LifeJen Axen

5 Things Every Brand Can Learn from Burning Man

Want to Know What the Future Holds? Just ask a Burner.


Burning Man just wrapped it's 33rd Burn. What began as a beach bonfire among a group of artists more than 30 years ago has grown into a full-scale community and movement. As any Burner will tell you, Burning Man is not a festival, it's a city organized around 10 Key Principles which include Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification and Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation and Immediacy. 


5 Things Every Brand Can Learn from Burning Man

Sound like a lot of Radicals? While Burning Man may have first been seen as a fringe group famed for getting their wild on in the desert, it has now become an iconic experiential event drawing Silicon Valley Techeratti and Social Media influencers from around the world.

We recently had the privilege to interview more than a dozen Burners as part of a project to understand the mindset and motivations that surround Maker culture. These ethnographies and extreme user interviews, allowed us to unlock several important insights that we believe could inspire almost any brand:

  1. Participatory Culture:  Burning Man is built on the premise of a participatory experience. There is an expectation that you will try something yourself, contribute and participate, but know that you can ask for help. At Burning Man, participants are not only invited to "please touch the painting", but in fact, "please add to the painting."
  2. Experiences Over Things:  "I seek immersive experiences like Burning Man because it's something I can't do at home or by myself." This is emblematic of the values not just of Burners but of Gen Y and Millennials who often value experiences above material goods. 
  3. Share and Share Alike: Burning Man is built on a gifting economy. There is no expectation for reciprocity, only that you offer a service or artistic contribution as a way of gifting. This is reflective of the current sharing economy that Gen Z has strongly embraced, also referred to as the Peer-to-Peer Economy.
  4. You. Me. We: At Burning Man, infrastructure is provided, but community creates the experience. "The organization creates an outline and the participants create the color. The city is a shell ready to be painted with their diversity of experiences."
  5. Weird Wins:  From a life-size flying technicolor whale to a fully immersive fire cathedral organ, the sheer imagination of Burners is staggering. Burning Man shows you that a group or individual can bend the rules, push the envelope, innovate and prosper. "My advice is always to try something that no one has tried before or put a spin on something that is unique, individual, or kind of weird or that will make an impact."

 

As we at 2CV know from leading ideation sessions,  some of the greatest insights and re-inventions begin with the simple question, "How might we..."? Consider how asking these "burning questions" may inspire your brand: 

  • How might we...invite users to participate?
  • How might we...design an immersive experience of our brand or organization?
  • How might we....give something to our customers that is both valuable and free?
  • How might we...offer consumers a way to create their own unique experience?
  • How might we...embrace the unusual, celebrate the oddities, prosper from keeping it 'weird'?

 It's long been said that Burning Man is about "why not" being more powerful than "why". This ethos is at the heart of the Maker mentality and a fundamental pillar of Burning Man. As businesses and brands look to build the future, there's so much to be learned from a community that was founded on the unfettered spirit of expression and innovation, the desire to continuously question, and create anew.

Jennifer Axen

US Managing Director

Jennifer.Axen@2cv.com