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This article was published on September 9, 2015

What Burning Man teaches us about marketing, humanity

What Burning Man teaches us about marketing, humanity
Ritika Puri
Story by

Ritika Puri

Ritika Puri is a San Francisco based blogger who writes about trends in business, internet culture, and marketing. She's inspired by the int Ritika Puri is a San Francisco based blogger who writes about trends in business, internet culture, and marketing. She's inspired by the intersection between technology, entrepreneurship, and sociology.

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:

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They can explore together:

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They can create, and they can have fun:

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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:

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It’s fun, ridiculous experiences with friends:

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It’s perseverance through a dust storm:

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

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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:

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It’s this juice:

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It’s this art installation:

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It’s pure, unfiltered joy:

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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:

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They can be carefree:

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They can be calm and as they are:

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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:

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There’s the time you say this awesome installation:

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There’s your mind exploding:

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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.

Read Next: 3 pitching tips for time-strapped, perfectionist entrepreneurs

Image credit: Shutterstock

This post first appeared on Olapic. 

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