What started out as a small music festival with 700 attendees in 1987 has morphed into the hottest music, film, and interactive festival on the planet drawing over 300,000 attendees in 2018. As a result, South by Southwest (SXSW) is a hotbed for brands and marketers. With SXSW just a few weeks away, brands and agencies from around the globe are gearing up to converge on Austin to connect with this trendy crowd. And with immersive activations like HBO’s Westworld theme park to shipping containers filled with brand love, the competition to create buzz is fierce. But, no matter the size of the company and/or budget, with some creative thinking and a lot of planning, any brand can make a bold statement at SXSW.
You don’t need an A-list celebrity or big social media personality to serve as an influencer for your brand. Instead, you can enlist the help of a local micro-influencer to help spread the word about your brand activation. Micro-influencers are your everyday, regular people who happen to have 5,000 to 100,000 social followers. And because people trust them and rely on them for recommendations, they are the perfect fit to promote your activation. They can make people aware of where you’ll be, what your offering, and why your activation is a must-see.
The beauty of SXSW is that you’re not tied down to one venue. Due to the fact that SXSW is spread out over several city blocks, brands have the opportunity to engage with festival goers in different places and in different ways at all hours of the day and night. For example, you can open up a pop-up shop, utilize a food truck to market your product or rent out a hotel banquet space like the Wisconsin Milk Board did in 2018. You can even consider activating on the outskirts of the festival, that way you’re getting away from the chaos of the competition, yet there is still plenty of foot traffic.
Marketing stunts don’t have to be out of this world and insanely expensive to make an impact. In fact, some of the most notable SXSW activations of all time have come from very simple ideas. For example, Hulu’s 2017 Handmaid’s Tale activation. This stunt consisted of thirty costumed brand ambassadors who quietly roamed the streets of Austin, handing out temporary tattoos with messaging from the show. The simple concept freaked out most of the city, creating tons of social buzz and earning a lot of media attention, which was exactly what Hulu aimed to do.
Street team marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways to execute a brand activation at SXSW. Deploying a street team to canvas the streets of Austin and promote your brand and your messaging (or even a physical activation) can give you a great return on your investment. And because street teams are highly mobile, you can utilize them all over the city, day or night. You’ll want to arm your street team with talking points and samples, useable swag, or virtual swag.
SXSW is super-social and is the driving force behind the way attendees network, relay information, and share recommendations. Thus, every brand attending SXSW should take advantage of all that social media has to offer. For starters, social platforms allow brands to connect with SXSW attendees before, during, and after the festival. You can create awareness for your activation, tell your story, and drive attendance. Secondly, social media also offers tremendous opportunities for attendee-generated content. Create share-worthy design elements and content for attendees. In doing so, you’ll reach people around the globe and keep the story going long after the festival ends.
Let attendees get hands-on with your brand with an interactive experience. Interactive experiences often get the most attention and have the longest lines. That alone creates a sense of urgency and FOMO for passers-by. VR experiences, escape rooms, and personalized swag are just a few of the many interactive strategies that will get your brand noticed.
Let’s face it, the days are long at SXSW, offer attendees a place to relax, kick back, recharge their batteries. In 2016, Bud Light hosted “friendly hour” in an Austin lounge, offering free beer and charging stations to the weary. In 2017, Casper stole the show by offering attendees a 45-minute break in a “refresh room.” Here, attendees could power-nap on a Casper mattress, take a hot shower, and enjoy milk and cookies while listening to a bed-time story.
Any brand can make a statement at SXSW with some creativity and proactive planning. Take your time, do your research, enlist the help of others, and follow our tips and you will see the results that every marketer dreams of.
No brand can make a statement without a team of experienced brand ambassadors. They will drive your brand messaging home and will get you noticed. If you are seeking a team of extraordinary brand ambassadors for your SXSW activation, you are in the right place. For over 17 years, ATN has provided promotional staff for SXSW activations for brands and agencies of all sizes. If you need professional brand ambassadors to elevate your brand presence at SXSW, contact ATN today!