Four Ways to Activate at SXSW

“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” – Elton John

Four Ways to Activate at SXSW If there’s one week that cements Austin’s title as the “Live Music of the World” it’s the second week of March, when South by Southwest, or SXSW as it’s more commonly known, descends on the city. Every bar, restaurant, park, parking lot, hotel, and even a daycare or two, becomes a music venue. Celebrity sightings are common, and some musician’s dreams come true. You can feel the electric energy…and the bass, in the air.

The crowd at SXSW is as unique as the city it envelops. They are eager to listen to up-and-coming bands, see offbeat films, and embrace new ideas. This presents a great opportunity for both established and emerging brands. It’s a unique place to meet consumers when their minds are open to experiencing all the things. The opportunities for experiential marketing activations are so expansive, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start!

We recommend starting by deciding which type of experiential marketing activation you will execute.

1. Sponsor a Show

There are a couple of ways to go if you want to sponsor a show. First, you can officially sponsor the SXSW Festival. This is likely cost-prohibitive for smaller brands, but if you’ve got the budget, this is the gold star option. SXSW does a great job with digital marketing. As an official sponsor, you can set up an experiential marketing activation, and connect with SXSW attendees digitally.

You can also sponsor a non-SXSW venue and set up an experiential marketing activation in the venue. While this price tag is still more than the other options below, it offers more friendly entry price point for brands who aren’t ready to jump into an official sponsorship.

Four Ways to Activate at SXSW 2. Exhibit the SXSW Health and Wellness Expo

The Health and Wellness Expo is a lesser-known part of the SXSW Festival. It’s open to music festival attendees and the general public. It’s a great opportunity for emerging brands or brands who have a narrow target scope, as it filters the music fan community down to those are health minded.

The crowd here is really interested in new and innovative brands and products. Often, they are open to a longer engagement, making it a great place for product sampling and brand education.

3. Guerrilla Marketing

During SXSW, the streets are filled with people, some going from one place to another, some hanging out, and others waiting in the inevitably long lines for an upcoming show. This creates the perfect opportunity for guerrilla marketing. Just load up a backpack with samples and product information, educate and hand out samples in the streets, refill, and repeat! Guerrilla marketing is a lower cost option than some of the others on the list since there is no space rental with this kind of activation.

These consumer engagements tend to be short, so be sure you’ve got your key takeaways well-rehearsed. If you have the opportunity to gather emails and/or connect with the fans on social, even better! These connections will allow you to continue the conversation after the festival ends.

Four Ways to Activate at SXSW 4. Set up on 6th Street

Folks in Austin call this section of downtown “Dirty 6th.” This is the area lined with bars that are normally filled with UT students. But during SXSW, people of all ages flock to this area to hear their favorite bands. Setting up a booth on 6th street gives you a presence at the music festival without being an official sponsor. Consider adding an experiential marketing activation such as a photo op, sunscreen station, etc., in addition to product sampling, in this high-traffic area.

This is an ideal location for brands with a wide target demographic. You will have the chance to engage with thousands of music fans, so you’ll want to make sure to plan and staff accordingly.

After deciding which type of activation you’ll be executing, it’s time to flesh out the details on how you will engage with consumers. If you need help with ideation and execution, give us a shout!

Have you activated at music festival before? Tell us about your experience below!


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