Tom Webster, writing and speaking

The Most Effective Marketing I Saw at SXSW

Added on by Tom Webster.

Stetson cowboy hat 1920s renovated 6I recently returned from the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, which is America's ground zero for creative innovation in marketing, branding, technology and breakfast tacos. I saw a lot of promising startups and tech there (particularly in the mobile space) and heard some incredible case studies on social media, community-building and Electronic or "E" Commerce. Still, when I was asked by a friend to name the best thing I saw at SXSW, there was one clear winner in my book--hands-down, the most effective marketing effort there--and it had nothing to do with an app, geo-targeting, mobile wallets or even Facebook. In fact, while you might have seen some tweets about this company, the impact of their efforts can't be fully measured online through social monitoring or clickstream behavior. It will require a concerted effort, both online and offline, with server AND survey data, to show the true power of their presence at SXSW, but I'm convinced they got their money's worth.

That brand? Chevy. While there were a lot of brands doing some cool things with apps, web sites and mobile technology, Chevy was cleaning up offline, in the moment, by being there at the point of need in myriad ways. No, their efforts weren't exclusively offline, as evidenced by the hours of video content they created at their SXSW - What Drives You? web site, including loads of excellent interviews with influential content creators by Stephanie Wonderlin, so they were certainly covering all the content marketing bases for owned media. They also comped "influencers" with cars to try out (full disclosure: they lent me an Equinox, and I had a ride in a Volt with Jason Falls). So their online/earned media efforts were considerable.

It's what they did offline, however, that I thought really put on a clinic at SXSW. They were simply everywhere that SXSW attendees needed something, right at the point of need. The most striking and obvious example: you didn't need to be an influencer to get a ride in a Chevy. There were seemingly scores of "Catch A Chevy" cars driving around town, giving people free rides to and from hotels and events. In a week that essentially broke Austin's infrastructure, saw two days of torrential rain and a weekend-long crash in the city's taxi dispatch system, Chevy was there with exactly what you needed, a ride. I rode in these myself at least twice, and got a ride, plain and simple. No sales pitch, no brochures, no "please tweet this!!!" Just a ride. For hundreds of SXSW attendees, they were lifesavers (or, at least, bad-hair-day-savers. Good enough.)

They also managed to tie in these help-at-the-point of need promotions to their core offerings in ways that weren't forced and just made sense. Certainly, giving stranded people a ride is a transportation solution to a transportation problem, from a transportation company. They also solved another problem at the point of need--dead batteries, the bane of any blogger/content creator--with a free Volt Recharge Lounge, which I also used. Again, just what I needed (electricity) when I needed it, from an electric car brand.

Finally, I'm not going to say that Chevy covered all of my Maslow needs in one event, but they did feed me tacos at All Hat IV, and made me feel all important by taping an interview with me, so that's pretty much both ends of the hierarchy of needs from sustenance to my sense of self worth. Sponsoring All Hat was certainly an earned media play, as it was an extremely good environment for Chevy to interact with influencers and content creators, but it was also just a great event. Event marketing works, kids--especially when there is a great synergy between the brand and the event. Chevy found those synergies over the entire event, from associating the electric Volt with charging your iPad, to associating their status as a great, iconic American brand with an event like All Hat that celebrates the iconic Texas lifestyle in a great American city.

Yes, I realize this post comes off like an ad for Chevy (with whom I have no relationship save for a couple of free rides, some power and a taco or three.) But bear with me here. My real reason for writing about Chevy's efforts is not merely to try and get a Volt, it's to point out a fascinating measurement challenge. Chevy's efforts at SXSW were integrated, complex, and both online and offline. It's easy for them to measure things like blog posts, social media mentions, tweets and likes. But so much of what happened at SXSW was offline first, and, ultimately, will end offline with the decision to purchase a car. Measuring how many impressions their videos get, or how many influencers tweet about their brand during SXSW, are important measures, but they are diagnostic measures. Proxies, if you will, for the measures that are most important: the next time you go car shopping, will you consider a Chevy?

Ultimately, the product has to sell itself based upon its intrinsic value proposition - so I'm not going to buy a Chevy because they fed me a delicious taco. But if Chevy now enters my consideration set the next time I buy a car, they at least have a fighting chance to get my car-buying dollars if I mentally put them on that shelf, where they might not have been prior. And how would they know this? By asking me. Asking me before SXSW, and asking me after.

I'm most excited about integrating offline and online marketing with survey and server research. The Chevy experience at SXSW started offline, and it will end offline. There will be important clickstream measures to track in between, but they will never tell the whole story, and they can never be used to measure Chevy's ultimate goals by themselves. Listening will never replace asking, but it will make asking better. Listen, Ask, Listen, Ask. Integrate those measures. Rinse and repeat.