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.

 

 

The Dangers of Egotistic Booking

 

As a booking agent, it is imperative that you keep check on your emotional attachment to the product. You see. We all have our favorite bands… a song that has touched our heart… or an album that helped us through a dark time. This emotional attachment is a unique characteristic of the product of music and can be a dangerous way to go about procuring entertainment for your establishment if left unchecked.

 

As for the performance space. Owners also have an idea of what they hope their venue will look like. They envision a certain type of customer that will sit at their bars, the employees that serve them their libations, and the entertainment that drives them through the doors. These concepts we visualize are rooted in narrative psychology. Basically, we all envision a way we perceive ourselves, our environment, and our meaning for existence. As children, we dream of becoming astronauts, police officers, and even thieves.  Interestingly, we do not stop our internal play as we get older. We are constantly assessing how the world does, will, and should perceive us. This carries over when we think about the performance space and, left unchecked, can lead to erroneous qualitative assessments regarding what that space should be.

 

There is nothing wrong with having a “vision” for your venue, bar, or club. However, one should never let that vision go unchecked without quantifying their assumptions first. For instance, if you see your club as a country bar with fiddle-fronted bands, two-step contests, and lots of Budweiser. It would behoove you to undergo market research before you invest in that concept.  How many radio stations spin country music in your market?  Where is the venue located? Is it in Manhattan adjacent to Skyscrapers filled with investment bankers or on the outskirts of Houston with oil fields in the distance? Walk or ride your bike around the area at various times of the day to get an idea of whom is in your backyard. Are they wearing cowboy hats, jeans, and big belt buckles or white on white Nikes and flat-brimmed caps?

 

Tip: (Budget research costs into Your investment.) Allocate a percentage of your intended purchase towards a research budget. Even one percent of the cost of a $300,000 investment would cough up $3,000 for zoning maps, competitor analysis, and market trends. It will help you make better decisions moving forward and could easily save you that amount (plus some) in misinformed decisions.

 

Once you have your data. Combine your qualitative assumptions with those quantitative facts. Then, make your decision. Don’t get fooled by the stories of great leaders who went with their gut. I bet they gathered their own empirical evidence. Sam Walton was a private pilot who picked out store locations by flying over prospective towns for Walmart. He then made deals on lot prices based on his literal “bird’s eye view” of the situation.

 

If instead, you choose to just “go with your gut.” You enter into the danger of what I call Egotistic Booking. Or booking based solely on non-scientific evidence regarding the venue or it’s programming. There is nothing wrong with this type of booking…if you get it right! For years, the best agents were egotistic and successful.

 

But the game has changed.

 

The great bookers and promoters of the past never had to compete with the substitutes your customers have right now…in the palm of their hand. Your customers can choose to binge on Netflix, catch-up on their favorite Kardashian happenings on Instagram, check the daily news on Snapchat, and scroll through all of their friends’ lives on Facebook. They have Spotify with their favorite playlists loaded and ready to go and if they want to see a live band. They probably can with a live stream on YouTube, Facebook or one of many apps that now make that experience a reality.

 

That is a whole lot of competition that didn’t exist twenty…even ten years ago and chances are. You probably can’t compete with it.

 

But don’t worry. Neither can the local venues you contend with. This opens up a potential competitive advantage that you can grab. One borrowed from the online competitors you are now facing. They are using algorithms based on science and math to quantify and execute their decisions. Maybe it’s time you include a little math in your brick and mortar bookings. It will shield you from some of the dangers of egotistic booking.