5 Marketing Lessons Learned from SXSW Interactive

By March 23, 2011Marketing, SXSW

I just spent five days at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, a conference that focuses on emerging technologies such as social media, web 2.0, development tools, cutting edge marketing and startups.

It’s a wild and woolly cornucopia of ideas, networking, presentations and parties.

As a marketer I am always on the lookout for new ideas to help companies generate awareness and get customers. SXSW provided plenty of great ideas, too many to list here.

So I narrowed down what I observed and learned into five key lessons marketers can implement in their businesses.

1. Think Like a Startup

SXSW Interactive is THE conference for startups. Many of them launched their products right there at the festival, or participated in the Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator, or their founders were panelists in one of the 400 or so presentations.

The one determining characteristic of all startups is their resourcefulness. Most startups these days are not flush with millions in venture funding like their counterparts in the late 90s, so they have gotten really good at doing a lot with a little.

There are so many creative tactics, such as holding social media contests, sponsoring free food for event goers, and of course handing out freebies to everybody.

3 of the 5 Kilts Guys plus 2.

However, my favorite is creative PR. Startups are great at getting noticed by the press, and have figured out low-cost to no-cost ways to do that. A group of local Austin entrepreneurs, known as the 5 Kilts Guys, paraded around Austin during SXSW wearing kilts to promote local Austin businesses to conference goers.

Crazy? Maybe. Effective: yes. They got national exposure through an article on CNN.com.

Action item: brainstorm creative ways you can generate buzz or press attention. Maybe wearing a kilt is a little too much for you, but the possible ideas are endless and as a marketer you can use this to your benefit.

2. Practice Real-Time Marketing

One of the great things about South by Southwest Interactive: you can watch presentations by complete unknowns, or by famous authors. I was pleasantly surprised that David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, and Real-Time Marketing & PR was presenting.

Scott discussed lessons from his book Real-Time Marketing. His best real-time marketing example came from the high-tech world. When Oracle announced the acquisition of Market2Lead through a press release, Eloqua, an email marketing provider and Market2Lead competitor, immediately wrote a blog post about it, getting higher Google results than the press release and stealing Oracle’s thunder.

The lesson learned: monitor news events in real-time, and be ready to pounce on any relevant news item to benefit your company. Google will treat you very well.

Does it work? Scott cited the following figures: 28% of the Fortune 100 practice real-time marketing. Their stock went up 3%. Those that didn’t had a stock drop of 2%.

Action item: set up real time social media monitoring and Google alerts for your competitors and other important organizations or key words in your industry, and be ready to act. Word of caution: get rid of strict corporate editorial policies. They’re for the dinosaur age, and can keep you from being a nimble, flexible company.

3. Practice “Social Espionage”

Umberto Milletti, CEO of CRM tool InsideView, gave a great presentation on “Social Espionage”. This is not the web 2.0 term for industrial espionage. This is completely different, and its really valuable stuff, especially if you are a large account sales person.

Social Espionage is doing your homework on your prospects. Why is this necessary? Your prospects are crazy busy, and guard their time jealously. Any interruption from a sales person, no matter how useful the product or service, is seen as an annoying interruption from the executives’ huge to-do list.

However, if you research your prospects and find out what their hot buttons are you are now armed with information that can help you help your prospects.

You can read your prospects’ Twitter feeds, Facebook comments, or LinkedIn profiles. Case in point: I was researching a prospect on LinkedIn and noticed the VP of Marketing stated in his profile: “2011 is the year for content!”.

That was my cue to contact the prospect and offer him my services.

Action item: make it a habit to research your potential customers through social media channels, and find a way to integrate this information into your CRM tool.

4. Be Pointy

The young 20 somethings founders of today’s startups are too funny. Being “pointy” was the phrase Yobongo.com co-founder Caleb Elston used to describe “focusing on a niche.”

Despite the huge successes of Facebook and Twitter, who seem to be so many things to so many people, smart startups like Yobongo focus on a particular niche in the market that they can dominate.

This is a very valuable lesson for marketers. With so much competition, and so many products and services that look alike, it’s hard to differentiate yourself. However, there are companies that are doing it, and you should too.

Action item: determine what your specialty or niche is, focus on that specialty, and start to reduce the number of products or services you offer.

5. Do Video

Finally, I attended a great session called “Cage Match: Social vs. Video,” that pitted Austin locals Russ Somers of Invodo, and Natanya Anderson of The Dachis Group against each other. They compared the pros and cons of video and text-driven social media.

The takeaway? You’ve got to add video to your marketing mix. As stated during the session, 65% of us are visual learners. If you ignore video, you’re ignoring 65% of your potential customers who would prefer to watch a video than read your white paper or blog post.

Another thing to consider: decision-makers are changing. 30 and 40-something executives prefer video over their older counterparts.

Action item: create videos for some of your important messages, such as thought leadership content and testimonials.


You can learn so much by attending a conference like SXSW Interactive. I just chose five, based on sessions I was able to physically attend and what I observed. Think like a startup for PR purposes, practice real-time marketing, conduct social espionage, be “pointy”, and start producing videos.

However, if I were to choose the most important of these five, it would be: “be pointy.” Focusing your company and reducing the number of services or products you offer can help you become the expert in your niche (your customers prefer experts, not generalists). But you’ll also dominate your market niche, occupying a position that is the envy of your competitors.

That’s the power of being “pointy.”

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Raul Colon says:


    Thanks to you I finally understood what those guys in kilts where doing. I was so disconnected those days from the rest of the world I just thought they where proud of their heritage. I have listened to David Meerman Scott on many occasions and his ideas usually spark many on my side on how to implement them with clients.

    I think being pointy is a good way of explaining it in just one word. I got so much from every aspect of SXSW it would be difficult for me to create a list of just 5 items.

  • Thanks Raul. I too got so much out of SXSW, and I forgot so much from it too! ;-(

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