Mass Behavior and Social Cues in Live Concert Venues

 

 

Formal Theories of Mass Behavior teaches us that when faced with a decision, the consumer will pull from external stimuli to test their initial hypothesis of what they anticipate the outcome to be. For instance, if you think a glass will break when you drop it. You can let it fall to the ground and see what happens. Then, classify this information for future situations regarding the fragile nature of glass products.

 

The problem arises when the consumer cannot test their initial hypothesis directly and efficiently. In a very timely example, it is cost and time prohibitive for the average voter to determine if candidate “A” will do well for them when in office. To truly gauge the outcome, the voter would need to dive deep into the candidate’s past behavior and history addressing various political issues through historical analysis, observing the party in action, and/or speaking with them directly. All items that require a great deal of decision investment to accomplish.

 

To counteract this problem, the consumer takes part in a social engagement where they ask someone – preferably someone they deem has knowledge of whom will be the best candidate and then they weigh those opinions against their initial hypothesis. If these judgments fall into alignment, the consumer’s decision is re-affirmed and they move forward with their initial opinion. This information is then retained in their decision-psyche to be pulled from in similar future situations. Just like our glass-breaking test.

 

However, if the external stimuli disagree with the consumer’s initial hypothesis. They will likely seek out additional opinions to “break the tie.” This back and forth can follow multiple cycles until the consumer makes a final judgement to abandon their initial decision or stick to their guns.

 

So, what in the heck does this have to do with live entertainment? In a previous post, I discussed a phenomenon I call the “adoption point.” This is when the crowd grows to a comfortable size, which reaffirms the prospect’s decision to “join the pack.” It is rooted in our primal instincts, which happen to form the foundation analyzed by McPhee’s Formal Theories text. A time when the young wolf analyzes what he thinks will happen to him if he goes it alone versus joining the rest of his howling buddies. The larger the pack… the more he feels secure in their collective decision to stick together.

 

This is something I see on a regular basis in the concert world.  One of our venues is an open design where onlookers can stand outside the perimeter of the space and watch the band interact with the crowd.  Constant observations have demonstrated to me that when the onlooker hears the entertainment and stops to investigate. They are less likely to enter the space if they do not see a crowd dancing or otherwise enjoying the music. In addition, monitoring this situation has revealed a direct correlation between the time it takes the prospect to enter the room and the number of persons on the dance floor.  If it is zero, the onlooker is extremely unlikely to enter. In a venue with a capacity of 250, if there are 125 plus on the floor. The prospect will very likely enter the space with their waiting time reduced per every ten or so persons in the venue. It is this author’s hypothesis that this correlation can be defined by McPhee’s analysis.  The prospect arrives at the entrance to the venue with an idea of how they will likely feel about their night out. They weigh these thoughts against the enjoyment they see – more specifically how the other patrons appear to be reacting to the environment. The prospect’s decision to join the group is compounded with each body (one unit of positive stimuli) they see.

 

Of course, there are numerous variables at play in these situations. Style of music, time of night, day of week, look of the crowd, other choices available to the prospect, etc. However, in my opinion, McPhee’s analysis could provide additional evidence as to why dance floors seem to go from “famine to feast” in the blink of an eye.  That being the consumer watching from afar is weighing their internal opinions about the quality of music and if they will enjoy it against the reaffirming stimuli of the group. Since it is easy for them to categorize the size of the crowd against the perceived quality of the act, this decision will become shorter and shorter as the dance floor reaches capacity.

 

Venue managers can use this behavior to both increase the turnout as well as ancillary income such as drink sales. Here are a few ideas.

 

Getting and keeping bodies on the floor:

  • When the band goes on break, do not turn down the music and dim the stage lights. Keep it up and keep it lively.  If the budget permits, hire a DJ to spin during the band breaks. And if you only hire DJs, there should never be a break.
  • Reverse host psychology. Most venues I see typically only hire bottle girls… why do we not use bottle guys as well? Males will appeal to your prime female demographic, which will draw your male demographic at a compounded rate.
  • Hire appealing and personable non-serving hosts with the sole purpose of driving the dance floor. Theories of Mass Behavior show us the business science of having a larger group equates to profitability growing at a compound rate. Really weigh the costs of paying a host against the forecasted returns of a room at regular capacity.
  • You have to do it consistently. You want to condition the group of reaffirms (the people your prospects will look to) to come back on a regular basis. You do this by not making them guess. Give them the same quality entertainment every night. Don’t switch genres or styles once you start to see a following.

 

Once you have a crowd:

  • If you already have a strong crowd or operate a ticketed event that is at capacity such as an amphitheater. You can use social stimuli reinforcement to get people to purchase more drinks, food, and schwag. As anyone of legal drinking age who has been to a concert knows, when the guy next to you sits down with a beer. You suddenly want a beer. The more people sitting down with alcohol in your vicinity, the greater your thirst becomes.
  • Statistics are your friend. Collecting data has never been easier. If you sell food and beer, you should be recording those sales. Make sure sales can be categorized by time stamp as well. Now, make sure you are collecting door data through ticket sales or head counts. Those numbers should be time stamped as well. Look for patterns, seek out the lulls, and initiate “blitz” promos where you reduce costs for an hour or so. This will get beers in people’s hands and as more patrons enter after the promotion dies. They will see a positive stimulus and be more prone to buying beers to “join the pack.”

 

The goal here is to start using a new Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in your business analysis. Since I am from rock n’ roll, I like to call this measure The Bodies on the Floor KPI (in an ode to Drowning Pool).  If you analyze this social reinforcement statistic against your other indicators, you will likely find some secret data that could equate to better profitability for your brand.

 

 

Is EDM About to Tip Over?

First and foremost. This is just my opinion on where the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) genre is headed. However, I will apply some scientific theory to my analysis. If anything more, than to just make me sound MUCH smarter than I am.

 

With that being said, I want to start off by presenting you with the basic Adoption Cycle.  It looks something like this. Some may notice it is a bell curve with a normal distribution and standard deviation.

 

A basic adoption cycle

 

The adoption cycle concept runs through nearly every conceivable business offering and music consumption is no different. Credit of the current model can be traced back to Everett Rogers who organized consumers into various groups based on their personality traits. According to Rogers, these traits influence their adoption of a new offering in the marketplace. The fashion industry is a great example of how the adoption cycle works. In this example, Gucci will unveil a new line at Milan Fashion Week. Right out of the gate, Innovators will spar and pay top dollar to be the first to don the coveted threads as they are typically of a higher social class and thus inelastic to price. Shortly thereafter, the Early Adopters will seek out the new styles. Many of these individuals are of the opinion class, industry gatekeepers, who influence the longer running growth of the Early Majority, which follows to the apex of the Bell Curve.

 

At this point, another economic principle takes hold. With Innovators, Early Adopters, and the Early Majority showcasing their new wears, more potential consumers are influenced and demand increases. However, those left are more price sensitive, so they seek out alternatives, which are satisfied through bargain stores such as Macy’s and Target that appeal to that Late Majority. At this point, Gucci has lost their competitive advantage and the company will move onto the next great design, leaving the market to these lesser profitable sales channels. With that exit, price continues to drop allowing the Laggards to pick up knockoff items for bargain prices at lower-cost outlets. Then, the cycle starts again with the newest fashion.

 

One might think that the adoption cycle is entirely the brainchild of the master brand to get you to purchase new items every year. And in many ways. It is.  In the technology market, this is called product obsolescence. However, the cycle is also a reflection on how different consumer personalities correlate to a particular product at various price points on the supply/demand curve and when analyzed from this perspective. One can more-easily predict when a product, fad, or trend is about to change or even disappear from the mainstream market altogether.

 

This analysis can be applied to the product of music as well. How many times has a friend told you about a new group that you have never even heard of? In this situation. That friend is an Innovator. Or have you ever listened to the radio or a curated playlist, heard a great new band, and then went and streamed their album. (That channel who lead you to the band is made up of Early Adopters). A year down the road, you go to their sold-out 600 seat show to join the Early Majority who have been influenced by those Innovators and Adopters. A year after that, your new favorite band is in-town playing before 1,500 Late Majority fans who have finally caught on. As the years follow, the band continues to pick up fans, but at a less rapid pace. They play to 1,850 the next year and 2,000 Laggards the year after that while a newer act fills the venue across the street on their second route through town.

 

This is also the case with entire genres of music.  Remember Grunge?  How about the Ska movement?

 

Which brings me to my contention regarding EDM.

 

Specifically in the U.S., we currently seem to be sitting at (or even slightly over) the apex of the bell-curve regarding the EDM adoption cycle. Evidence of this lies in where the genre has permeated society. It used to be that EDM was underground, held at house parties and hidden raves where Innovators caught artists such as Armin Van Burren, Daft Punk, and Afrojack on their rise. Music consumers looking for alternatives to typical live-music caught on, helping push these artists into larger clubs and thus acquiring a steady stream of Early Adopters. Eventually, DJ AM among others brought the genre to thousands with residencies in Vegas. Quickly pushing the genre up the Early Majority side of the curve. Today, EDM has found homes in most casinos, numerous festivals that dwarf anything live-music can match, and even terrestrial radio bringing the entire genre to the apex of the bell curve. Now, it is not uncommon to catch quality DJ’s in Nordstroms, restaurants, and even Whole Foods, which suggests the genre has not only peaked but actually may be moving into the Late Majority.

 

This does not mean that EDM is over. The bell curve representing this genre’s adoption is quite large compared to other musical choices such as, say, Texas Swing or even punk, which only lasted in the mainstream from about 74-84′. EDM’s start can be traced back to Jamaican dub in the 60’s with electronic music entering the mainstream in the 1980’s. This means that if we are in fact cresting today, in 2017, the genre has taken nearly 40 years to cover half of its adoption cycle.  Even if its fall is half that time, we still have a lot of booty shaking electronic bass to go.

 

However, as always in entertainment, the question remains.

 

What is next?