Hundreds of entrepreneurs and small-business owners have descended on Austin, Texas, this week for South by Southwest (SXSW). The 10-day festival has evolved beyond its music-and-film roots and now hosts many events aimed at helping small companies network and get exposure for their products and services.
Yet standing out at such an event can be tricky. Not only are there hundreds of other entrepreneurs vying for attention—major brands are spending loads of money on marketing at SXSW and hosting high-profile events.
So, with everyone clamoring for attention, how does a small company make a splash?
“You come to a place like this and you say, 'What am I going to do? How am I going to break through?'” says Christophe Daligault, chief marketing officer of FireChat, a messaging app that works without WiFi. FireChat is taking a cue from Twitter—which made huge waves at SXSW in 2007—and set up a demonstration at the J.W. Marriott in Austin. The company created a “SXSW Edition” of its app so attendees could use it to chat about speakers, parties or events, according to Digiday.
Joe Panepinto, senior vice president of strategy for Jack Morton, a global brand experience agency, suggests small companies should look for more personalized ways to stand out at major events.
Find a way to be helpful. Small companies can create buzz at an event by finding a unique way to help event attendees. That could mean handing out refreshments to people standing in line or giving them something to make their time at the conference more enjoyable. “They’re standing in line for long periods of time; they’re traveling around,” Panepinto says. Are there opportunities for you to help that can be aligned with your brand?
Wear interesting and identifiable clothing or gear. Some small companies have stood out at SXSW and other big events by having their employees wearing interesting clothing—whether the same T-shirts, unique headbands or buttons. Called “peacocking,” this can be a fun and low-cost way to gain some attention, Panepinto explains.
Come up with low-cost ways to engage attendees. Small companies often can’t afford to buy space at big events like SXSW. But that doesn’t mean they can’t engage an audience. Panepinto suggests small businesses could create a “pop-up” contest or game on the sidewalk that’s connected with the brand messaging. The question is, Panepinto says, “How can I attract people in a creative way?”
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