One of Sponsorfied’s deepest beliefs is that the best way to market a product is to let people experience it for themselves.
Our team has been at the South By Southwest festival in Austin for the past few days, and it has been wild. Nearly every brand, from giant to tiny, from startup to corporation, is trying to make a big impact on the hyper-social SXSW crowd. It’s pretty easy to spot which brands are nailing it, and which brands are failing.
If you’ve been following our Twitter, you saw the awesome activations by Lyft and Oreo that helped us get around town. Today, we got the chance to try out an amazing technology by Lytro, a digital camera company. Lytro cameras capture the entire light field, which allows you to change the point of focus of the picture after it’s already been taken. The result is an interactive ‘living picture’. Click around the picture below to really see what that means.
Lytro is getting their product directly into the hands of festival-goers by letting people borrow the $400 cameras for a day at a time, shoot all sorts of cool SXSW photos, and participate in a contest to win a brand new Lytro camera.
The idea behind the camera company is that in our fast-paced world, photos are the way we capture experiences and save and share memories, and that people should have maximum creative freedom to imagine those memories as they wish. By spending a day shooting, people like us were able to understand that mission on a more authentic level than any print or web ad could have enabled.
Editor’s Note: Before publishing this article, I found out that I actually won one of the several cameras that Lytro is giving away with the above photo! Expect more ‘living pictures’ of SXSW.
Along the north side of the Long Beach convention center, a renegade punk-cabaret musician and digital rights advocate sits sipping tea with a biophysicist in a space created to mimic New York’s extraordinarily popular Highline park.
Nearby, a leading nonprofit entrepreneur who develops new micro lending strategies for the world’s poorest waits in line for a “photon shower” – a walk in experience meant to rejuvenate the jet lagged and generally weary – with a hip hop choreographer she met at last night’s opening block party.
These scenes are normal for the annual TED conference in Long Beach, CA, an event which anchors a larger organization committed to spreading “ideas that matter” across online and offline platforms. While people know TED as a conference and online presence, most don’t know it as one of the most experimental venues for creative brand sponsorship.
The origins of TED lie in a small, members only event that began in the 1980s. Since then, the organization has become a global force for intellectualism and creativity, particularly after it began to post talks online for free in 2006. These talks have been viewed more than a billion times, and unleashed wave after wave of new initiatives, including TEDx – a community hosted TED event platform which has seen more than 5000 events hosted everywhere from Kansas to Kenya in just a few short years.
As its prominence rose, the organization was faced with an interesting question. How could TED integrate brands in ways that actually accentuated the value of the attendee experience, rather than falling into the transactional sponsorship patterns that lead gaudy trade-show style banners to mar conference spaces?
TED has become a model of just that sort of high-quality collaboration between brands and event owners. For the TED partnerships team, the bedrock principle is that any brand presence at the event has to add new experiential value to the community.
With this in mind, they begin working with partners to plan brand integration months in advance. The venues for those partnerships are the 9 social spaces, physical areas around the convention center where brands can set up instillations, exhibits, and experiences for attendees.
The two installations referenced at the beginning of this piece were strategies that The Tiffany Foundation, the sponsor of the Highline installation, and Delta, the sponsor of the “power up/power down” lounge that featured the photon shower, came up with in collaboration with the TED partnerships team. The goal was to amplify existing corporate missions by creating genuinely cool experiences for people at the event. Tiffany’s is a major sponsor of the Highline park in New York City and other public space restorations, and Delta is launching a major campaign to get people to think of them as the best airline for minimizing the pain of travel, providing significant brand continuity to their TED activities.
Another popular installation was a brainwave monitoring station sponsored by Target that asked attendees to experience content differently by laying down and measuring brain activity during the viewing. The station came out of Target’s recognition that innovative design (the “D” in TED), such a core part of the company’s DNA, should be the guiding force behind any collaboration with the TED team. In between sessions, people could compete in brainteasers linked to an EEG and compete for bragging rights around brain function (unsurprisingly, Google founder Sergey Brin spend much time near the top of the leader board). This installation was one of the most buzzed about at the event and on social media, demonstrating again how the key to sparking conversation about a brand is to create something exciting enough to talk about.
Not all brands can find the right ways to manifest themselves at TED. Many conversations begin that don’t ultimately lead to anything because there just isn’t a clear way for the brand to create something that amplifies the attendee experience.
Sometimes brands want to be involved with the community, but don’t necessarily want to activate new campaign and instead want to learn as much as they can from the amazing minds at the event. When this desire came up more and more, the TED partnerships team launched the TED Institute, a structured way for brands sponsoring the event to have private meals and deep brainstorming sessions with the attendees.
What makes both of these strategies so effective both for TED and the participating brands is that they recognize that the main value of association with the event is not garrulous banners that maximize impressions generally, but maximizing the impression that they make on the individual influencers who participate in the community, who ultimately have an improved association with that brand and a higher likelihood of sharing that positive association with the people they care about.
Although TED2013 has just wrapped, the partnerships team is already hard at work scheming for the future. The event celebrates its 30th anniversary next year with a move from Long Beach to Vancouver, creating an entirely new canvas with which to work. One part of that new canvas may involve exploring ways to more directly connect the experience of onsite activations with the extensive community of viewers who experience the conference via simulcast from other parts of the world.
Offline events offer brands a totally different platform for creatively expressing their identity, values, and curiosity. What TED’s integration of brands demonstrates is that by collaborating and pushing to think differently, sponsors can not only bankroll experiences, but actually add new and unique value to them.
Photo of the Target-sponsored social space at TED2013, courtesy of TED.
SXSW is chaos. Every March, tens of thousands mob the Austin streets, and every March, just about as many wonder why there aren’t better transportation options. A couple years ago, Uber, the on-demand transportation company decided to do something about it. Since then, their pedicabs – a rickshaw-style bicycle service – have been mainstays (and lifesavers) at the festival. Last year, some SXSWers were even treated to delivery BBQ.
Uber represents an important model for brands because instead of worrying about throwing the biggest party, they focused on their core asset – a technology-based on demand transportation system – to provide real value to festival-goers and create a presence in the process.
For the team at SpotOn, a digital platform to help merchants engage and reward active customers, loyalty isn’t just business; it’s personal.
Anduena Zhubi, the company’s VP of marketing, grew up in the back of a tailoring shop in Glenview, Illinois, founded by her immigrant parents.
“For our family, our customers were everything. With a local business like ours, they were a real, constant presence in our lives, and we tried constantly to be a part of theirs. Our founders have similar stories of building businesses centered around strong personal relationships with customers. We want to help make it easier for any business to have those sorts of relationships.”
When the company began thinking about running a South By Southwest campaign, they asked themselves what loyalty really meant. They realized it wasn’t just a part of small business relationships, but a way of engaging with any of the relationships around us.
Soon, an idea began to take shape.
The campaign would be a celebration of that magic energy between musicians and fans; that awesome power that radiates physically across a room when the right note is struck and for a moment, people cease to become individuals and instead lose themselves in sonic transcendence.
It would use SpotOn’s loyalty software to check in fans around the festival. They would have access to immediate rewards from great local merchants already using the platform, and also be entered for access to a set of bigger opportunities including VIP access to amazing showcases and even artists meet-and-greets.
The campaign was to be called “Loyal To The Beat,” and the only question was with whom the Silicon Valley startup – passionate but not well versed in the music world – could partner with to make it happen.
That’s where Sponsorfied came in. Using the platform, SpotOn was able to browse more than 50 SXSW events – ranging from startup busses to mega showcases. Quickly, an indie mega showcase hosted by Noise Pop caught their eye.
As a San Francisco-based company, SpotOn knew that Noise Pop had a reputation for creating great, fan-centric concert experiences. Within minutes of sending a note to the organization using Sponsorfied’s system, SpotOn had a reply.
“Noise Pop exists to celebrate the music we love and share it with other fans like us,” said Noise Pop Business Development Coordinator, Chad Heimann. “When we began talking with SpotOn about ways to collaborate on its loyalty campaign, we knew it was a perfect fit.”
Most great sponsorship experiences are collaborations, and within a few days, SpotOn and NoisePop had taken the initial spark of an idea and turned it into something great. The campaign launches formally on March 10th, and culminates at the After the Gold Rush showcase on March 15th.
“Sponsorfied was more than just a great facilitator,” said SpotOn’s Zhubi. “The site inspired us to think differently about how to create incredible experiences for our brand at SXSW.”
For us, facilitating great sponsorship connections isn’t just about helping companies do better marketing – it’s about enabling relationships and experiences that help brands manifest the best of their values and passions in the world.
Look for Loyal To The Beat this year in Austin.
“South By is really where people go to get discovered: that can be brands, causes, brands, you name it. It’s really where worldwide audiences flock to see new things.”
Last year, unassuming Empire Automotive Service at 604 E. 7th street became Austin’s most surprising and consistently awesome music venue. BandPage, the creator of social tools that helps musicians connect with their fans, made their mark at SXSW2012 by turning their venue into a platform for brands, labels, and bands to collaborate on incredible showcases and parties that became the talk of the festival.
South By Stories is a video series profiling creative brand campaigns from South By Southwest.
Want in on a little secret?
The biggest mistake that brands make at SXSW isn’t booking the wrong act for the party. It’s not getting the wrong venue, and it’s not scheduling at the wrong time.
The biggest mistake that brands make at SXSW is thinking that the only way to rise above the noise is to be the loudest. Throw the biggest party. Sponsor the craziest stunt. Buy the coolest schwag.
What we’ve learned in working with dozens of brands over the last few years is that success at SXSW, like every good marketing campaign, is all about creating a campaign that aligns a brand’s objectives with its resource commitment, and does so in a way that is consistent and authentic with the story that brand is trying to tell about itself and the world at large.
Here are some useful ways to think about each of the three most important decisions your brand at SXSW.
1. What are your brand’s objectives?
When your brand thinks about SXSW, its important to get specific about what you’re actually hoping to accomplish.
Here are some common objectives:
Maximize impressions at the event – put differently, get as many people to interact with your brand in some way as possible.
Maximize impressions after the event – some brands are focused on the content they can create during SXSW to tell stories later.
Maximize emotional connection with audience – sometimes, SXSW isn’t about big at all. Sometimes it’s about finding ways to surprise and delight small numbers of people who become champions and evangelists.
Field test a new product – many brands use SXSW to actually test their new products – be it a new beer or a new app.
Each of these objectives has very different implications. Maximizing impressions at the event means doing something so big or crazy that it commands attention. Maximizing impressions after the event means planning what sort of media is going to be created and which outlets are right to publish and promote it. Maximizing emotional connection is all about doing the unexpected – going above and beyond to make people feel deeply committed to your brand.
The first step for SXSW is understanding your brand’s objectives. The trick then becomes, how to make it happen.
2. What resources are you willing to commit?
There are ways to do SXSW at a range of different resource allocations, but the financial, time, and talent capital that your brand is willing to exert can have big implications for which type of objectives you might choose to pursue, and how you do it.
For example, take the goal of maximizing impressions at SXSW. A brand that’s willing to commit large amounts of resources can simply be the biggest and most noticeable. In 2012, for example, Doritos installed a 100 foot tall vending machine where artists from Snoop to Cisco Adler played.
A brand that doesn’t have those sort of resources would have to be much more creative and guerrilla to maximize impressions in the same way. And while that’s not a totally outrageous goal, a smaller overall resource capacity might easily lead a brand towards different objectives.
For example, there could be much lower cost strategies for maximizing emotional connection. Imagine a brand connecting an aspiring filmmaker to their favorite director for a backstage meet’n’greet. Sure, it may not be the loudest campaign, but for that fan, it would be so meaningful that they might become a passionate advocate for that brand. What’s more, the content created around it – the photo or video of that moment of connection, expresses such a universal emotion set that with the right distribution, it could actually lead to significant brand impressions in media later.
3. What campaign is most authentic to your brand’s story?
Brands are not sums of data points; they’re subjective emotional experiences. They are stories that transform products into something more than products – into gateways into a way of seeing and experiencing the world.
There is a temptation for brands to adapt to SXSW rather than understand how to figure out what parts of their story could turn into campaigns that work well at the festival. Just because people at SXSW respond to huge musical mega acts doesn’t mean you need to book someone that no one at your company even really likes. Just because attendees expect schwag doesn’t mean you need to make a T-shirt if that seems stupid to you.
Consumers respond to authenticity and consistency. It made sense for Nike to have an amazing athletic facility to try out their new Fuel Band, and it made sense for Doritos to have a giant vending machine.
What makes sense for your brand ultimately has to be a consideration not just of objectives and resources but who you are, and the story you want to tell. Nail that, and whether big or small, your SXSW campaign will be a success.
What happens when you put representatives from five major brands in the same room with a handful of rock legends?
That’s exactly what The Patron Project, a panel discussion at TRI Studios in San Rafael, aimed to find out. Musicians Bob Weir (The Grateful Dead), Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), Sammy Hagar (Van Halen), and Lukas Nelson (Promise of the Real) sat down with reps from Dolby, RedBull, EMI, Pandora, and Microsoft.
The result was a brilliant dialogue about the changing face of sponsorship and how brands engage with their target audiences. Much of the discussion involved the renewed use of an old term, “patronage”, as opposed to “sponsorship”. The important distinction made was the level of authenticity and dedication in such a partnership. The panelists made it clear that with the changing state of the music industry, artists now depend more and more brands as a source of support. The general consensus from both sides was a desire for more meaningful, long-term relationships between artists and brands.
Five quotes capture the spirit and main points of the discussion:
“You become cool by integration, not association.”-Gunnar Larson, Director of Music, Dolby Laboratories.
“The concept of selling out doesn’t exist anymore. Patronage helps the artist in ways record labels can’t anymore.”-Lukas Nelson, Musician, Promise of the Real.
“Sometimes your best brand strategy is not to be loud about you, but about the music.”-Jason Fisher, Digital Marketing Manager, Red Bull Media House.
“A sponsor is buying the artist, a patron is genuinely interested in the artist.”-Bob Weir, Musician, The Grateful Dead.
“People have emotional connections with music. Brands can harness this emotional power and use it to their advantage.”-Dax Kimbrough, Former Director of Brand Partnerships, EMI Music / Capitol Records.
The music industry is a “ground zero” for the changing nature of the relationship between brands and artists. Examples like the Re:Generation Project – which was sponsored by Hyundai and which facilitated unexpected collaborations between young DJs like Skrillex and Pretty Lights with heros of other genres like The Doors and Ralph Stanley – demonstrate the potential for different groups to build deep authentic relationships around sponsorship. Those relationships can produce not just great marketing campaigns, but incredible creative outputs.
After the discussion, the brand reps exited the stage and the seasoned rockstars picked up their instruments for an amazing, intimate live performance in an acoustically immaculate recording space. They played classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes such as “Mustang Sally”, along with songs from each respective artist’s career.
It was a reminder of why we had all gathered for discussion – and why this particular discussion was so important to the future of artistic production – serious talent deserves to be heard.
Photographer: Michael O’Donnell
Ike Edeani is an SF-based architect-turned creative director-turned photographer. He had always loved photography, and when a new app called Instagram started going viral in Silicon Valley, he used it as an excuse to rededicate himself to the medium.
A couple years later, he has 250,000+ followers and works as a photographer full time. Every time he takes a shot on Instagram, thousands of people comment or like it.
Ike isn’t Ashton Kutcher, but in his corner of the internet-powered world, he might as well be.
Ike is part of a new species of influencers who have built a presence on a particular creative platform and who carry with them their own built-in audience to whatever content they create.
As your brand begins to think about how to rise above the noise at SXSW, there may be no more important type of person with whom to get involved.
Andy Warhol famously said that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame. In today’s world, a more accurate version of the sentiment might be that everyone has their 15 followers.
When we think of influencers, tastemakers, and cultural creators, we tend to think of movie stars, athletes, and TV personalities. In the pre-internet era, influence and fame were relatively binary: you either had them or you didn’t. In other words, you either had an audience or you didn’t.
In the internet era, the tools to grow and engage with an audience have become democratized, and “fame” and “influence” have not only seen their barriers to entry lowered, but have become a spectrum rather than a binary. Almost everyone has some set of people they influence, and the tools to manage and make the most of that influence.
The impact of traditional influencers like celebrities has not diminished in this new world. Indeed, many celebrities have actually used social media to increase the base level of cultural influence that the media for which they became famous in the first place would have otherwise afforded them.
But there is something new happening.
To some extent, everyone at SXSW is an influencer. The people who attend the event – whether officially or unofficially – are early adopters and creative or technical professionals that help shape online attitudes and, consequently, drive offline behavior.
Within the masses, however, there is a different category who are not just normal influential early adopters, nor celebrities of the traditional mode, but who possess an outsized, deeply engaged audience within a particular medium.
For brands, the channels these amplifiers represent are incredibly valuable, not just for the volume of eyeballs to which they open access, but for the deep authenticity of their origins. The people who follow Ike on Instagram, or Hermione Way on Socialcam, or others like them on Vine, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, etc do so because they genuinely appreciate the content those people are creating.
Put differently, if one of these amplifiers chose to push a brand, their audience is more likely to trust that recommendation than they might if they were hearing about it through a different channel.
While brands are starting to explore relationships with this category of amplifiers, these relationships are in their infancy. They can be incredibly powerful allies, and we expect to see some of the savviest brands at SXSW connect with amplifiers to make their events and activations go much further than they otherwise would.
It’s 3 am, and the crowd pours out of the Hype Hotel into the muggy, still-warm Austin night.
Over by the garden, members of the band that just finished performing laugh with a tech entrepreneur building a new mobile music platform and a brand ambassador from Doritos, one of the sponsors of the night’s festivities.
They’re talking about the future of digital music distribution. They’re talking about the role that brands could have in supporting emerging artists. They’re talking about the unbelievable 16 year old French DJ who just set the venue on fire.
Their conversation – like all conversations at South By Southwest – drips with possibility and the endless joy that comes from collaborating to create the future.
From humble beginnings as a regional festival for art, music, and culture, SXSW has grown into a Mecca for creativity – an annual pilgrimage for startups, musicians, filmmakers, and strivers of all shapes and sizes.
For brands, the festival represents much more than a place to show up and shill some new products.
In an era of hyper fragmentation, we seek out experiences that make us feel connected to our communities and connected to ourselves. Brands today aren’t just competing to be our t-shirts or our cereal, they’re competing to be a part of the way we project our image to the world.
The way brands transcend being product and service providers to actually engaging with consumers on an emotional level has to do with authenticity and alignment with the experiences through which we make meaning.
SXSW is a rare moment when people from multiple industries and walks of life let their guard down to experience the best of what each other have to offer. The most successful brands understand that, for that reason, it doesn’t represent just another industry gathering to show up at, but a platform that allows them offer up their story (and products) to an audience that is not only open to but excited about discovering the new.
SXSW was where we at Sponsorfied fell in love with brands – or more specifically, where we fell in love with the possibilities for how brands could be a part of creating amazing things. It was where we first saw that when brands connect their products to the real lived experiences of consumers, they can become an integral part of people’s lives.
We exist to amplify how brands build deep, authentic relationships with their customers. As SXSW approaches, we’ll be publishing a series of posts and videos sharing what we’ve learned about what it takes for brands to rise above the noise to get noticed and build something great for their community.
In part, these posts are a way to help the brands that breathe life into our platform. Of course, the truth is they’re also (at least a little bit) a way to pass the time until we can head back to Austin. We’ll see you there.
As the platform evolves, the Sponsorfied 101 series will serve as an educational tool for up-to-date information about how to make the most out of Sponsorfied.
So, you just published your first Sponsorfied event page? Congratulations! Hopefully you’re excited about how wonderful your page looks on our website, and perhaps you’re curious as to exactly what happens now.
Here’s how it works:
There are hundreds of national brands on Sponsorfied, and more signing up every day. When a brand representative logs in to Sponsorfied, there are two ways that they might discover your opportunity:
1. Suggested Events: Brands receive suggestions from Sponsorfied based on demographic criteria they specified when they first signed up.
2. The Explore Tool: Brands can browse all the events in the system or categorize by location, date, & type.
Through one of those two tools, brands may find themselves looking at your event page. If they are interested in sponsoring your event, you will receive an inquiry message from them. It is not until you are contacted by a brand that you are able to message them. If you find a sponsor for your event, make sure to create a recap page when the event is over. Recap pages allow you to show both the sponsor brand and any potential future sponsors the quality of the events that you host.
By using Sponsorfied, you vastly improve your chances of receiving a sponsorship. As the network grows, we will continue to add more features that enable you to leverage your presence on our platform. We not only want to see sponsorships get easier to manage, we want to see the quality of sponsorships improve. This blog will provide updates, insight, and education to help our users get the most out of our platform. We can’t guarantee a sponsorship for anyone, but we do provide an organized, intelligent way for you to drastically increase your chances.
Thank you for being a part of the Sponsorfied community. We wish you a wonderful holiday season, and we look forward to another year of awesome sponsorships!