Fair marketing in the digital age has become more complex, and sophisticated. There have never been more choices of places to reach consumers, but with this expanded array has come new concerns about how those marketing decisions are made.
Some of the issues fair marketing executives are facing include: How to measure what is working, what is the most effective media mix, and how social media's evolution has redefined how fairs connect with fairgoers have all undergone a rapid and recent evolution.
Carnival Warehouse conducted email and phone interviews with marketing managers for fairs across the country to delineate some of the current fair industry marketing trends. The most apparent trend is that fairs are increasing the places where they are advertising, due to continued fragmentation of America's media market, and the need to reach as many segments of their demographic as possible.
According to Noreen Tassinari, Director of Marketing, Eastern States Expo, "you are dealing with so many different media, so measuring them is a bigger question than it was prior to 20 years ago. The most important thing to keep in mind is the totality of your media mix," she said. "The media landscape is much more fragmented, and you have to use what will have the best outcome."
The solution for the Big E and other fairs is that research into where to place ads is as comprehensive as the larger and more diverse media landscape. Measuring though can still be a tricky issue. "We are doing more billboards, and with the digital billboards you can change the message, and you know organically how well they work by where they placed. With digital advertising, you can track the click-throughs, but you still don't know how did those click-throughs return in terms of who attended," said Tassinari.
In spite of the ability to measure online views. determining the effectiveness of both the marketing campaign and the media selected to deliver that messaging seems more art than science. According to Shaun Schleif, Marketing and Sponsorship Director, Nebraska State Fair, "The effectiveness is measured in the number of fairgoers through our gates."
But attendance is actually only half the measure. He points out that while print is the hardest to measure, the most effective is "Online. We're able to know click-throughs and actual sales from our social and online advertising."
"There are several ways to measure the effectiveness of our marketing campaign," Claudia Hernandez-Maltes, Director of Marketing & Entertainment, Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition. "One of them is by reviewing the results of our marketing objectives. Did we meet our objectives? Another indicator are our online analytics. Are we gaining followers on social media? Are people engaged with our social media posts? Are they liking our posts? Are they sharing our posts?"
Marketing at the Minnesota State Fair, according to Brienna Schuette, Marketing & Communications Manager, Minnesota State Fair , "doesn't get overly caught up with attendance objectives, our culture is not about projections and statistics. The marketing mix is so fragmented, we rely on the metrics from the advertisers, on who we are reaching. With Facebook and Twitter, you can get info on different demographics, and with printed materials, you can have some sort of inventory, like a redemption of coupons or how many brochures were distributed, but it is tougher and tougher to measure and evaluate that data."
Internet marketing - including both digital ads and social media - is destined to continue to increase by fairs - and to a large extent the seamless ability of tracking and creation of data and metrics is propelling the digital direction. "Our digital outreach is the most effective in terms of return on investment and flexibility," said Debbie Vengco, Marketing Manager, LA County Fair. "We can see a direct correlation back to our campaigns, create direct responses and sales from our audience, there is a low cost of entry, the expenses can be increased or decreased in a short time span, flexibility is key and over 60 percent are already viewing our website prior to their visit, 62 percent use Facebook, 42 percent use YouTube, 42 percent use Instagram, 30 percent use Snapchat, 20 percent use Twitter and we are extremely active listeners, posters and responders on all."
She added, "Facebook has been our most effective by far, although we experienced a lot of Instagram growth in 2016 as well. The majority of our audience is still on Facebook, where we receive the most engagement, clicks to website, and customer interaction. It is also the easiest platform to share content on. "
"We have been increasing Digital as we invest more on promoted posts, media homepage takeover strategy (highly visible on the media partners' home pages to run on our Opening Day), more contests on social media, work with online newspapers, local events, weekend planning tools, strong e-newsletter programs to generate ticket sales," explained Hernandez-Maltes.
The new President may have reached tens of millions of supporters through Twitter - with nearly each tweet dominating headlines. But heading into 2017, fair marketing executives have become increasingly dissatisfied with the once hot social media platform. "Twitter is the least effective - we have the least follower growth and engagement there, as well as lower impressions," said Vengco. "In essence, Twitter remains stagnant. It's not entirely ineffective but it hasn't grown in any way for us since 2015 either."
"Twitter campaigns resulted in a negative return on ad spend," said Schleif. "It was also the least profitable platform from 2015's campaign. While I do not suggest we nix Twitter altogether, I think we can reduce our spend on that platform and focus ads only around the top converting audiences. This will allow us to reach users who we cannot reach on other platforms, while avoiding wasting impressions/budget on those who will not convert."
When asked what social media platform is the on the decline, Hernandez-Maltes said unequivocally, "Twitter. According to Business Insider (2/2/16), the number of tweets is in serious decline (from 661M tweets/day in Aug 2014 to 303M tweets/day in Jan 2016)."
The undeniable consensus is that print advertising continues its rapid decline in the media landscape. "Our lives have changed and besides print reaching an older demographic, the chance or desire for people to sit down and read it is becoming less and less," said Schleif.
The LA County Fair decreased it's newsprint 55 percent in 2016. "Only 12 percent of our audience reported that they heard about our Fair from newspapers and magazines," said Vengco. "Only 17 percent are reading the printed versions while 47 percent are reading them online."
Nonetheless, print is not likely to completely disappear in 2017. In fact, print has become a way many fairs reach minority and ethnic consumers. Major newspapers may be in freefall or at least restructuring into online news outlets, but ethnic communities still rely on their own newspapers and fairs are finding that print is still a cost-effective tool to reach targeted audiences. Last year, according to Schuette, the Minnesota State Fair wanted to reach more diverse communities within the state including, not only more general communities of Hispanic and Asian ethnicity, but more specific yet such as Somalians and Hmong communities, growing and vibrant communities in the Twin Cities market area. "We really wanted to reach some of the more diverse communities in the twin cities and to do that we did display ads in community newspapers.," she said.
In addition to bilingual TV and radio ads to reach the Hispanic populations, "We have print ads to reach out the Hispanic population," said Hernandez-Maltes.
Newspapers may be for an older fairgoer, but there also seems to be a lingering prestige factor for maintaining a presence in this more localized medium. For example, the Eastern States advertises in nine different papers. "You still need print," Tassinari of the Big E said. "The readership may be over 50, but they are read by the major influencers, the business leaders and politicians, and you get a lot of coverage. The print buy has been reduced, but you are getting generous rates and you can take advantage of that, and reach people from a wider radius."
Another unmistakable trend for 2017, and one that has been on the rise for several years, is that fair marketing lasts for a longer period of time. Yes, the full onslaught of ads may have a peak period in the weeks leading up to the fair, but that window seems to be expanding as well as general marketing of the fair. Compared to three years ago, we are advertising earlier," said Vengco. We've found that people don't mind spending money earlier for a good deal or good seats to a favorite concert.
Schuette said that while the major ad expenditure still begins about three weeks before the fair, compared to 10 years ago, "we are putting tickets on sale earlier, in the middle of winter, and people have responded, and those ticket sales help with cash flow."
But marketing specific headliners earlier in this year fueled what is now a year-round endeavor. "We have the capabilities to reach people year round," said Schuette. "The costs are low. We invest more in when we will see the biggest return, but we keep a presence online throughout the year."
"We use social media to do online sales, to remind people to go to our annual Fair and all the events happening at the fairgrounds throughout the year but also to portray a positive and responsible image to the community and remind them about all the great initiatives that the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition does," said Hernandez-Maltes. Those initiatives, which include a range of community-based programs, occur throughout the year, and by promoting them the fair messaging continues outside of what was the former traditional window of fair marketing.
"Marketing is now year round," said Tassinari. Mainly - but not only social media - and she points out that even the off-season posts require a new deliberation - from fairgrounds covered with newly fallen snow, to posting a the height of summer fair pictures on the coldest days of the year - "you want to remind the fairgoer of the fair, and remain relevant."
The Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds also holds about 120 events, and the year-round social media and other marketing for the actual fair does create synergies for the larger brand. "You want to stay top of mind with the consumer," said Tassinari. "We use social media for the other events here, while also reminding people of the fair year-round. The fair is the biggest event and has a very large audience, but we also have home shows, dog show, trade shows, and because of the fair they follow us on social media and we can inform them of the other events."
While not quite as year round are guerrilla marketing techniques, which are more direct interactions with the general public. For example, the Big-E uses an Ad Van and other grassroots marketing methods to create a dramatic visible presence, resulting in multiple impressions. "It is fun and it has an effect, but it is not as measurable, you only hear what people say anecdotally," said Tassinari.
Due to the fragmented media market, fairs are advertising in more places and scrambling to reach a more diverse range of consumers. Even with so-called low-cost methods of marketing - social media - those costs are rising because fairs are investing in personnel, graphics and video - to extend their campaigns in this new arena. The emphasis is on quality as fairs further expand their online and social media platforms.
"Fairs were not early adapters to social media and other digital technologies," said Schuette. "For our fair, we were not doing Snapchats, for instance. We are watching what is coming down the social media pipeline, but we don't just go everywhere. You have to be stewards of the brand, and we watch very carefully, and make sure we produce quality content, and not just produce content so we can say we have a presence."
There seems to be no general consensus on how fairs determine marketing budgets - or this may be a formula fairs prefer to keep within the fair board offices - but the trend has been towards increasing that budget. Increasing the marketing budget is an undeniable trend. "It has grown by $200,000 over the past 6 years," said Schleif. "This is a result of keeping our message out it front of changing markets. We need enough to do the job effectively."
Nonetheless, not all fairs are increasing their 2017 budgets. "From our 2016 Youth Fair to our 2017 Youth Fair, it will be about the same budget," Hernandez-Maltes.
The LA County Fair anticipates a slight budget decrease of 5 percent, attributing the savings to its year-to-year branding. "By retaining the same theme from one year to the next, we know that we will capitalize on creative execution from the previous year and will have cost savings," said Vengco.
But decreasing the budget in today's market may be more the exception than the rule. "Marketing dollars are as important, and should not be cut, because it is important to remain relevant in the market," said Tassinari. "The market has becomes fragmented and that means it becomes more costly to reach an optimum CPM (cost per thousand)."