A Lesson From SXSW: Are You Getting the Best Return on Your Marketing Investment?

Viral MarketingOver the several days in March that compose the inundation of marketing materials, sales pitches, parties, and events that seem to embody South by Southwest today, everyone is trying to squeeze the most visibility, the most contacts, the highest return for their marketing dollar. Some are excellent, some not so much. One differentiating factor that seems prevalent between the memorable and the forgettable are the level to which those marketing efforts are tied into a larger theme, campaign, and number of reinforcing touch points a prospective customer has with the material.

Let me provide an example of one of the more forgettable efforts: A company sponsored a shuttle bus to ferry the hordes of tech denizens around the several square blocks encompassing the convention center and its surroundings during the entirety of SXSW. The bus clearly displayed the company's branding and a colorful selection of attractive images. However, no advertisement about this bus appeared on the company's website, nor even a URL on the bus itself. Company representatives were not on hand to talk about the company or its products, and no means of gathering information from potential customers was provided. There wasn't even any indication of a corresponding event, booth, talk, or location where one could learn more or build on the experience. The most I got from the bus was a free ride, and the only reason I investigated their website was to write this post.

On the other hand, another company had opted to build a large sign / art installation in the middle of a public area to attract attention. This art installation had a constantly revolving, but never overwhelming, set of company representatives on hand to provide an explanation of the installation, the company, its mission, product, and goals (as well as to collect email addresses of interested potential customers). Cards were on hand to be taken away by visitors, and each of these elements were tagged to direct people to the company's larger booth in the convention center, thus ensuring an opportunity for follow up. Finally, the whole exhibit found prominent placement on the company's website for the duration of the convention.

In both cases, the major costs for these marketing efforts are associated with this public signage, but the incremental cost of attentive messaging, a bit of dedicated manpower, and some cheap printing transformed what is essentially a basic billboard into an active campaign that can deliver real and quantifiable results.

Marketing initiatives, especially at a place so deeply saturated with corporate messaging, cannot exist as standalone entities - it is only through combination with multiple channels of interaction and involvement - by aligning the full force of your public presence behind those campaigns, that their true value can be unlocked.