SXSW is a beast. It brings the most cynical attendees to a city known for its high-bullshit radar. For some, SXSW is a rite of passage. For others, it’s a necessary evil. Many view it as pilgrimage, while others have moved on to smaller, fresher, and more focused events.
But at the core of SXSW, and what remains the beating heart of the event, are the thousands of human conversations that take place. Some are expected and planned but many are serendipitous, and that’s where the magic happens. The ability to engage with like-minded individuals while mingling with Silicon celebs or scoring tacos with the Internet famous is real. And, because it’s real, brands continue to use SXSW as a platform for some of the most important aspects of the experience paradigm.
A huge part of any SXSW participation (whether through formal sponsorship or outside the formal ecosystem) is creating, capturing, and pushing content. From just regular Hey, Look at Me(dia) to wonderfully scripted and produced blogs, videos or reports, it’s an essential play. But more than ever, going LIVE at SXSW was and is necessary. Whether it was leveraging Facebook and YouTube to full-on broadcast quality productions, waiting for blog posts and site updates are no longer acceptable. Two activations that were this year’s big winners are Capital One House and the Mashable House.
Some might question the intelligence of launching a product, much less a new brand, at a noisy event like SXSW. But with great success, we saw the launch of several new products as well as a few brands. Our client, NIO, did just that through a strategic unveiling that enabled the company to stand-out in a sea of people and products clamouring for attention. NIO Space, which was the company’s North American reveal of its autonomous-driving car, was a hit, as was National Geographic’s Base Camp, where Genius was launched.
More and more, tech companies are bringing their partnerships to life at SXSW. These experiences strengthen bonds that can often only appear on a spreadsheet, they validate innovation through real-world application, and they bring together members of each company for those powerful, one-on-one conversations that drive this entire experience. Dell space was a strong example of bringing an ecosystem to life.
In experiential marketing, context is more important that consistency. Because of this, events like SXSW are a great opportunity for brands to step out of their day-to-day personas, change clothes, and try some new things. Stretching, or even ditching typical brand standards is common, and effective. Props to IBM, the Sony Wow Factory, and Smart Car for doing just that.
There are of course other ways to leverage participation at SXSW. Beverage sponsors have exclusive rights to energise and lubricate attendees at official venues. Some brands are simply looking for eyeballs, stuck in an antiquated “impression” model. While others simply suffer from FOMO and end up throwing money at something they simply don’t get.
Regardless, SXSW remains a dynamic and powerful event for brands looking to engage with an eclectic, fickle, and influential crowd.