Marketing to Marketers

This year marks the 20th anniversary of South by Southwest Interactive, which has grown into one of the top events for leaders and influencers in technology and marketing

This year marks the 20th anniversary of South by Southwest Interactive, which has grown into one of the top events for leaders and influencers in technology and marketing. With more than 25,000 tastemakers present, it's no surprise that more and more brands, large and small, are turning to the five-day festival as a launch pad to deliver news and/or to elevate their profiles in the space. Walking around downtown Austin you can easily get lost in a sea of stimuli. So how do you market to the best marketers out there?  How do you break through the clutter?  If you've been tasked with getting into the mix, here are five tried and trusted approaches to consider:

1.     Event within the event: These are the fully immersive experiences marketers set up adjacent to the official festival programming. Most marketers rent out vacant commercial spaces, redesign them, and program events throughout the week. Examples this year included the Windows Lounge, Yahoo Launch Alley, and Google Playground. Even TV networks like Syfy are getting in on the action. These events are great opportunities if you've got six or seven figures to invest, but remember location is everything. Even positioning yourself a few blocks away from the action could kill your impact unless you've got a hell of a draw and you've figured out how to best communicate your existence.

2.     Marketing utility: Chevy offers complimentary rides to attendees. AT&T provides temporary lockers where festivalgoers can store swag. The Fast Company Grill serves its media colleagues an escape from the madness.  Adding value to the attendee experience is always well received. Tap a SXSW veteran for suggestions. 

3.     Good old-fashioned party: Who doesn't love a party? They're often better attended than the sessions. Remember if you go down this route, you're competing for one of the few coveted evening slots. Most attendees overbook their party schedules, so consider alternate programming like a brunch or happy hour, and make sure your experience is fluid so people can come and go as schedules permit.

4.     Sponsored panels or speaking engagements: These are pretty standard, but their impact is less scalable. If you go down this route, make sure the content is strong or this could backfire. As with restaurants, most folks are more likely to share their bad experiences than good ones.

5.     Guerilla marketing: This is definitely the most cost-effective route, but it's a crapshoot. Most of the smaller companies will plaster the city with posters and/or create a spectacle on a street corner. The goal is usually to stop you in your tracks long enough to beg you to download their app. Smart ideas can still break through, especially with social scale. Think about the incentive you're providing that will draw a crowd rather than interrupt an attendee's flow. Taskrabbit's Dumb and Dumber-inspired “Task Van,” a fur-covered automobile made up to look like a rabbit, became a social magnet as it ‘hopped' up and down the busy Austin streets providing food and hotel vouchers to festivalgoers and broadcasting its whereabouts on Twitter.

If you consider jumping on the 2014 bandwagon, know your audience. Are you creating something of value or only talking to yourself? Even if you've got a killer experience, do people know about it? Whatever the approach is, there's room to harness the influence if you play your cards right. 

Tom Buontempo is the head of digital engagement at kbs+ where he co-founded and leads the agency's Content Labs division, delivering content marketing, development and social media engagement strategies for clients such as BMW, Intel, and American Express. Follow Tom on Twitter @TBinNYC.

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