March 23, 2012
Fighting for Affection at SXSW — Twitter and Foursquare Have Raised the Bar for Conference's Brand Ambassadors
By Michael J. Lamp, Social & Digital Media Strategist, Hunter Public Relations
Every year, the worlds of tech and new media collide in Austin, TX for South by Southwest Interactive (#SXSWi). Since Twitter and Foursquare each gained major traction after launching at the conference, the digital world now looks to SXSWi for a peek at what might have the industry buzzing for the next year. Due to the event's growing popularity, companies face increased competition for the attention of critically important influencers. Gone are the days when branded thumb drives were enough to make a lasting impression. Marketers and PR pros must put themselves in the attendees' shoes and focus on adding value to the larger conference experience, instead of creating the biggest or loudest presence. Consider what endears a brand to prospective consumers in the long run — beyond the flashy fifteen minutes of festival fame.
Two major themes surrounded this year's brand activations at SXSWi: convenience and creativity. Chevrolet's 'Catch a Chevy' activation provided one of the most visible examples. The car company offered free rides around downtown Austin via a 45-car fleet. To secure a vehicle, attendees simply flagged one down on the side of the road. If someone was already inside, folks were encouraged to jump in, make a friend and add their destination to the driver's route. Additionally, cards hanging from the rear view mirror and affixed to passenger side doors featured a QR code, which – when scanned – allowed riders to enter a drawing to win a vehicle of their own. Though Chevrolet generated high visibility, the word-of-mouth created among conference attendees made it a festival favorite.
Another admired brand presence was Skype's 'Twitter Town Crier.' The popular video chat service created buzz by opting for sheer entertainment value. The Twitter Town Crier encouraged those in attendance to tweet with the hash tags #SXSW and #Skype for a chance to hear their tweet read aloud right outside the busy convention center. This simple strategy resulted in consistent tweeting and a steady crowd clamoring to hear the crier bring digital words to life. Pairing its branded hash tag with #SXSW helped bring the crier to a larger audience. Similar to the Chevrolet example, Skype's presence stood out because of the personal connection it formed with those on the ground in Austin. It is interesting that at a conference of all things digital, the most personal interactions with brands proved to be the most compelling.
On the SXSW trade show floor, Norton Antivirus offered one of the most creative examples of bridging brand equity with entertainment. The company brought in a trailer skinned with images of characters from the upcoming Avengers film. Once inside, folks received a training card with a personal barcode and were directed through three rounds of challenges meant to recreate the training a would-be Avenger might endure. Each interactive activity related back to the core functionality of Norton's latest antivirus software.
Based on performance among the three challenges, participants earned various levels of Norton/Avengers schwag. As an added bonus, those that checked into the training center on Foursquare received a free movie pass to see The Avengers this summer. Finally, upon exiting the Avengers trailer, guests were photographed in front of a green screen with the promise that the resulting picture would feature them alongside their favorite Avengers heroes. Norton sent the photos following the trade show's conclusion, offering the brand an excellent opportunity to continue the conversation and ensure that their presence wasn't lost in the shuffle.
These examples illustrate strategic thinking that goes well beyond tossing a branded tchotchke into a prospective customer's trade show bag. 'Catch a Chevy' physically placed prospective consumers inside the brand's product, while Skype's 'Town Crier' showed the human side of digital communication, which is exactly what live video chatting does.
What do all these elaborate plays for attention mean for marketers and PR professionals? In short, we've got to be smarter about grabbing – and keeping – the attention of influencers. SXSWi provides a rare opportunity to reach a large amount of people from one demographic all in a single place. But amid the battle for what's newest or coolest, we must remember to preserve our clients' brand essence. Influencers value transparency. Don't sacrifice a brand's integrity just to ride the latest trend.
Making a splash at events like SXSWi will only get more difficult. This year's festival proved that adding value to experience goes a long way toward building brand affinity. When creating a brand presence at a major event, spend time addressing what consumers might like, but remember to strategize around how these wants and needs relate to what a given client can offer. Creating buzz is great, but affinity breeds evangelism — and in a crowded digital space, brand ambassadors are invaluable.
Hunter Public Relations, based in New York City, is one of the nation's leading marketing communications agencies specializing in consumer brands utilizing a creative and strategic combination of public relations, publicity/social media and influencer outreach approaches.