data will be “extremely valuable.”

Gammeltoft’s recommendation includes “making all the assumptions and align your strategy to those assumptions, but plan how you can quickly verify them so you don’t waste time and resources working from incorrect assumptions.”

He added: “As many organisations will find themselves under pressure in terms of both resources and marketing budget, it’s more important than ever to be able to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. The restart of the industry will have data at the heart of it, and you should prepare for that.”

Merging the historic data with the new

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has had a major impact on consumer buying behaviour and accelerating the adoption of digital platforms and online shopping. Consumers have embraced the benefits of online, initially out of need when we were in lockdown, and as restrictions have eased have stuck with it to fulfil their needs and wants.

Sam Counterman (pictured centre), Selligent Marketing Cloud’s director of marketing (Northern Europe) and global digital lead, told TheTicketingBusiness: “With all this new data having been collected, there is an opportunity for brands – they can now merge their historic customer datasets with this new browsing or purchasing behaviour to deliver value when it matters most. But the key to this is to think about the types of data being gathered and how brands can use this to develop a personalised experience.

“For example, if you take sports fans who have historically purchased season tickets – whilst they currently aren’t able to attend live games, marketers can use what’s called fixed data profile variables to create personalised promotions whilst fans are at home, to keep the engagement alive. This could be using a fan’s date of birth to make them aware of a promotional offer on the new season kit, so they can still enjoy watching live games at home but in their brand-new beloved teams’ colours.”

Historic data can be rich with insights but where to start?

Counterman’s recommendation for a fundamental starting point is to be able to identify who to target and why.

“A good best practice method is to segment and analyse your customers’ purchase history and rank customers in different types of personas,” said Counterman, whose firm is a marketing automation platform that enables B2C brands to engage consumers across all critical channels. “Marketers will soon start to see patterns emerging for those customers that respond to promotional offers and those customers that do not. From this point, marketers can start to develop relevant personalised one-to-one campaigns based on historic datasets for each type.

“During this less active time, there is an opportunity for sports clubs to use their data to proactively review and seek feedback throughout an entire customer journey.

“This means considering customer acquisition journeys, pre, during and post-purchase, and allowing for a well-rounded view of how customers perceive a brand. Using tools like feedback polls provides great input here, as brands can judge and test parts of their customer journey, including web site usability, content rating, email or social media surveys.

“Moreover, as sports club brands develop their feedback mechanisms pre, during and post-purchase, they should ideally also strive to create what’s called a ‘value-add data exchange experience’. As an example, this is where they might offer 10% off a customer’s next purchase for completing a small survey. The brand gets valuable insight, and the customer gets rewarded for this exchange, redeeming the offer through a retention programme – a win-win all around.

“This level of personalisation and actions that demonstrate that brands are actively listening to their fan base will add value and create deeper customer relationships, ultimately engendering loyalty.”

Adapting approach to customer feelings

The impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of truly understanding the customer, according to Simon Wigley (pictured right), head of business intelligence and analytics at NEC Group, owner of The Ticket Factory.

He believes that during this pandemic it’s unlikely that people’s tastes will have changed, noting that the type of events they would have been interested in previously, they’ll still be interested in now.

“What we know has changed is their behaviour, and our research has shown that there’s some anxiety out there when it comes to attending live events in the near future, but in the long-term people still love live events and want to return,” Wigley, whose company is the UK’s leading live events business,  told TheTicketingBusiness.

Research into the return to pubs and restaurants in the UK has shown that younger audiences were keen to experience that bit of normality and head out to enjoy themselves straight away, whilst other age groups took about six weeks or so before they were comfortable enough to do the same. A similar pattern may be seen with live events, Wigley predicts, but adds that it’s hard to tell until they gear up again.

Between 90-95 per cent of NEC Group’s arena customers have held onto their tickets for rescheduled event dates, which he says is a “really positive sign that people are open to the idea of returning to live events in late 2020 and into 2021.”

Wigley continued: “We’ve always used past behaviour to target consumers in terms of their preferences, but now we need to consider the extent to which customers are engaging with us and what that might say about their feeling on returning to events. We can then ensure that those more anxious segments receive more messaging about what venues are doing to keep them safe in the hope that we can make them feel that bit more comfortable to attend. The better we understand our customer base, the more we can adapt our approach to how they might be feeling.

“From a business events perspective, our research has shown that while audiences are still concerned, they are less likely to have the same anxieties as those heading to an arena event. The nature of exhibitions means that they’re often less crowded and can offer staggered timings for those coming in and going out, which has helped people feel a little more at ease.

“We’ve also found that people may also be more likely to attend an event that has benefit for them in a work capacity rather than if it’s solely for leisure purposes, so we expect to see less of an effect on booking and purchasing behaviour in this area.

“We do, however, have to consider that across all live events there’s going to be reduced capacities in the short term, which means customer lifetime value will decrease for the time being. It also makes it even more important for customers to be able to see the events they are interested in easily, so they can access the limited tickets available. For this reason, we’ve used this period to improve the personalisation of both our website and email communications.”