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Where's the marketing at SXSW?

March 24 2015

Liz Smith

It’s that time of year when tens of thousands of people from around the world descend on Austin, Texas for South by Southwest (SXSW), a nearly two-week long music, film and interactive festival. For many, it’s one huge party – but for brands, it’s the holy grail of marketing. Attendees are predominantly millennials and 33 percent have purchasing power north of $100,000, meaning brands really throw the marketing gauntlet.

It was my first trip to SXSW and I was on a mission to check out the latest trends in millennial marketing, which I assumed would be a ton of cool conference booths.

I wandered around the campus-like downtown, meandering through hoards of hip professionals, keeping my eyes peeled for the most popular booths.

Except I wasn’t seeing any.

It wasn’t until my coworker and I headed out for the night that I discovered – and was surprised by – the super creative marketing at SXSW.

We walked away from the conference and into a trendy neighborhood, where we saw a long line for an insane house party. As we approached, we spotted a huge emblem on the front: The Spotify House.

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photo by @chloeslyw
photo by @newwestrecords
photo by @newwestrecords

We passed by a storefront, and inside, people were lined up to take selfies with Left Shark and get emoji temporary tattoos: Mashable House.

photo by @jesseechev
photo by @jesseechev
photo by @ladybeartobe
photo by @botellothewolf
photo by @botellothewolf
photo by @ladybeartobe

We walked by a house with a huge stage for concerts in the backyard: Pandora House. A storefront with a cozy lounge and art gallery of oddities from the show The Strain: The FX Fearless Factory. People taking photos outside an exact replica of Bates Motel that you could win a one-night stay in: A&E.

photo by @jon_atx
photo by @jon_atx

In the same vein as these brands using experiences to connect with millennials, we kept hearing buzz about a woman’s Tinder profile luring Austinites into conversation. Turns out “she” was fake and her bio link led them to a site for the movie Ex Machina, a sci-fi film about artificial intelligence that premiered at SXSW.

I was so impressed. THESE brands successfully cracked the millennial marketing code.

Booths don’t make a splash at SXSW. Millennials do not want to be marketed to. They see right through traditional sales tactics and aren’t going to give up their precious time or go out of their way to get to your stand. They’ll throw away your flyer or decline it altogether.

Your marketing needs to be fully integrated – among the bars and restaurants millennials are strolling by, in the center of the conference they’re already attending, or on the social media platforms they’re already using. Go where they are and blend in seamlessly. Don’t try too hard – let them discover you.

Millennials want cool content and unique experiences. They want to interact and engage with each other and whatever you’re providing. They don’t want to be a walking billboard for your company, but they WILL show off your brand in the context of a cool experience or meaningful content. An emoji temporary tat that they can share on social media is infinitely better than a free, over-sized T-shirt with your logo slapped on it. Those photos shared above? THAT’S the marketing.

So when you’re thinking about how to market to millennials, don’t. Throw away what you know. Marketing to millennials takes a whole new kind of thinking. And if you don’t know where to begin, let’s chat. Let’s figure out what truly unique experiences and content you can create that will get millennials sharing.