Three Takeaways for Marketers from SXSW Interactive 2017

Posted on: 03/20/17

From March 13-19, creatives, digital leaders, brands, and music lovers alike flocked to the 2017 edition of the South by Southwest Conference and Festival. Over the first half of the event, thought leaders from all corners of the digital and tech space share successes and brands make their move to attract the fans from interactive, marketing, and music scenes.

Our schedule was packed. It was over-packed. We triple-loaded our itinerary, determined to squeeze every minute out of every day at SXSW. And, as expected, we failed to check everything off our to-do list. C’est la vie.

This year, three TSL team members made the trip to Austin, Texas, checking out the brand activations, taking in case studies, and happening upon various hidden treasures that SXSW had to offer. This year, we found that the most engaging and memorable events were those that told a story through a personal, customizable experience.

Our first steps at SXSW are always taking a birds-eye view at the events and mapping the best route for our experience. Across the conference, it was obvious the path that the event managers wanted you to follow.

Yours.

If you want to hit headline fireside chats, you could bounce from panel to panel on the main pathways. If you wanted to find the hidden gems (shoutout to Casper Mattress), it was easy to get off the beaten path and explore the surrounding houses and neighborhoods. If you were somewhere in the middle, it was just as easy to go with the flow. The message of SXSW was clear in the layout. Explore, innovate, and discover.

Takeaway: Know your message, and know the different subgroups within your audience. Use that information to direct the actions of your fans in a way that creates a personal, scalable experience.

“The overall event design and aesthetic across the city was fantastic. It was clear that organizers wanted to create some method to the madness in how to navigate, but overall it was designed to get people moving and exploring. You could determine your path to be purposeful, going session to session, or simply start exploring and let spontaneity guide you.” – Martha McCarthy Krueger

Across the board, one of our favorite stops was a house called Levi’s Outpost. Levi’s Jeans teamed up with Google and Rolling Stone to create an immersive and personal storytelling experience. Inside, the Levi’s team walked viewers through the history of the brand, and its interaction with the Rolling Stone publication.

Afterwards, we were taken into “the future of fabric,” where representatives showed attendees where the brand is headed and gave some sneak peeks at how the brand will leverage wearable tech in future products. Lastly, participants were offered the opportunity to create a custom jean jacket. Of course we did.

Takeaway: What made the activation special was the personal attention paid by each of the brand’s representatives, answering any and all questions, and focusing on each fan individually. In social and digital marketing, make your message personal, and create exactly the story you are looking to tell.

“You could tell that a lot of thought went into what kind of experience they wanted us to have and what kind of stories they wanted us to take with us. I don’t remember the last time I bought a pair of Levi’s or a Rolling Stone magazine, but now I’ve purchased a product. I’ve been talking about the brand. I’ve followed the brand on social. I feel very invested in them because they invested in me.” – Emily Pritchard

Listening to your audience was one of our favorite recurring themes, with key insights coming across several stops. First, Tyler Haney, founder of Outdoor Voices, spoke to the importance of aligning audience listening with influencer marketing efforts.

One of the most innovative examples of audience listening, however, came from the efforts of Massdrop. An online community of enthusiasts, the site hosts conversation within niche communities and invites users to get nerdy. Within these communities lie the hopes and wants for product development. Massdrop took listening to an unprecedented level, allowing users to build the products they wanted to use. Who better to develop a functional product than the product’s most avid users?

“It was obvious that today, more than ever, listening to your audience has to be a key part of your marketing strategy. That goes into influencer strategy, user-generated content, and growing your products. If you aren’t using your consumer feedback to make your product better, what are you listening for?” – Libby Benda

Takeaway: Listen to the goals and ambitions of your audience, and align with influencers that overcome and emphasize those ambitions. Rather than telling your audience what to like, listen to what they are telling you they like.

In the coming months, as updates in social, tech, and the digital space continue to advance, brands need to be taking steps to create a scalable, personal experience for their audience. Fans are always talking about what they want to see from their favorite brands. All marketers have to do is listen.

Until next year, SXSW.

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