How To Win At SXSW: Give Away Experiences, Not Grub and Booze

The fundamental mistake companies make when marketing at SXSW is giving away things I can easily buy on my own. Open bars and taco giveaways only attract freeloaders. If brands want influencers to take notice, they have to provide unique experiences.

From my last three SXSWs, I couldn’t tell you who provided the ice cream sandwiches or Lone Star beers. But Zynga’s warehouse concert with TV On The Radio, Tagged’s limo rides, and Diggnation’s fire-eating magician — those I remember.

Food and drink giveaways work most places, but not at SXSW. Here, attendees pay for flights, hotels, and expensive badges. Compared to those, the price of  a burger or cocktail is negligible. If you want me to stay at your event, those will help, but they can’t be the main attraction. They’ve become commoditized goods I can get anywhere else, for free at another event or for a few bucks at a local bar or food truck.

The key is novelty, and that doesn’t have to run up a huge budget. Take something common and change the medium. Last year when Angry Birds was strictly a mobile game, Rovio sponsored an event where you could play on a big screen. The set up and staff couldn’t have cost much but it got me and a line of other people excited.

Another method is filling an urgent need. This year it’s going to rain like crazy, so the saviors will be those distributing umbrellas and ponchos like GroupMe is doing. Normally it’s scorching hot, and fans and visors rule the day.

Companies should also look to give away the most valuable commodity at SXSW: time. There’s no parking, cabs are overrun, and there’s always something amazing happening on the other side of town, so transportation makes an awesome perk. Chevrolet had a fleet of cars and chauffeurs stationed at the convention center last year, ready to deliver people to their destination of choice. Discovering and RSVPing to parties is a big time suck too, so I dig WillCall’s 1-click RSVP to 70 parties.

These promotions will not buy favor or headlines from any journalist worth their salt (go ahead and be nice to me, if your product sucks, I’ll say it sucks). But unique experiences will get people, talking, tweeting, and leave a lasting impression. Because really, if you get someone drunk, how are they ever going to remember you?

[Image Credit: Studio Wide]