Five tips for creating unexpected live experiences

Etherlive co-founder, Tom McInerney

Mon 13 Aug 2018


Barclaycard research shows that 57% of people enjoy finding brands outside of the traditional high street setting, such as a pop-up store, restaurant or event.

Despite knowing that customers value these unexpected experiences, the same percentage of businesses (57%) has never hosted a live event or activity for customers to interact with their brand in a new way.

Why? More than a quarter (28%) said their biggest barrier to considering opening a pop-up store, restaurant or event, for example, was a lack of expertise. A lack of flexible space and not having the right support system came second and third (22% and 18% respectively)[1].

This divide between what consumers want and what food and drink and retail brands feel equipped to offer, means expertise from events technology companies is more important than ever.

We spoke to Tom McInerney, co-founder of Etherlive, one of the UK’s leading event tech companies. They install and manage the WiFi at Barclaycard presents British Summer Time festival, allowing hundreds of thousands of festivalgoers to get online and get more out of these live experiences.

He talks us through:

  1. The significant events and live brand experience trends he has spotted in 2018;
  2. What he thinks it takes for brands to thrive in the temporary commerce space; and
  3. His top tips for creating unexpected experiences for consumers.

How Etherlive helps brands offer consumers unexpected experiences

Small-scale events and locations:

·         Etherlive’s ‘tech in a box’ delivers super-fast WiFi to pop-ups at short notice.

·         Encrypted WiFi allows pop-up businesses to take card payments using WiFi card readers.

Large events and festivals:

·         Super-fast WiFi to keep hundreds of thousands of customers and vendors connected.

·         HD CCTV for crowd control and event safety.

·         People counting technology to track attendee numbers and movement patterns.


Tom’s top three live brand experience trends

Setting up the wifi for BBST


1.       Huge increase in demand for bandwidth

“The amount of internet access that’s being consumed by people at events and festivals has increased dramatically in the last five years.

“We’re probably providing 10 to 20 times more internet access every year. In fact it’s probably doubled every year. A lot of it’s coming from the smartphone generation and how the apps and software many of them use are based in the cloud.”


2.       Rapid development of quick payment systems

“In recent years, event organisers are transitioning from traditional PDQs to what I would call IP systems.

“It’s all about businesses like Barclaycard making card payments much quicker for consumers. At a music event or festival, that’s critical, because people don’t want to queue, they want to get back to the experience they paid to see.  

“The same is true for retailers and food and drink brands that really need to make sure they’re offering fast payments as part of shopping or eating out experiences.”


3.       The rise of interactive content and Virtual Reality (VR)

“Event organisers and businesses in pop-up locations are increasingly looking for ways to monetise content.

“You’ve got on artist on stage, a pop-up shop or restaurant opening; can you use that as part of a marketing campaign? Can you stream it live and sell online tickets for people that can’t get on site? It’s all about trying to make sure you get the best ROI from every event.

“Live streaming and virtual reality activity relies completely on having the right tech platforms in place.”


What does it take to succeed in the events space?


1.       Know what your customers want

“The first thing to know is that customers no longer just want great experiences, they want unexpected experiences. It means being where customers want you to be or least expect you to be; thinking outside of the traditional high street and shopping centre,” says Tom.


2.       Get the right tech support

“We’ve seen lots of local authorities pushing pop-up shops to regenerate areas. We’ve seen a lot of food vendors try and take that food market experience to different locations. Each year, across the country, we get asked to deliver our tech-in-a-box products that gives retailers an easy way to have hi-speed, secure WiFi. That’s critical for putting reliable card payment systems in.”


3.       Let people connect, to each other and to your brand

“The customer demand to be connected wherever they are has driven massive growth for Etherlive.

"You can’t run anything these days without robust connectivity. You can try, but it will hurt you in the end because you can’t communicate effectively with the world outside. Everything relies on that.”


4.       Be mindful of data protection

“Every brand has a responsibility to keep customer data safe, from personal information to card payment details. So if you’re taking payments over WiFi, using a portable card reader, you need to make sure you’re working with reliable partners who encrypt data as standard.”


Tom’s top tips for creating unexpected live experiences

Paying with Barclaycard


1.       Work with companies who employ full-time project managers and engineers

"It means you can work with them to plan an event well in advance, not just rely on a team a few days before an event or worse, when they are trying to work with several events at the same time. Working that way is fine with things like utilities, but technology needs to be designed and planned well in advance, and that’s a lot more successful when you know who your team is in the months leading up to an event."


2.       Let customers pay by card

"Know that your customers like to have the option to pay by card wherever they are and whatever you’re selling. It’s more secure than carrying cash, customers might struggle to find a cash machine at your event or location, and paying by card, particularly contactless, means less time hanging around in queues and more time experiencing the event.

"If you’ve already invested in the foundation layers (like an event network with WiFi), payment systems are just another layer on top, a very important layer but most of the investment has already been made."


3.       Build an ‘event tower’

"You need the solid foundations to get the higher levels right. So if you want to do interactive things, have great telephony services, use CCTV for security, or take card payments, it needs to be built layer by layer on top of the foundation of a good network."


4.       Keep a tight control of costs

"When running a stall at an event, or running the entire event, cost control is critical. We use our Barclaycard business credit cards to pay for travel, accommodation, stock items under £1,000 and more. And because it’s linked to an online system, it’s really easy to review transactions, dynamically assign limits for each card and pull weekly reports.

"We’ve worked really hard to reduce staff expenses by rolling out Barclaycard business cards to all our heads of department."


5.       Use technology to help digitise stock management

"Back of house requirements are as important as offering customers free WiFi and the option to pay by card. Three years ago, bar businesses at events and festivals might have been writing down that they needed a keg of beer here, or more wine there, but they can now automate using sophisticated systems. It’s well worth investing in these systems as a way of maximising business and staff efficiencies.

"Combine access to stock data with payments data and you’ve got a view of your business that can be absolutely invaluable from a marketing perspective.

"Etherlive provides the technology that powers the contactless card readers, customer WiFi, security CCTV and much more, at Barclaycard presents British Summer Time festival. See how Barclaycard creates unforgettable customer experiences with their help."


[1] All stats to this point are from a nationally representative survey of 2,000 British adults and 250 business owners conducted by Barclaycard Business between 19th June – 5th July 2018

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