Each year more than 421,000 marketers, influencers, and artists descend on Austin, Texas to attend South by Southwest (SXSW), an annual festival celebrating media and technology of all types. The 31-year-old gathering includes three main events: a musical festival, a film festival, and a conference.
South by Southwest 2018 is set to run from March 9th-17th. Here, we’ll detail its history in anticipation of the event, preview this year’s notable speakers, and examine how marketers can take advantage of the event, whether through networking, participation marketing or influencer marketing.
Originally, South By Southwest (SXSW) was strictly a music festival. The event was launched by a group of Austin, Texas locals in March 1987 in order to help generate exposure for blossoming artists. The first annual event exceeded expectations and attracted 700 attendees.
In 1994, a conference and film festival were added to South by Southwest for the first time. The introduction of both events completely reshaped SXSW was the audience it attracted. In the years since, members of the film industry and the technology space have found a home at the event.
Today, SXSW welcomes creatives of all types, whether musicians, marketers, filmmakers or entrepreneurs. Here we’ll breakdown SXSW’s three central events.
SXSW’s annual music festival features performances by bands and artists from across the world. Music enthusiasts attend to experience daytime and nighttime concerts. Additionally, powerful members of the music industry are present, creating an opportunity for artists to network, increase their exposure, and accelerate their professional careers.
This year’s music festival runs from March 12-18.
Similar to the musical festival, SXSW’s film festival brings attention to both promising filmmakers and established talents. The festival hosts several days of film screenings and film premieres. Films screened at the festival are also eligible to win a variety of awards.
The 2018 film festival will take place between March 9-17.
Perhaps more so than its two main festivals, the SXSW conference is popularly known as an event that facilitates collaboration among global professionals. Conference participants attend a variety of keynote speeches, panels, Q&A sessions, and parties to both learn and network.
The growth of the conference has resulted in the emergence of several different conference tracks. Each track includes speeches, panels, and events related to one specific industry or profession. The 2018 conference offers 24 different tracks, including marketing, design, style and food.
This year’s conference runs from March 9-17.
Each year SXSW invites prominent figures from a wide range of industries to present. Two of the festival’s past speakers include Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama. This year, South by Southwest welcomes keynote speeches from accomplished entrepreneurs, writers, filmmakers and more.
Keynote speakers to look forward to at SXSW 2018:
Barry Jenkins — Jenkins is the director of the renowned Oscar-winning film Moonlight and will discuss the filmmaking process.
Darren Aronofsky — The Academy Award-nominated director of Mother! (2017), Black Swan (2010), and other notable films will discuss filmmaking and his career to date.
Esther Perel — Best-selling author and Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel will speak on the topic of relationships in the modern age.
Lyor Cohen — A prominent figure in the music industry, Cohen is currently YouTube’s Global Head of Music. At SXSW he will speak about his 30-year career and the evolving music industry at large.
Melinda Gates — The co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will address technology and emerging business models.
Ta-Nehisi Coates — Accomplished writer and national correspondent for The Atlantic, Coates will discuss journalism in the current political climate alongside the publication’s editor and chief Jeffrey Goldberg.
Whurley — Well known entrepreneur and Austin local, William Hurley — aka Whurley — will discuss quantum computing and the world’s digital future.
Other notable speakers:
Alex Rodriguez — Alongside the Chairman of CNBC, the retired professional baseball player will discuss his new TV show, “Back In The Game”.
Bernie Sanders — The Vermont Senator and beloved politician will discuss the current political climate with CNN journalist Jake Tapper.
Lena Dunham — The actor, director, and writer best known for creating the HBO show Girls will examine authenticity in media.
The diverse range of industries represented at South by Southwest and the sheer volume of attendees have made the event an excellent opportunity for marketers. New and growing brands can expose their products and names to powerful players across industries.
In a similar fashion, established brands can also leverage the event to position themselves as forward-thinking and ensure their name stays top of mind for consumers. Below are three distinct ways marketers can take advantage of SXSW.
SXSW attracts representatives from a wide array of brands and industries. The festival’s diversity sets the stage for unconventional collaborations and relationship-building often not possible at more narrowly focused events like CES. Marketers can leverage the event to meet potential clients, hires, and partners.
2. Participation Marketing
Similar to events like Coachella and VidCon, SXSW gives marketers an opportunity to increase brand awareness through highly memorable branded experiences. Beyond serving as a South by Southwest sponsor, brands should consider implementing creative participation marketing campaigns.
For instance, in an effort to boost positive brand sentiment and consumer engagement during SXSW 2017, HBO created a series of themed escape rooms modeled off of popular HBO TV sets. One room included the Castle Black throne from Game of Thrones and another recreated the hacker room from Silicon Valley. In each room, festival attendees solved themed problems in order to receive an award, such as a Game of Thrones inspired wine.
In a similar fashion, Budweiser is creating an entire “Country Club” experience for SXSW 2018 that features various outdoor games and a pop-up shop. The experiential marketing campaign will offer attendees an interactive and original branded experience that they’re likely to remember fondly after the festival concludes.
3. Influencer Marketing
In conjunction with participation marketing campaigns, SXSW presents a unique opportunity for brands to execute influencer marketing initiatives. By leveraging the power of influencers on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, marketers can expand the reach of their branded experiences at the event beyond physical attendees. One way to do so is by enlisting influencers to attend branded events and create a livestream or sponsored post to document their experience.
During the 2017 festival, alcohol brand Don Julio capitalized on Austin’s food and drink culture by hosting a SXSW dinner party in partnership with the restaurant review company The Infatuation. To promote the party, Don Julio partnered with actress Eiza Gonzalez, who showcased her presence at the party in the form of an Instagram sponsored post. In doing so, Don Julio increased brand awareness among Gonzalez’s 3.4 million followers.
Stay tuned for upcoming case studies on influencer marketing initiatives at SXSW 2018!