Here in Austin, South by Southwest (SXSW) is a big deal. In a week-long celebration of culture and forward thinking, emerging subjects in music, film, education and technology spark in-depth discussions with an exceedingly global audience. SXSW has become Austin’s highest revenue-producing event. In 2013, it generated a total economic impact of $218.2 million with more than 300,000 in attendance.
During the festival, all eyes are on Austin—and with good reason. Businesses big and small, local and corporate, are attracted to SXSW for the spike in economic opportunity. In this blog, we’ll examine different types of marketing strategies used to enhance visibility, spread recognition and garner valuable customer data during the event. Hopefully it will spark some creativity for your own marketing endeavors.
The purpose of SXSW is to get noticed. Spare no start-up, company or band. Your attention is the prize.
Social is the undeniable medium for SXSW. Due to the erratic, sometimes frantic nature of the conference, news and updates bounce from network to network, producing a real-time narrative bound by the SXSW hashtag and keyword. Twitter is where the event conversation is most vibrant, yet several companies and venues employ Facebook Events for showcase exposure and public RSVP. Here are some examples:
Notably, dedicated users have created profiles to act as go-to resources during the festival. Do512.com, @CameronAtSXSW and @SouthByFreeNOMS are just a few of the “must-follow” accounts that frequently publish festival news, venues and free opportunities.
Getting email data by hosting a public event or contest is a common marketing practice, but due to the magnitude of free events during SXSW, and the slim chance of winning, attendees with a quick mouse can RSVP for several events without considering the risk of volunteering your data to so many companies. Before registering, read the fine print!
Monster, another Major Music Sponsor, will be highly active in distributing its product during the festival. It will have a presence at the high-traffic Registrant’s Lounge (badge and wristband pickup area) and multiple trucks spread around downtown Austin. Monster has no active contest, but free sampling and a strong brand presence throughout the week is just as effective.
iTunes is not a sponsor at SXSW, but the company is hosting a mini-music festival within SXSW with some of the largest musical headliners of the festival. Attendees with music on their agenda will undoubtedly have iTunes on their mind, as well.
We can expect to see a larger corporate influence year after year as SXSW continues to grow as a global event. This means smaller entities that want to participate have to devise creative strategies in order to contend with bigger names. Here are a few that stuck out to me:
Well known in the underground music community, The Illmore is an exclusive, invite-only event where the biggest SXSW headliners perform at a hidden private location. Participants who want to register for a CHANCE to win an invite need to register with their email and follow the Illmore’s social channels constantly for updates and opportunities. This year’s demand is so high, within 20 minutes of open registration, 10,000 people crashed its RSVP landing page. Marketing with big names and secrecy is a winning model during SXSW.
Far from nationwide, the Austin Chronicle can be considered the official newspaper for SXSW. The paper is also an official sponsor of SXSW, but its marketing reach isn’t elaborate like the other sponsors. It markets itself as a local knowledge holder during the festival, a valuable service for newcomers to the event and the city. The Chronicle's success stems from its locally established credibility and its authority over Austin's cultural scene.
Remarkably under the radar, several unofficial SXSW shows and parties can be found on Eventbrite, a website where groups and organizations can post an upcoming local events. These events often allow RSVP through an Eventbrite profile or refer visitors to RSVP landing pages. Eventbrite offers an inexpensive, easily sharable alternative to get your event or showcase recognition.
A unique poster design is a crucial marketing factor during a festival like SXSW. By following graphic design best practices, a proper balance of imagery, color and copy will convey a targeted message that will (hopefully) resonate with an audience. A poster should stand out and make the viewer want to share it.
Whether a brand is listed on the SXSW homepage as an official sponsor or pushing its unofficial venue via social, a fierce competition for your time and attention rages on every desktop and smartphone. Data acquisition through RSVP is a sacrifice many are willing to make for a chance to see a free show, but at what personal cost?
If you’ve seen other creative marketing strategies during events like SXSW, feel free to share. Were there any that particularly stood out to you?