10 takeaways from our five days at SXSW

Experiential marketing is the future of advertising.

Walking around Austin for five days was like walking around an experiential DisneyLand® for brands. Organizations from across the globe reached their audiences through meaningful connections that helped deepen relationships with their consumers. One of our favorite shows, Yellowjackets, had an immersive pop-up that brought attendees into key-moments of the show, using sensory and audio elements to place you at “Camp Yellowjackets.” To say we felt more connected to the show and its characters is an understatement. In short, authentic experiential marketing leads to emotional connections, which leads to improved customer loyalty.

You don’t need a large space to make a big impact.

Many of the brand activations took over entire buildings and warehouses, extending across multiple floors. Activations from Audible™, Paramount+™, and Dolby™ were extremely well done, but they also featured some of the longest lines. One of the activations that left the biggest impression on us was actually the smallest one, put on by Doritos®. A large triangular-like setup welcomed people into a projection-mapping space that created a handful of instagrammable moments. It was quick and easy to get-in-and-out, but it still felt authentic and like it neatly aligned with the Doritos® brand. 

Call people in, not out 

LaTosha Brown was one of the panelists we were most excited to learn from, and for good reason. The Black Voters Matter founder and political strategist is considered one of the best community builders in the world. A common theme she spoke on was marketers “calling brands in,” and “not out.” This was in reference to building corporate sponsorships, and providing real opportunities for brands and organizations to participate in community advocacy. Brown spoke on our current climate and brands being too aggressive when it comes to pointing out faults and issues with organizational efforts relating to community building, without first offering them tangible and real opportunities to engage and improve the communities they serve.

A shift in campaign measurement

Many marketing executives talked about an industry shift in how they’re measuring the impact of their campaigns, especially when it comes to out-of-home advertising. Engagements and eyeballs are being replaced by interactions and conversations. Brands today are putting more emphasis on curating campaigns that spark meaningful, positive-natured conversations around the organization, instead of being laser-focused on reach and overall views.

Building community through the power of social influencers

Everyone wants to work with influencers with large social followings. But in many cases, brands are simply throwing out dollars without understanding the true ROI and purpose of the influencer-based campaign. The CMO of Yeti™, Paulie Dery, spoke on his team’s approach to influencer marketing and how they spend 2 years working with a potential influencer before ever making it official. The reasoning for this was sound, as Paulie mentioned the brand wanting to work with people who were genuinely passionate about Yeti and the culture that it’s focused on building. 

Your brand voice and personality is just as, if not more, important than the product you’re selling

One of our favorite panels we attended featured Zaria Parvez, Global Social Media Manager at Duolingo™. Parvez has quickly become one of the most recognizable names in the world of social media marketing, helping DuoLingo rack up more than 8M followers across Instagram and TikTok, an impressive feat for an online educational tool. 

Parvez spoke about “community hijacking,” and how the brand used meme culture and popular artists, like Dua Lipa, to reach younger audiences the brand knew they wanted to attract. By not taking themselves too seriously and posting cheeky, funny content that added an element of humanness to their brand, they were able to rapidly expand their online presence, which led to record-breaking revenue. 

Show up authentically, or don’t show up at all 

With so many major brands pouring in large spends to curate personalized activations that felt authentic to their organizational values, it was easy to spot who missed the mark and who spent the time and investment to truly make an impact on their audiences. Still, we left feeling more can be done, especially within the world of artists and infusing their creations. 

Fluidity shapes the impact of your activation 

The most memorable activation came on Day 1 from Audible™. In a small space, they had more than eight interactive and engaging setups for attendees to enjoy and participate in. But it never felt clunky, or thrown together. Instead, it felt fluid and intentional, and like each and every activation perfectly complemented the next or last thing you experienced. From instagrammable backdrops to personal audio experiences and a spinning DJ, there was no shortage of branding opportunities. The energy in the space was intoxicating and you could feel the energy and excitement from attendees. To experience this on Day 1 was huge for our team as it was a signal we were in the right place, motivating us to gain the most of our attendance.

No more sitting on the sidelines

Unfortunately for us Americans, we’re living in a political climate that consistently threatens basic human rights. From infringement on women’s rights to the LGBTQ+ community, our culture is as divisive and politically charged as ever before. Now, this doesn’t mean your brand has to make statements on every political issue, but it does need to showcase its values and where it stands on important matters impacting the communities and people you’re most engaged with. Not only is this crucial from an organizational and branding perspective, but it’s also a vital tool for employee retention, recruitment and internal culture building. Data is consistently showing Millennials and Gen Z have an increasing thirst for working with companies that align with their personal values. There’s just no way you can attain the best and brightest without displaying your commitment to the communities important to them. As the old saying goes, “silence speaks louder than words” so it’s important to be aware of the message you’re sending.

The streets matter

While many brands poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into activations, some of the most viral and memorable campaigns took place in the streets of Austin, like Terry Crews promoting a new Idiocracy film under the guise of his character, President Camacho. Crews rode around in a Camacho-themed pickup truck, staying in character by fist-pumping and flicking off attendees as he drove by, screaming “4 MO in 2024!“ If you’re someone who grew up loving the cult-classic that became Idiocracy, this felt so on-brand and personal, and anytime Crews drove by, you’d see a flock of attendees running after the car, attempting to capture content before the moment passed.

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