It’s that special time of year again. The winter frosts begin to melt, birds are singing their spring songs in blooming trees, and thousands upon thousands of marketers, musicians, film buffs, and members of the press swarm the downtown Austin area for SXSW.
With bigger names showing up each and every year, getting your name out there during the week-long fest is expensive. Many companies drop hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on eye-catching activations that are sure to grab headlines during the press roundups. Who can forget when HBO went all out by building a full-scale replica of the Wild West town from the insanely popular Westworld series, complete with actors taking guests on a variety of themed quests to unlock clues into solving the town’s mysteries and uncovering hidden rooms and secrets. It was the talk of the town (and entire Internet) for sure, but took months of construction and script-writing, with a budget that would make most of us gawk and ask, “are you sure you meant to put this many zeros?”
Courtesy of HBO
Most of us don’t have HBO-sized budgets to work with, and at a world-renowned conference where the players keep getting bigger, it’s not uncommon to wonder how smaller companies and brands are expected to compete for attention. Fortunately, there’s more than one way to keep your finances in check while still taking advantage of the SXSW surge. Here are 10 SXSW marketing tips that’ll help you stand out with a limited budget.
SXSW Marketing Tips
Tip #1: Blog About Relevant Content People Are Searching For
With a horde of folks across all walks of life coming to Austin, take a look in the digital mirror and think of how you can lend your thought leadership to attendees. Maybe you’re a seasoned South By Veteran who can write about tips for fresh-faced newbies from a marketer’s perspective. Perhaps your blog might serve up a list of the best places to eat in Austin, or your hotel might choose the weeks leading up to SXSW to talk about nearby activities for visitors to partake in (while including your own in-house amenities, of course.) Writing about hotly-searched terms surrounding the conference is a great way to start trending with very little effort.
Tip #2: In Austin? Use Your Office As An Event Space!
If you’re headquartered anywhere near the downtown area of Austin, you’re sitting on a goldmine of potential. Consider letting your employees work from home during SXSW (their commute times will thank you) and use your own space to host panels with your own in-house talent, live webinars, or just networking meet and greets! Just be sure to invest in food and beverages to keep people in the door.
While we’re sure your event is awesome in its own right, it doesn’t hurt to get members of the media on your side. While an effective friendship doesn’t just blossom the week before SXSW, it’s worth tossing some invites to local and traveling journalists in town. You may not get Tech Crunch to come to your networking happy hour, but there are sure to be more than a handful of journalists willing to stop by at the promise of free food and drinks.
In advance of SXSW 2021, take to Twitter and start following journalists you know are frequent SXSW attendees. Interact and engage with them in advance to build up some familiarity so you’re less of a stranger next year!
Tip #4: Use Social Advertising To Find Your Dream Target Audience
Social media ads allow you to show your message to target audiences and, with thousands of people squished in a small geographic area, you can get even more granular with your targeting! Let’s say you want to reach freelance and professional photographers about your brand new photo-editing software that’s just entered into a closed beta. You can use Facebook’s ad manager to only hit those who work in the photography realm and are in the downtown Austin area for SXSW. (Hint: Austin’s downtown zip code is 78701)
Tip #5: Everyone Loves A Photo Booth
Maybe you don’t quite have a full event venue to play with, but you have managed to grab a small area with a handful of other companies sharing an event space and need an affordable activation that will get people coming up. Can’t go wrong with a free photo booth! You can host the photos on a branded landing page or gather valuable emails to send them their photos and reconnect down the line. It’s not uncommon for SXSW attendees to leave the week with a wallet of Polaroid prints.
Tip #6: Make Your Marketing Materials Count
You’ve only got a limited budget to play with during one of the most effective marketing opportunities of the year. Be sure to make each of your shots count! Go the extra mile to make a multitude of messages that are targeted to the different demos you’re trying to reach out to. It’s better to more effectively reach fewer people with a message they’ll stop and listen to rather than to get everyone’s disinterested eyeballs.
Tip #7: When In Doubt: Puppies
Austin is an incredibly dog-friendly city. Try to team up with a local animal shelter for your event. Another one of the SXSW marketing tips to follow that will be sure to get people to stop dead in their tracks, it’s a group of rambunctious pups. You’ll also feel great about helping those pooches find forever homes! It’s a win-win.
Tip #8: Just Be On Twitter
#SXSW is about to start trending, which is a great time to join in the conversation on Twitter. Talk about what you’ve learned from panels that may help your followers, what you have to offer other attendees, where you’re headed for networking opportunities, and more! It also doesn’t hurt to add “@ SXSW” in your profile name to let people know that you’re in the area, in case they want to reach out and connect in person.
Tip #9: Get On One Of Those Podcasts The Youths Are Going Crazy For
It seems like everyone has a podcast these days, and they’ll all be trying to produce episodes during SXSW, which is great for you! Poke around for podcasts related to your industry and see if any will be traveling to Austin for content creation. Offer the use of your space and promotion after the episode goes live. Sure, you may not end up on Marc Maron’s podcast, but there are plenty of relevant podcasts you can lend your unique thought leadership to.
Tip #10: Make Meaningful Swag
The SXSWag is real. Numerous brands and companies will be handing out pens, koozies, shirts, and more. They aren’t wrong to do so! Everyone loves free stuff, but if you’re going to go through all the time designing and ordering stuff to give away for free, you don’t want it to end up in the junk drawer as soon as they get home (looking at you, stress balls). Invest in a product that people will actually find useful in their day-to-day, increasing brand touchpoints for them and those they come across. Millennials and Gen-Z love a well-designed sticker (just ask my reusable water bottle), planners, tote bags, and more.
Implement just a few of these SXSW marketing tips before or during and I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised just how far your limited (or non-existent) budget can stretch. Soon you’ll be asking, “HBO who?”