Why do some brands miss the point about marketing at SXSW?

Jack Blog

March 20th, 2015 By Jack Morton


At SXSW 2015 it was another example of a lot of brands with very, very little to say.

SXSW is huge and it’s only getting bigger — too big many say. With so many sessions, so many parties, so much goooood barbeque and so little time to experience it all —brands clearly expected so much from consumers and many gave very little in return. Many weren’t brand experiences. They were merely product experiences, and there’s a big difference.

Going to SXSW Interactive, people are expecting to see innovative, best-of-the-best experiences. With this in mind, you would think that every participating brand would have pulled out all the stops to provide a unique, authentic, memorable and value-adding experience that drives mass PR. Instead, many brands left us wondering why they had even bothered. Most times, after queuing for hours, we felt underwhelmed with the experience we had waited patiently for.

But it wasn’t all bad….

GE won SXSW with their very clever, relevant and fun brand experience — a true brand experience. I say this, because, instead of leading with their own product innovations, they created an experience truly designed for the audience. By combining their own thought-leadership in research and innovation, with the SXSW audience’s passion for the best BBQ on the planet, they created the GE BBQ Lab. From advancing peoples knowledge of the science behind better BBQ to understanding the effects that the tanginess of BBQ sauce has on the brain — they gave a smoked meat enthusiast like me an immersive lesson into one of my biggest passions in life that, in turn, allowed me to clearly see what GE stand for as a brand.

But what was equally noticeable was a surprising (and very refreshing) lack of GE product muddying their reason to be there. They clearly understand that a brand experience and a product experience are not the same. Needless to say, we left the GE BBQ Lab feeling engaged, inspired and very satisfied (and not just because of the perfectly smoked brisket).

Another great example of how to do it right was the 3M booth that was (cleverly) built entirely out of 3M products — showing the versatility, creativity and durability that the brand offers in a variety of beautiful installations and fun experiences, including the super-cool Post-it app.

Compare this to some of the try-hard experiences that provided no POV or value to the attendee experience whatsoever.

For example, [a brand who shall not be named] provided me a confusing, lack-luster experience. As I approached, the brand ambassador instructed me to “Just do something, anything, and tweet about it or take a photo. But whatever you do, just remember to tag us with #insertbrandhere.” Why, I asked? “Because you might win something.”

The problem was that (apart from a place to recharge my dwindling phone battery) there was nothing really TO do, or anything exciting I wanted to share, other than drink a juice that I may or may not win through a random prize generator. Clearly this was a brand where their only objective was to get quantity of posts and impressions, regardless of quality or quality. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up winning anything and left only with the belief that some brands have more money than sense and completely missed the opportunity.

Here’s hoping that in 2016, when SXSW is even bigger, brands go hard or go home.
You’re at a world-class interactive playground, so experience is the only thing that will set brands apart.