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SXSW Interactive 2014: Five Takeaways for Marketers

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This year's South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) Festival saw more than 30,000 attendees converging on Austin, Texas. Each left with a different take on the experience, as you'd expect from attendees at an event with more than 1,000 sessions.

Presentations included keynotes, book readings, mentor sessions, and more, but some of the best moments for marketers this year weren't in the sessions at all.

Here are the takeaways for marketers, each with lessons for growing your business.

1. Content shock is a thing

Author and marketing expert Mark Schaefer's session was a late addition to the roster, but that did not hinder attendance. Some 500 people packed Schaefer's 9:30 AM session on "content shock," the phrase he uses to describe what will happen when the unstoppable force of content marketing meets the immovable object of limited consumer attention.


To keep and grow your audience as the noise rises, remember to get your content RITE (revelant, interesting, timely, entertaining), Schaefer said.

Schaefer's recommendation for marketers hoping to make an impact with their content is to: "be first, and be outstanding."

2. Create unforgettable experiences

Along the lines of Schaefer's advice, Pennzoil partnered with Nintendo to create Mario Karting Reimagined, a first-of-its-kind experience at SXSW designed to promote Pennzoil's new motor oil.

The brand took elements from a popular video game and brought them to life on a race track outside the Gaming Expo at SXSW. Participants drove Mario Karts on a track loaded with game icons that either gave drivers more speed or slowed them down. Each racer got a link immediately after racing to a video that intermixed GoPro footage from each Kart with camera footage from around the track, so they could review their performance. (I placed last, so I personally don't need to relieve that experience.)

Pennzoil used the hashtags #Pennzoil and #MotorOilReimagined to track social conversations, and the company facilitated social sharing of each user's race video directly from the email itself. Smart marketing! I had the opportunity to talk with Pennzoil Global Brand Director Chris Hayek at the track.

HBO also thrilled Game of Thrones fans with its interactive exhibit. The ever-popular Iron Throne had been at SXSW 2013, but this year, HBO included props from the TV show and an immersive virtual reality experience using Oculus Rift called "Ascend the Wall."

3. Pimp your presentations

Nancy Duarte, TED speaker and CEO, led a 2.5 hour workshop on visual storytelling, with her top-notch team from Duarte, Inc. The team covered ways to bring your slides and presentation skills to the next level by defining your one Big Idea or core message, your audience's "Move From" and "Move To," and establishing your call to action (even if you're not permitted to articulate it from the stage).

In situations where presenters cannot directly solicit volunteers, donations, or business, Duarte advises focusing on the "New Bliss" that could be, contrasting that with the dire state of "What Is," and asking how the audience can help. She said that once you wrap up your presentation, your audience will find you and ask what you need, provided you've inspired them to take action.

4. Every business idea can benefit from a Shark Tank-style assessment

In addition to entrepreneur Mark Cuban's SXSW session, he gave a press conference in which he made it clear that no business proposal should go unchallenged.

Cuban recommends that every aspiring entrepreneur ask herself four questions:

  • Has anybody else done this?
  • Is there something compelling about this?
  • Can I sell it?
  • Can I execute on this idea?

Currently, the business concept Cuban has vetted is the Cyber Dust app, which deletes messages seconds after receipt, without storing them on any server. In the video below, Cuban explains why the app makes business sense and goes on to clarify that absolutely no one is exempt from the Shark Tank when they pitch a business idea.

5. Crowdfunding campaigns have revolutionized show business (and business in general)

The potential investors on the Shark Tank TV show are a tough crowd. If they turn down your business proposal, you can always try to find a more receptive crowd through a site like FundAnything or Kickstarter. Comedian and podcasting legend Adam Carolla spoke at length about how crowdfunding has changed the face of business, making it possible to fund ideas even without studio support.

Carolla is using crowdfunding to fund his legal defense in a patent infringement suit that could profoundly impact podcasting as an industry. Not only can crowdfunding create viable businesses, it can keep entire industries viable.

* * *

Did you miss SXSW Interactive this year? Don't worry... Even when you go to SXSW, it's impossible to attend every session and event. The important thing is that you take something away from the experience.

Hope to see you in Austin next year!


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Kerry O'Shea Gorgone is director of product strategy, training, at MarketingProfs. She's also a speaker, writer, attorney, and educator. She hosts and produces the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. To contact Kerry about being a guest on Marketing Smarts, send her an email. You can also find her on Twitter (@KerryGorgone) and her personal blog.

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  • by Christopher Johnston Tue Mar 18, 2014 via web

    1,2,3 are going to be diffucult for many because they require two things in abundance: TIME and MONEY. Great content has always been difficult but as people like Red Bull push the envelope on that it gets harder and harder to produce something really remarkable. It's also hard when you overload employees with with too many jobs. For instance one employee responsible for social media, corporate communications, email marketing, PR, video production, graphic desig, SEO, PCC campaigns, and photography. When you have that many jobs there isn't time to be creative and come up with good ideas, you just come up with what you can so you can move on to your ever growing to-do list.

  • by Kerry O'Shea Gorgone Tue Mar 18, 2014 via web

    Thanks for your comment, Christopher! I actually believe that smaller businesses, in some ways, can do better with this than big companies. For one, smaller companies often target a niche, which makes it easer to make a splash (smaller pond), they tend to forge a closer relationship with their customers and clients, and they can move more quickly to take advantage of opportunities that arise, like real-time marketing / newsjacking. What Mark Schaefer was saying is that brands need to create relevant, entertaining, timely and interesting content, be first, and really make their contribution outstanding. Small businesses can do that.

    I agree that one person can't do everything, so I'd argue for making the business case for a few channels to keep things manageable. The key is to make an impact: sometimes, you can have a greater impact on your audience when you dive deep with one channel than when you scratch the surface of many.

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