Participation Marketing - Engaging @ SXSW

Posted March 7, 2016 by Cameron Hogan (@camhog21) Anyone who’s attended SXSW understands the FRENZY that sweeps the downtown area of Austin the first and second week of March. SXSW is one of the premiere platforms for tech and comms, music, and film; and for most, it’s a place where the primary goal is to engage consumers and influencers and have them participate in your brand initiatives ("participation marketing" at its core).

But with each passing year, the landscape becomes increasingly crowded as brands, startups, vendors, sponsors, etc. compete for attention. So for those who attend hoping to engage the masses and leave Texas with a sense of accomplishment, many ask, “How can we crack through the clutter? What tactics can we employ to get attendees to engage?” With so many gadgets and immersive tech-driven experiences, it is imperative to interact in a way that seems genuine and relevant rather than forced and “salesy.”

A few years ago, American Airlines executed an amazing activation consisting of two interactive spaces, a LIVE feed of aggregated social content, Instagram prints turned luggage tags, and a separate oasis with a half fuselage where users can charge devices and learn about the latest in AA’s in-air travel tech. The key was to inspire conversation among festival attendees and that's exactly what happened - AA became the #1 tweeted brand at SXSW Interactive beating out every single tech juggernaut.

Here are some other examples of meaningful ways brands inspired consumers to interact with them:

A&E - to promote the upcoming season of Bates Motel, the network built a replica of the show’s main set where fans tweeted for the chance to stay in one of the rooms for the night.

Ex Machina - the sci-fi film debuted at SXSW and used popular dating app Tinder to educate men and women alike who matched “Ava” about the film and artificial intelligence.

Mophie - partnered with the Saint Bernard Rescue Foundation to rescue tweeters in distress and short on cell phone battery (one in the same, right?). Fresh Mophie charging devices were delivered by the dogs and their walkers.

Similar to AA, these brands activated and guided fans and consumers to deliver branded messages across social channels, thus gaining tons of earned media and content that can be leveraged as part of their marketing initiative. Now, not all brands and mouths are created equal and if a marketer or brand operates in a low-interest category, they will certainly experience limitations and obstacles. However, the concept of participation marketing remains the same regardless and storytelling is a key component as demonstrated but the examples above.

Aggressively pushing your product(s) and service(s) turns consumers off; they (even marketers) desire stories and experiences. For example, Uber is not a taxi-alternative; Uber saves you valuable TIME by eliminating the hassle of hailing/waiting for a cab. Take your audience on a journey they will WANT to interact with and they will tell your story for you. Video is perfect for storytelling and all the rage at the moment. The evidence is all around us - Twitter’s First View Ads, Snapchat growth (this will be the overwhelming winner of SXSW2016), Instagram’s double-digit growth + video view counts vs likes, apps like Periscope/Meerkat; Utilize these tools to 1) tell your story, 2) engage your audience, and 3) drive participation marketing. These are all low budget alternatives to massive activations that you can ill afford to ignore.

Video in 2016 will be the equivalent of photo uploads in 2013 and will be as impactful as mobile social was back in 2011 and 2012. Just remember - storytelling must be authentic, creative, and original and if compelling enough, your audience will do the rest.