This week on the XLIVE Interview series we sat down with Lyle Maxson, the CEO & Founder of The Courtiers, a group of talented marketers who specialize in brand partnerships through performance & experience-driven content. We spoke to Lyle about a number of topics from music festivals becoming an engine for social change, gamification of live events, and what to expect from experiential marketing and The Courtiers in 2018. Here’s what he had to say!
Can you give us a brief history of The Courtiers Agency, the opportunity you saw when you launched the agency, and what some of your first projects were?
When I came out of college, I wanted nothing more than to change the world through electronic music festivals. I was fundamentally shifted after experiencing the acceptance, freedom, and connection that was embedded into every element of the culture and knew my purpose was to amplify and carry that message to the outside world. I saw these massive gatherings as the biggest engine for social change. Through charitable fundraising, supporting local artists, sustainability initiatives, meditative practices, and morning yoga, the opportunity to grow was everywhere.
The Courtiers agency was formed, determined to attract sponsors into the festival space that had a common mission of changing the world for the better. We started to create brand activations with conscious companies, lowering there sponsorship price in order to bring value to the festival goers. Some of our first projects were booking Acro Yoga studios, health spas, and artist collectives into the event space. With that came Acro Yoga workshops, oxygen bars, and incredible visual artists all over the festival. Without requiring a budget, we turned concerts into transformational experiences.
How does The Courtiers Agency change commercial events into experiences, and what are the benefits of experiential events for brands and the event producers?
Our last two festivals are great examples. Aboard the Groove Cruise Miami, we posted an application for a social media contest to recruit 30 models for our Festival Fashion Show on the mainstage Saturday night. These models were not picked based off their looks, but based off of being community leaders and roll models outside of the festival community. We then brought the experience to life, letting the attendees participate on stage, walk the runway and feel like a celebrity for the night.
At Beyond Wonderland last month, we curated a Quantum Lounge, filled with the latest and greatest in light, vibration, and frequency healing technology. Coupled with Augmented reality art and Virtual Reality meditation programs; the goal was to create a relaxation lounge you would find aboard an alien ship. Instead of it being a standard VIP with nice bathrooms and a private bar, we brought attendees on a journey of self discovery and unconventional mindfulness devices that are as enjoyable as they are practical.
The benefit for the festival producer is the client retention, there are an overwhelming amount of music festivals to choose from on a weekly bases, these experiences guarantee the longevity of the attendee to continue to come back year after year. As well as the PR stories worth sharing and attention from a related demographic that they might not already have been aware of. It’s really all about creating a raving fan culture through bringing purpose to the party. The festival goers are proud to have supported such a mission driven event and want to share there unique experience with there friends.
For the brands, the benefits are similar. With the cyclical repetition of popular headliners and mainstage production; festival attendees want more. With a transcendent bio-feedback vibrating bed experience, they get what they are looking for, and the brand receives all the credit.
Do millennials embrace mission driven Activations and partnerships more than the previous generation?
There are so many studies out now that verify this. But ultimately millenials are here to help shift the global outlook on our impeding doom that has been carved out by previous generations. They want to know that what they are supporting financially is changing the planet for the better. Socially, environmentally, charitably or simply by spreading spiritual awareness.
We are close partners with Cadence and Cause who have seen this growing need to create more mission driven initiatives. They partner with a festivals charity of choice and work with the headlining artists to provide one of a kind experiences to fans who contribute to the cause. Anything from getting flown out and put in a nice hotel to hang out with Bassnectar backstage, to sitting in a parade float with Borgore as he plays a set down Bourbon street before walking into the festival with him!
Music festivals have grown from a concert to a temporary escape to a new world and new community. Can you talk about the maturity of festivals and what attendees want/ expect to see in 2018?
I do not see it as an escape or retreat, I view it as an advancement and integration of our culture at large. The shift in perspective is that these events are bringing connections and inspiration into the real world, instead of experiencing momentary bliss before forgetting it all and returning to the rat race.
The themes of the culture are based around entrepreneurship, open mindedness, cultural acceptance, community, shared world centric beliefs, and pushing the boundaries of technology, art, and humanitarian efforts. I know these ideals will continue to be highlighted and emphasized as the the event world matures.
The massive growth in transformational festivals like Lighting in a Bottle is a perfect example. They have environmentally conscious sponsors, world renown speakers, and ancient rituals and ceremonies that leave festival attendees feeling better than when they arrived (instead of the slow crawl to the parking lot after a 3 day mainstream event).
EDC and Imagine festival are great examples of commercial events that have shifted their priorities. They now have workshops, yoga, speakers, nutrition classes and an overall balance of education and self development to go along with the inevitable bass drops and tequila nights.
What types of brands embrace experiential marketing and what industries have been slower to adopt?
Depends on what you define as experiential. My belief is that the pop up bars and exclusive viewing decks are not in support of adding something new to the experience. They are just adding more of the same to put there corporate name on it. In that case it’s car companies, large banks, energy drinks, and alcohol.
The companies that are creating a purposeful experience to show attendees new possibilities and opportunities would be fashion, tech, and health and wellness. There contributions are usually inspirational and add to intrinsic value to the music community.
The brands I would love to see more of would be nootropics, gyms, entrepreneur/ leadership conferences, non-profits, and sustainability companies.
How has technology changed experiential marketing and brand activations?
Apart from the obvious analytics, targeted marketing and data collection that comes from RFID and app downloads; technology has allowed experiences to become more immersive and fluid. Instead of painting on a canvas for people to glance at as they walk by, creators can upload visuals onto projection mapped domes that hundreds are surrounded by, changing images and meaning every few minutes.
Story telling and complex narratives are able to be mass produced as technology allows each person to have a shared experience. Interactive theater and costumed performers can lead a small group of people through a quest, but what happens when there are thousands? Technology has solved that problem.
What are some of your favorite examples of great brand activations?
Lost Hotel at Oregon Eclipse. We curated a pop up glamping hotel right in the middle of the festival. The guests of the hotel were mainly international attendees, artists, and entrepreneurs, so we strived to create a conference style setting in the hotel lobby. During the day we had interactive workshops and a speaker series throughout the week open to all festival attendees. Each night we had live music and a cocktail mixer. Guests of the hotel had access to a free elixir bar during happy hour before heading out to the fesitval grounds. Nootropics and essential oils sponsors donated to each hotel room, as well as some incredible health and wellness sponsors. Including a shipped in 2 ton float pod/deprivation tank for the guest to use for free!
With a dating app sponsor we curated a blind date experience aboard the Groove Cruise. Running a social media contest prior to the event we chose single winners to partake in the perfect date experience. A champagne bottle, VIP host escorting you around the festival, ice breaker games, bubble guns, and a personal photographer.
At Phoenix Lights this past year we brought in 3 geodesic domes and created alien themed planets within them. We had galactic ultra-terrestrial bunnies that roamed the activation in light up space suits bringing people through the fire, water, and earth planets. One was filled with gongs and singing bowls for sound healing. One was equipped with vibration technology and massage therapists, and the other was a huge alter and lounge space. Really the goal was to create spaces for people to interact with one another and make deeper more meaningful connections in a vibrant space.
How do you measure a brand activation’s impact and success, and how important is the reporting and measurement process when creating an activation?
Data and metrics are always the top priority for brands and we are constantly looking at how we can bring in the most impressions and organic data through focusing on multiple layers of engagement
We are basing the success off of crowd engagement on site, PR visibility, education, sales, and positive brand awareness. Really the goal is always to create a long term, viral campaign that establishes a raving fan culture that stays with the attendees long after the festival is over.
What role does gamification play in the experiential marketing industry?
Currently gamification only has a small roll, with badges and unlock-able achievements embedded in reward programs and on site competitions. I believe we are only at the tip of the iceberg. Complex storytelling, mandatory participation, tearing down the fourth wall and merging the spectator into the action. On a simple side this looks like collecting coins or RFID check points throughout in event in order to gain access into a secret brand activated level. On a more complex layer this looks like Joseph Campbell’s heros journey, where the narrative is interwoven into a quest that has you facing Boss-like characters and bringing back something to share with the rest of the world.
What can we expect from the experiential marketing industry in 2018?
I can not speak for other agencies, but our focus is to continue to create other worldly spaces that go beyond experiential marketing. We want to showcase environments and brands that bring people together and inspire uplifting conversations.
With these values in mind, I think we can expect the “Heineken photo booth” experiences of the festival space to start to meet an opposing force of holistic brands putting sponsorship efforts towards more viral activation that better the event and leaves a lasting impression on the attendees.
Ultimately this leads to uniting like minds under a shared belief and finding your tribe in this new paradigm of blockchain, superfoods, and clean energy companies that will transform the world.