STARTUP

How Savvy Start-ups Get Attention at SXSW

It's not a trade show, so the usual tactics aren't going to work. See how these companies got creative in years past.
Zappos.com branded plastic raincoats given out during a rainy day at the convention turned the crowd in to walking billboards.
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Many other start-up entrepreneurs have asked me if SXSW Interactive is worth attending. My response: “Is Cannes worth attending as a filmmaker? Is Fashion Week worth attending as a designer?”

In other words, yes.

I think of SXSW Interactive as my yearly trip to "social geek mecca." Last year, there were nearly 20,000 attendees at the interactive portion and this didn’t account for the non-badge holders that were estimated to double the size of the event.

There is really no other event that brings together so many tech-savvy people. Have an application that requires a heap of users in one location? SXSW is the perfect launch platform. And even if you don't, it’s still a great place to meet lots of people and get the word out.

At the same token, the event is overwhelming. There are oodles of sponsors begging for everyone’s attention. And the crowd is not only tech-savvy, it’s also sell-savvy. People are at SXSW to learn, socialize, get free drinks, and eat their weight in Texas BBQ. So if you approach SXSW like you approach a tradeshow, you won’t get very far in your efforts.

The better promotions I’ve seen over the years fulfill the needs of the weary throngs of SXSW Interactive participants. Here are just a few to drum up some ideas:

  1. Freshbooks and Shoeboxed – One of my favorite promotions over the years was when Freshbooks and Shoeboxed got together and pushed receipt/business card envelopes under everyone’s hotel room door. The promotion read something like, “You’ll need to take a break after SXSW, let us sort your receipts and new contacts.” It was simple and elegant and a HUGE help. I threw all of my receipts and the business cards I gathered that year into the envelope and threw it into a mailbox. Three weeks later, I got an email from both companies with accounts set up and everything organized.
  2. Chevy – SXSW Interactive has spread out more and more over the years. There are multiple locations for panels and parties have become more scattered because of the demand for downtown venues. This means I spend more on cab fare every year. Every year until last year, that is. Chevy not only gave test drives of their latest models, but it drove people to every remote conference point or party they wanted to attend (there was even a rumor that they drove a group out to Salt Lick, a 45-minute drive out of town!).
  3. Zappos – One particularly rainy and drizzly SXSW, Zappos’ team magically appeared at the exits of the convention center, handing out Zappos.com branded plastic raincoats. Pure genius. By the end of SXSW, we all became their billboards. I was happy to promote anyone who was helping me keep dry!

These three examples have one thing in common: They creatively solved the needs of SXSW participants and tied these promotions back to their brands. So, instead of investing in t-shirts, flyers, and scantily clad booth babes, promote your company by enhancing a SXSW goer’s experience.

[footnote: My start-up, Buyosphere, is providing free manicures, massages, and women-focused content this year at BeautyBarX.com. This idea was born out of my frustration last year trying to find somewhere to fix my nails!]

Last updated: Feb 29, 2012

TARA HUNT | Columnist | CEO & Co-founder, Buyosphere

Tara Hunt is the CEO & co-founder of Buyosphere and previously worked with over 30 startups, including Like.com (acquired by Google in 2010). She wrote the bestseller, The Power of Social Networking.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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