Having been on the ground the last week at SXSW 2017, I have noticed that business owners and attendees need a multi-pronged growth mindset and set of habits to extract the immense value and benefits available at large scale events like SXSW. This begins with understanding the three types of ROI you can drive and which productivity hacks to support the efficient maximization of your time and capital investment.
Risk Of Inactivity
The first ROI you should consider when looking at investing time and money in attending large scale events is the potential risk of inactivity. This is quantified by how much added cost (time, money and lost opportunity) would exist by not attending.
Productivity Hack 1--Compound Coffee: One of the easiest productivity hacks for large scale events is to realize that at large events, with proper outreach and planning, you can get face to face meetings with other key targets that would otherwise take months or years and separate trips to arrange. Save the time and money and build a compound effect to your network effects and sales cycles by publicly and privately letting people on Linkedin and email know that you will be there and share a public calendar to drive meeting times efficiently and go back-to-back coffee meetings in a 24-48 hour period while onsite.
Allow and expect serendipity to occur and be organized enough to take action when it does. Don't hesitate when your gut says to go up and say "hi" to a person and know when to let go and follow up later via email or Linkedin with a "nice to see you message".
Return On Influence (ROI2)
The second ROI you can gain comes from leveraging user-generated content and self-generated content to spread the contextual story and perceived influence of your time onsite. This can translate into shortened sales cycles, faster booked meetings, press inquiries or opt-ins from target customers, partners, or prospects that are following your feed remotely via social media.
Productivity Hack 2--User-Generated Content: UGC can help convey compelling brand narratives as you personally document your experience onsite in parallel.
Consumers are shifting away from branded content and focusing more on the content created and shared by their family and friends. For example, only 2 percent of brand-created Facebook content ever gets viewed, and only .0035 percent of brand-created tweets receive any interaction at all.
UGC can be integrated throughout your marketing messaging so that it consistently and effectively communicates your brand narrative in your customer's voice. A basic example is a positive review on Google. A more complex and fully integrated example (and of the best UGC campaigns I have seen at SXSW this year) was the car vending machine "shake it" activation by Carvana.
One final example of UGC in action is how several large universities have used it to empower their students to tell the world why they love their schools.
There are tools like Stackla which offers a platform that allows brands to aggregate, curate, and moderate the best of their customers' UGC. Big brands that have used Stackla with outstanding results include McDonald's, Wanted Shoes, and NVidia.
Return On Investment (ROI3)
The most common ROI measurement also must be justified and measured at some level of how your attendance at an event drove a key performance indicator/metric (KPI) as a direct output. To look at your event attendance solely through this lens is a mistake, but at the same time future decisions on which events to attend or re-attend ultimately must come down to how it drove an increased efficiency to a core performance metric (sales, leads, retention, etc).
Productivity Hack 3--Buy Only What You Need To Attend: Regardless of how mature your business and travel budgets are, there is great discipline and reward in spelling out to key decision makers what your specific intent and anticipated outcomes in these three ROI buckets will be from attending.
Once you have nailed that as your intended outcomes buy only what you need including the number of hotel nights, flights, and badges for the conference. Sometimes you may find that you don't need a badge because you can save the money and get just as many meetings or value in the hotel lobby or public watering holes with key attendees by showing up and having a flexible schedule.
Hack your way through long term relationships into the rooms that matter where it is advantageous and ethical. Apply to speak or contribute on a panel. Volunteer to help work shifts at the event if possible. Think lean, have a plan, and run with focus and purpose while remaining free and open to unexpected and delightful collisions when your best laid plans get thrown awry due to forces out of your control.