Brands struggle to engage at SXSW

Brands struggle to engage at SXSW


Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 at 9:03 am

Cody Barbierri

Cody is the Social Media Manager at Piehead

The hype around SXSW each year is impressive to say the least. Having been a person who hadn’t gone before, I had painted a mental picture of mind blowing sessions, countless conversations with high level executives and social parties where everyone seemed to be checking-in or sharing a photo via their smartphones.

While a lot of that was true, I found it to be less glamorous than I had hoped. Some of that may have been due to the 3 days of rain and hail, but mostly I think it’s because the brands that had a presence at the conference focused more on booze and food than offering attendees something to remember.

What is the point of having a brand presence at SXSW? I’d argue it’s to be seen. However, I found a fundamental lack of creativity about how to engage users than I had hoped. Sure, there may be restrictions both at the conference and city level for what you’re allowed to do, but at least push to boundaries a little!

For example, we visited the Bing outside lounge area and upon walking in, they wanted us to login to our Facebook accounts from a laptop, like their page and activate a bracelet. Sounds all well in good, but there’s a few issues: 1) What if I don’t have Facebook? 2) the Internet on the laptops ran really slow 3) What’s the bracelet for again? (no one told us) and 4) this activity took a couple minutes to complete, so as you can imagine, the line to get in got pretty long with just two or three laptops running at once.  In summation, the concept was great, but the engagement factor probably did more harm than good.

However, I do give Bing props for trying. Most of the other brands just handed out swag or poured you a drink, which brings me back to the overall issue I had with SXSW from a brand engagement perspective – what are you really getting out of it? I’m not going to now use Bing as a search engine just because they had a lounge. I’m probably not going to download your new mobile social app just because you handed me a QR code on a card. I’m definitely not going to think twice about a first glance at a funny looking mascot on the street. What’s the purpose?

I know what you’re thinking. The purpose is to have a presence and keep your brand as top of mind with early adopters as possible. That notion has held true for decades. However, my point is that with all the technology (this is an interactive conference) and the creative minds out there, I would have hoped these brands came up with something a bit more engaging and sticky.