Four Ways to Improve Your Marketing Party (Lessons from the SXSW Hangover)

At SXSW, it seems at times the primary marketing strategy of presenters is to drown participants in alcohol and music, with the hope they will remember the awesome time they had the night before and therefore download the product or call up the company for a million-dollar deal. I don't know about you, but after several nights of late partying, everything begins to blur together, forming a slight malaise that leads to confusing that VC from Sequoia with the one from Kleiner Perkins... and who was that entrepreneur we met with the idea about next gen 3D systems?....

Bottom line: soaking your guests in booze and bread, while wonderful for thanking people and deepening existing relationships, is not a great way to get leads.

I threw parties for several years, both professionally and privately, at nightclubs and bars in both Boston and New York, and I can tell you that despite the fact that many of the guests were acquaintances, I gained few friends or business traction through those attendees.

When your party is about introducing your company and your product to people, how do you maximize your ROI? Plan an events where personal connections can be forged through the exchange of personal information, interests, and stories.  Here are three ways to improve the return on investment for your next marketing event:

1. Time it for just before dinner. Get people as they're heading out for the evening, not late after they've been chugging other vendors' drinks for five hours.

2. Aim smaller: A more exclusive-seeming event will likely increase your attendance rate, as well as the networking expectations of the attendees.

3. If you're offering alcohol, don't make it your centerpiece. Consider how attendees will encounter your brand, your product, your team, and your key messages throughout the night. And remember that the way to many people's hearts is through their stomachs.  Don't skimp on food if you can afford it.

4. Be purposeful with music.  Use it to provide ambiance and energy to the room, but keep it at a volume that still allows conversation without shouting or leaning in (another common tactic at loud parties is for guests to politely nod at what you are saying just to prevent the embarrassment of forcing you to repeat yourself for the third time over the din of Deadmaus.) Following tips like these will dramatically increase the memorability of your event, increase the exchange of information between your personnel and attendees, and provide a more enjoyable business experience prior to joining the throngs of concertgoers later in the evening.

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.

SXSW Recap - The Rebel Forces are Moving to a New Base

TrooperSouth by Southwest Interactive has now closed, and I am left feeling a bit ambivalent. While five days worth of gadgets, geeks, and parties sounds incredible, it is also exhausting. And downright frustrating when you run into someone dressed as an Oreo Cookie - at least for me. Sure, it was cute, and I love Oreos (seriously, love those things), but I don't come to SXSW for Wal-Mart's equivalent of Disney Land. I come for the tech. I come for the geeks, the nerd, the inspiration, the passion, and the creativity.

Increasingly, major corporations with less creative ideas or radical innovations - and more marketing campaigns and sales pitches - have been dominating the SXSW stage. This has forced some of the old guard developer meetups and forums to move increasingly out of the main conference center and even off of the main SXSW Campus.

It's almost a technological gentrification that I have a strange compulsion to compare to the hipster migrations to Williamsburg (and Brooklyn in general), or from parts of San Francisco to Oakland. As popularity and presence grow (and therefore the potential dollars to be derived from advertising and sales) the associated costs go up, often driving out the most primal creators of art and inspiration.

A selection of others opinions can be found below, but whether you be attendee or spectator, what are your thoughts? On the Movement? On its Value?

Additional Viewpoints:

AdAge  --  brandchannel  --  --  Reuters