Come to South by Southwest Interactive to see Malcolm Gladwell on stage. Stay for the free frozen yogurt and grilled cheese, virtual reality demos and happy hours on wheels.
What was once a big tech conference chock-full of panels, keynotes and networking sessions is still that. But talk to many of the tens of thousands of out-of-towners navigating downtown Austin, Texas, and you'll hear various forms of: "I haven't even set foot in the the convention center" and "I don't know why anyone would buy a badge for this thing."
Recognizing that the five-day festival, March 13-17 this year, is actually one giant party overwhelming the Texas capital, companies big and small from across the globe have responded with every marketing trick imaginable. The goal is to get their brand in front of anyone who may tweet, blog, pin or, yes, even Meerkat about them.
Guerrilla marketing? Sure, but it had better be clever.
ROIKOI, a tiny Austin start-up whose software helps companies hire the right people, signed up college kids to hang out on the street wearing custom built helmets with disco lights. "They thought it would be a great way to get people to talk to us," said one of the interns, while nailing the company's elevator pitch.
Christian Voss traveled from Germany to rent out a food truck to promote the 150-person company Sedo. He's serving up free frozen yogurt with lots of delicious toppings. Only if you want caramel syrup, you have to ask for .Bar, and if it's sprinkles you prefer, well those are .Deals.
Why? Voss is so glad you asked. Sedo is a marketplace, connecting buyers and sellers of domain names. It's a suddenly interesting business now that all sorts of new suffixes have opened up to the public, giving institutions options beyond .com, .org and .edu.
"It's the show to be at to create some kind of awareness," said Voss, Sedo's head of marketing.
Giving away cold yogurt on a steamy afternoon in Austin is one way to accomplish that.