I just got back from a first time-trip to Edinburgh. The highlight as many of you likely know was the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which takes over the city for about 5 weeks in August and September and segues into the not-so-fringe Edinburgh Festival. The Fringe is hundreds, if not thousands, of performances - theater, comedy, dance, music, children's shows, opera and more. Shows are happening at a couple hundred venues across town from the morning until late into the night. It's an exciting (and trying) time to be in Edinburgh.
My question is how do you navigate such long tail abundance?
Many of the residents sample the shows. One refrain I heard often was that the prices of shows have gone up to the point where sampling with your feet (walking in and out of shows) was no longer realistic. Our cheapest ticket was about 7 pounds although I saw quite a few below that and even some free shows. Our priciest ticket was probably 16 pounds.
I am no expert on the Fringe. But I shouldn't have to be to figure out where to place my bets, so to speak. I saw marketing break down in 4 basic categories:
Print and Out-of-Home
This festival runs on paper. The wall posters were everywhere. Giant grids of posters showing a range of design and advertising skill. Pretty soon, it all became a pattern of colors, shapes and faces who I felt I should recognize but didn't. An official Fringe guide was a nice size book with entries for every show. It felt like a small phone book. Browsing it became a lifetime ambition. If you had the iPhone app as I did, there was no real reason to refer back to the book. I will say that the brand consistency between the program, Web site and the app was very strong and gave me confidence that I was looking in the right place.
Performers and supporting staff were out on the streets handing out the other over-abundant print object - postcards. There were postcards everywhere. We all walked home with stacks of 5-10 from any given stroll. It seemed rude not to accept postcards from struggling performers. Sometimes the performers would try and coax you into a show about to start. One group of "Bagpipe Dads" followed us humming their human bagpipe sound until we took their postcards and made a gesture that suggested we would consider attending the show.
This human experience is clearly part of the charm and helps make the sidewalks come alive. Most are in costume so you would be getting cards from zombies, warriors, kilt-wearing Scotsmen, fairies and punks.
The Web site is very strong and has one thing the truly great iPhone app didn't have - reviews. First the app. The darned thing was designed really well. It was synced to your clock so when it launched, it displayed the next shows by time. You could sort by category and make a time selection. This really pays off on one of the chief attendee behaviors - attending a show based upon time of day and serendipity. More importantly, it allows you to tag shows and create a favorites list. It is much easier to browse and track availabilities for a dozen shows then several hundred.
But the app didn't have reviews. That is the one big thing the entire experience was missing. Then, of course, I realized when I got home that the Web site had reviews - both official critics and the crowd. Had I known, I would definitely have used the reviews to make some choices. Problem is that I was often out and about while making those choices. the reviews really needed to be baked into the app to be truly useful.
The Twitter tag was #edfringe and I followed it prior to arrival. I am sure there were all sorts of other tags associated with particular venues or even shows. I just wouldn't have had any reason to use those unless I was more of an insider. Because I was traveling and ringing up a fair charge for data, I limited my FourSquare usage so I never figured out if the venues were really leveraging that platform. But again, it wouldn't help a newbie select a show more than reward a repeat user at a particular venue (again, there were hundreds of venues and no reason to stay at one).
I was traveling with my family. Had I been on my own, I likely would have looked for tweet-ups and other social gatherings and memes to participate in.
Two things for next year:
- With such a flood of choices, we need credible, easy-to-navigate reviews on our mobile devices. That means reviews from folks we can trust and some assurance that the reviews are not being 'gamed' in any way. What a terrific sponsor opportunity though - drive reviews through a brand contest of some kind.
- We could try to establish a hashtag scheme that helps us all find quality. Perhaps a series of hashtags denoting quality - #edfringe_A for a great show, #edfringe_C for a so-so show. With my tweetdeck tuned to three channels, I could quickly see what is rising to the surface.
A great experience. If you go, get the app.
And last but not least, check out this Flickr gallery for some great shots of the people there.