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What Burning Man Teaches Us About Marketing, Humanity

Burning Man generates some of the coolest visual content, year after year. The breathtaking art-meets-architecture installations, eclectic crowds of 70,000+, and flame-fuelled displays are captivating.

Marketers should be envious of Burning Man’s ‘media library’ because the visuals are authentic, beautiful, and plentiful. The photos almost take themselves.

How do they do it, given that so few festival goers use technology while there?

The answer is simple: Burning Man earns its content by focusing on the human experience and values that resonate strongly in contemporary culture.

Below is what marketers can learn from Burning Man.

Trust Is the Ultimate Asset

Burning Man’s massive crowd has a hidden pecking order: some people have stronger reputations than others. Why? They earn it. They’re long-time festival goers and know the space well. They’re known, well-respected, and trusted in the Burning Man community.

Nobody buys their way to the top. Instead, festival-goers give gifts. Each person operates on a pay-it-forward basis, aiming to give value and expecting nothing in return. Every time, it feels like a surprise: it’s unexpected and a complete counterculture to the commercially driven ‘real world.’

As a result, festival goers aren’t worried about ulterior motives from each other. There is no pressure to buy anything.

People can form genuine connections:

They can explore together:

They can create, and they can have fun:

This trust-based culture is something that marketers can embrace and make their own. Give things away—as much as you can, while keeping your profit margins healthy. Some examples? E-commerce companies like ModCloth give away free style advice. Event companies like The Lean Startup Conference offer free webcasts. These companies give, with no expectations in return, to build trust.

Moments Are the Ultimate Form of Storytelling

At Burning Man, people don’t just snap photos. There’s significance and meaning behind every visual. Every photo and Instagram post tells a complete story: no context necessary. The details are in the subtleties.

It’s people hanging out and feeling free:

It’s fun, ridiculous experiences with friends:

It’s perseverance through a dust storm:

It’s a relaxing, casual, and carefree walk through the desert:

For marketers developing a visual marketing strategy, figuring out how to manage the user-generated content (UGC) that your brand earns will likely be a part of it. Take into account that the best performing UGC isn’t correlated to lighting, angles, or the rule of thirds. The best performing UGC evokes emotions: a force that can capture an entire story, without words.

Value > Money

The business world is under pressure to sell, and sell more. This perspective is the antithesis of the Burning Man experience, where there is no exchange of money. So what are people spending and offering? One word says it all: value.

At Burning Man, nobody buys anything. Festival goers spend a week trading goods. Their success is directly proportional to what they offer. So, what does value look like when there’s no exchange of money?

It’s this necklace:

It’s this juice:

It’s this art installation:

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#burningman @themermaidfiles

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It’s pure, unfiltered joy:

It’s people having fun and creating beauty: all things that you can bring to the world with your visual marketing strategy. Offer value and give people a reason to feel inspired. The content, photos, and corresponding legendaryness will happen naturally.

Human experiences are everything

People go to Burning Man to reconnect with their humanity. It’s a week of unplugging, relaxing, exploration, and extreme fun. In the real world, these same people are settling court cases, tracking ROI from their computer screens, and working hard to support themselves through life. At Burning Man? They can just be as they are: no strings attached.

They can be eccentric:

They can be carefree:

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Today's #wordoftheday is: BURNING MAN I know, it's technically two words, but since I'm leaving for #burningman today I felt like I needed to say a few words about the place. I have never been to anywhere on Earth that has the powerful energy of Burning Man. The amount of effort that goes into this festival is so immense, from the art that is built to the distances traveled, that it creates this almost vortex like power that sucks you in as soon as your within miles of the playa. Since I can feel the pull already, maybe I'm not giving this pull quite enough credit. To think that 75,000 people can act in such a selfless, loving way is amazing. It gives everyone hope that, just maybe, some of these actions could carry over into the real world. We all know that a week-long festival in the desert is a far cry from the society we currently live in, but why not? Why can't you welcome complete strangers with a hug and a smile instead of a handshake or blind eye? Why can't you offer your food or clothing to someone in need, knowing that someone else would do exactly the same for you? Today, and this week, try to bring the spirit of Burning Man into your life. Be excited to see the people you come across and appreciate their creativity, individuality, and humanity. Be generous with your material possessions. Love the world around you like it won't be there a week from now. With love, Adam #alignedlight #purposeintopractice #gowithinorgowithout

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They can be calm and as they are:

Marketers, here’s your takeaway: stop obsessing with taking the perfect shot, crafting the perfect creative, or delivering a high-converting subliminal message. Focus on who you are as a brand. Then look for visual content that captures that essence. Nothing else will be a more powerful marketing asset.

There are tens of thousands of different experiences

People go to Burning Man to learn about and connect with themselves. What else is there? There’s no Internet or places to hang out. There’s the desert, art, and people to meet.

Every festival goer has a unique Burning Man experience. There is no “typical” story. There’s just the individual.

There’s ‘that time’ at the tea party:

There’s the time you say this awesome installation:

There’s your mind exploding:

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Burning Man 2015. A week long event in Black Rock, NV

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There’s that time you head-butted your friend:

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#horny #mondays #burningman #blackrock #nevada

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Marketing should be no different. It’s about each person and how they engage with your content. Empower individual experiences with your brand: you’ll see a boost to your bottom line, guaranteed.

Final thoughts

Marketing is still fundamentally a creative discipline. Encourage a human experience, and you’ll see returns in the form of UGC, social shares, and new customers. After all, given how little Burning Man spends on marketing, they earn a lot of content, and a pretty impressive ROI.

Header photo by Jennifer Morrow.

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