Over the past few years, some brands have seen
diminishing returns at the massive Austin, Texas based festival of spectacle
known as South By Southwest (SXSW). But not everyone. In recent years, some
brands have used SXSW as a springboard to major earned media opportunities.
This past year some of the biggest winners included
companies that focused on equality in the workplace and discussions about how
to make social media friendlier and safer for everyone. Meanwhile, mattress
maker Beautyrest hit it out of the park by putting their customers to sleep,
literally. 150 lucky guests were invited to take a nice long nap on a
Beautyrest mattress, lullabied by composer Max Richter’s appropriately-titled
Many other big winners developed and presented
interactive digital experiences, inviting festival guests to connect and
interact with their brand and its message. Others, in previous years, chose
another kind of “interactivity.”
TNT was a huge hit a few years back with its giant wave
pool, which the network promoters parked right in the middle of downtown
Austin. The highlight of this attraction was FlowRider, a perpetual surfing
machine that invited festival goers to hang ten in the middle of metropolitan
Also a few years back, Sony caught attention with the Wow
Factory, a setup that allowed the company to showcase some of its current
projects, literally “wowing” customers with still-in-development tech including
virtual reality gaming. The company also went a bit low-tech, inviting guests
to write or draw their “wow experience” on a giant wooden wall. The combination
of low and high tech interaction worked well for the tech brand.
Twitter hit it big by trying to recreate the social media
connection environment with Bar 96, a place where guests could just chill or
choose to discuss topics related to politics, movies, music, food, or tech. One
of the most covered events for Twitter that year was the #SheInspiresMe brunch,
and that was just the beginning of the special events. Twitter also hosted a
casino themed party, and a viewing party of The Bachelor.
So, is there a common theme that delivered success from
year to year? Yes and no. A winning display at SXSW combines guest interaction
– both with the brand and each other – with something new and interesting that
will capture their attention.
This is easier said than done in a massive event like
SXSW where every direction you look reveals something attention-grabbing and
eye-popping. The best and most popular displays connect someone people care
about – which could be anything from sleep to workplace equality – and
immersive interaction in a way they can’t get anywhere else.
But the most fundamental factor in all of this is an
understanding of the audience. Whether it’s SXSW or your next big trade show,
do not assume or gloss over who is really there waiting to be connected with.
You may miss a ready audience hungry for what you have to offer.