As Taylor Swift’s ERAS tour continues to break records and ticket availability reaches Willy Wonka Golden Ticket fervour, there are significant learnings and understandings to be gained for brands to connect with their modern consumer.
As PART I of this series on Era Tour Swiftonomics stated, she has created an enviable demand for her product, one driven by a mix of scarcity, hype, herding, and tribal fandom. The $12 Billion likely consumer spend courtesy of her ERAS tour proves that consumers will spend on the brand experiences they desire and identify with, despite the cost-of-living crisis (also helped by the billions of post-pandemic dollars still held in savings).
In Part II we now look at the community based tribal behaviours associated with the ERAS concert experience itself and why brand tribes and communities are so important for you to cultivate in your own business.
Looking at this through a sociological or anthropological lens, there are two main behaviours which are indicative of a brand achieving the pinnacle of a collaborative, engaged and empowered consumerism.
A tailgate party is a very American tradition. A convergence of the rise of automobile ownership in the 1950s, together with the rising suburban BBQ culture, it quickly became a staple of college and professional American football games.
Before the big game or event (sometimes even the day before), crowds would gather in the stadium parking lot, lower their tailgate on their pick-ups and station wagons to act as a seat or makeshift table, and share food, drink and stories. It became ritualised, a core part of attending a game or any event, sometimes more important than the event itself.
For hours before the event, fans would trade stories and the bonds of community were strengthened. What started as a way to perhaps simply nourish oneself before attending an event, over time, morphed into a tribal ritual related to being part of a certain community.
There are tailgating rituals, survival guides, top-tips – tailgating is a subculture all of its own, a parallel to enjoy alongside the main event, and the ERAS tour is no different.
‘Taylorgating’ is the first time this behaviour has been seen, at this significant scale, in the entertainment industry. There have always been a few fans that would gather outside a concert venue, hoping they might pick up spare tickets or just to be close to the action. But this is something else entirely.
Because there was so much demand for ERAS tour tickets, 90%+ of those registering for tickets were disappointed, and so many of them simply turned up outside the stadiums. There are two types of Swifties – those that have tickets and those that don’t. And those that did not turned up at scale and with purpose.
The major tipping point was on May 13 in Philadelphia, where as Taylor played to the 67,000-capacity stadium, another 20,000 fans gathered outside to sing along to every song. The scale of this really has to be watched to be understood.
What you are looking at is a visible representation of brand tribal belonging. Taylorgating isn’t just about being part of the concert, it is about being part of your chosen brand community. It is about self-identification, belonging, ritual and tribe. It is about celebration and experience, togetherness and joy. And one brand is both responsible and benefiting from all that positive emotion – Taylor Swift.
Taylorgating has grown into a core part of the ERAS tour experience. Now, when a city hosts the ERAS tour they have to prepare for tens-of-thousands of fans to occupy surrounding streets. We always had additional logistics and policing around big events, to facilitate moving a 60,000+ crowd in and out of one venue, but cities rarely have to contend with tens of thousands camping outside for the duration also. Cue significant investment in sanitary facilities, food and beverage services, and additional security. Taylorgating has become a subculture related to the consumption of the Eras Tour ‘product’. Streets are closed, festival facilities appear and it is still growing.
The main point here is the consumer has taken things into their own hands. Even when stadiums try and close their surrounding streets or parking lots to non-ticket holders (met stadium in New York), the Taylorgaters are quick to find other local spaces in an organised mass (taking over an adjacent shopping mall). It is difficult to stop 20,000 people swept up in a frenzy of belonging.
So, what does this mean for your brand? The answer is empowerment. We need to build brand communities beyond the transaction. We need to position our brand as something of meaning to the customers we serve. The kinds of consumer behaviours we are witnessing on the Eras Tour is the feedback you get from heavily investing in your Customer Experience over time.
Let’s look at a second customer community ritual.
2. ERAS FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS
While there is nothing new about people swapping handmade friendship bracelets, again the scale and deepening ritual of this behaviour is interesting anthropologically.
From her latest 2022 Midnights album, there is a track containing the lyric “so make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it.” Swifties have taken this lyric and now set off to an ERAS concert with countless handmade friendship bracelets to swap with other Swifties.
This ritual is organic (in that Taylor herself has not ‘produced’ it) and is evidence of tribal peer subculture. They document the making of the bracelets for weeks before the event on their social media accounts, the trading of bracelets is core to their tribal consumption of the product (the concert) and they document the bracelets they received afterwards on social media.
The bracelets have become a social or experiential currency at the event, a little like garlands or beads at spring break. Not only are they a badge of attendance and participation, they are also a way of expressing your belonging within the tribe. They move a ‘me’ experience to a ‘we’ experience, and this is a space every brand wants to occupy.
This is what I call Collective Consumerism, when consumption behaviours are collective, in this case organic, and become a ritual practice surrounding the brand around which the community is structured. No different from the Harley Davidson tattoo, these friendship bracelets identify you as a Swiftie, as a consumer of the ERAS experience and elongate the brand experience (pre- and post-concert).
We see this ritualistic behaviour in other fandom too. Harry Styles wore a feather boa during the 2021 Grammy awards and ever since, his fans adopted it as a ‘costume’ when attending his concerts. I recently took my 15-year-old daughter to see him. The image below was a picture I took of the ground, after 80,000 fans left the arena, there were a few million feathers left behind. Many fans collect all the feathers and keep them in a ‘keepsake’ jar to commemorate their attendance at the event.
The point here is Collective Consumerism is what we all want as brands. It is collaborative. The producer (brand owner) gives over ownership of the product to the consumer. Taylor Swift no longer owns her own brand, it is now co-owned between her and the Swifties. This collaboration space means that brand loyalty runs deep, the illusion is that the consumers are also the producers.
But how do you arrive at this point as a brand owner? How do you get to a point where the community you have built around your brand experience becomes so empowered and engaged? The answer is continuous investment in your Customer Experience.
Make your customers feel special, seen and valued, surprise them, focus on the long-term relationship not this month’s sales transactions. The Taylorgating and Friendship Bracelets are simply the visible elements of a strong tribal belonging Taylor has built around her brand. It has not happened overnight nor is it easy. It has come from years and years of Customer Experience investment. And this is something every brand can do.
Last January I was skiing with my teenage children. During a break at a café, a snowboarder in his mid-twenties sat at the table next to us, sporting a Red Bull tattoo on his neck. He didn’t have a Coca-Cola or Fanta logo tattooed on his neck and this is the point. He is not showing off his love of soft drinks for all to see. This guy sat, for hours in a leather chair one day, as someone painfully inked a brand logo under his skin. Red Bull means something to him. It is the symbol of his tribe, it has far greater significance than the liquid in the can.
This is the space you want for your brand or business. To build brands that have deep significant meaning for the customers we serve, and your customer experience strategy is your route to success.
Ken Hughes, known as The King of Customer Experience on the International Conference Circuit, studies emerging consumer behaviour and helps businesses and brands establish deeper and more relevant connections with their customers.
He is also an unapologetic Swiftie.
Book Ken to speak your next event.
A blog to inspire and delight
Not yet signed up to receive the latest posts? Do it now!