Truth be told, I go to a lot of conferences and events throughout the year and have been a regular attendee at SXSW (South-by-Southwest Festival) for about a decade. One of my favorite things to do at conferences is observe what vendors do well (rarely are my socks knocked off) and of course, where they make obvious marketing faux pas (more often than not).
Many of the things on my list will apply to pretty much any show, however the below incidents actually happened during my trip to SXSW this past week. And I couldn’t help but think: It is 2012 isn’t it? There are some basics. What Not To Do:
1. Throw an Event and Target the Wrong People:
Let’s call it a B-Brand, aka, not a Ford, Pepsi Co or Kodak but let’s say a company in between Instagram and Adobe as far as name recognition goes.
Targeting early social media adopters, musicians and music “lovers” would have been the right way to go. Upon arrival, I was escorted to the VIP section (nearly every event I went to had one of these yet it surprised me how little the venue cared since they certainly didn’t go out of their way to cater to that section, which btw, housed the sponsors who actually paid for the event).
After meandering around for a couple of hours and asking people why they were there and how they knew about the ‘brand,’ I was amazed at how unaware they were, not to mention it simply wasn’t their target audience. The other half? Too drunk to carry on a conversation. I had to ask to find out who the key ‘sponsors’ were as well as the Twitter ‘handle’ and hashtag which no one seemed to know. Marketing 101 folks. It’s a social media event.
On another note, sometimes you can invite ‘cool cats’ to your bash but they won’t actually move the revenue needle or bring you customers. And, while you may think they’ll bring you ‘brand’ klout, ask yourself how they will do that exactly before you add them to your list.
2. Shake Hands While You’re Meeting Someone Without Actually Looking at Them:
I’ve been noticing this pattern more frequently in the past year, especially in Silicon Valley with yeah, okay, I’ll say it, the generation behind me. Call me old guard if you will, but there’s something fundamentally wrong with meeting and greeting someone while you’re looking somewhere else. This happened to me five times at SXSW, it was during the day and each one of them was sober.
An industry friend had the same thing happen to him and he was dumbfounded, but he spends his time between New York and Europe more often than he does on the west coast. Welcome to unaware living in the technology world I said. Imagine shaking someone’s hand and saying great to meet you while your eyes are darting elsewhere to see who’s around and who’s not.
Even if you’re not trying to “market” yourself, every exchange is you selling yourself, even if it’s a ‘soft sell’ of who you are, what you represent in the world and how much you care about someone else other than yourself.
3. Meet Someone New and Then Look Down at Your iPhone:
This is related to #2 and quite honestly, has been an increasing occurrence. This btw, isn’t necessarily a generation thing, but moreso an “attention overload” thing related to all the things that grab our attention while we’re on the move. On our devices, we are hit with social media networks, check-in services, addictive online games, email, Twitter, Facebook updates, yadda yadda yadda. This theft (it’s a good word because that’s how I feel about it) of our time and of our attention results in a depletion of our energy, our overall awareness and how much time we give to a human vis a vis a device.
If you haven’t seen a group of people sit down for a meal at a restaurant and then take out their phones, zoning out of the human component around them in order to zone into the digital world one in their hand, then you’re not paying enough attention.
I even sadly saw this at 5 star restaurants in Paris, Dublin and Prague over the past year. So, it ain’t just the yanks although it does seem to be more prevalent the further west I travel.
If you’re more interested in a device than our exchange while I’m talking to you, why on earth would I want to work with you, or trust buying products from you? Disingenuine comes across as disingenuine and bottom line, it just doesn’t “feel good” to be on the other side. It makes me quickly want to move on and talk to someone else. My time is valuable too.
4. Spend A Whole Lotta Money on Hiring Our Cute Girls & Boys To Wear Your Product But Don’t Tell Them Anything ABOUT the Product:
There was a really creative marketing stint at SXSW this year from the Cool Sculpting folks. They even had a hash tag for it – #letsgetnaked. A group of young and pretty well sculpted early twenty year old guys & gals in skin-tight suits which were flesh-colored, paraded around Austin shouting “Let’s Get Naked.”
Their energy was enthusiastic, their smiles electric and they seemed to be having a good time. Simply put, it was hard not to engage with them. I remembered the “lets get naked” slogan afterwards but not their brand name and when I asked about the product itself, I didn’t get a clear idea of what it was other than a ‘suit’ to reduce the number of visible bumps your body displays to the outside world.
Perhaps that’s enough of a selling point, but I would have liked to learn more. When I asked if they were on Twitter, they weren’t sure and no one knew the Twitter name so I had to look it up.
Same goes for the Chevy drivers with their #catchachevy campaign. The marketing team they hired was from an agency that represents Chevy. As an aside, the group was professional, friendly, fun and trained in great customer service, but they didn’t know a whole lot about Chevy cars or whether they had a social media presence. I had to once again look it up.
That said, the fact that their marketing folks were so amazing and having cars available for attendees more than made up for it. The latter is a brilliant marketing stunt and they absolutely executed again, their third year doing it.
5. Have an Event FAR Out of Town When There’s Limited Taxis & Pedi-Taxi Drivers Won’t Take People Up Hills:
There were a few companies that held their events too far out of town, including one of my favorite airlines. I was thinking: why not team up with Chevy or another car company (co-brand it) and bring folks out to your event, at the very least press and VIPs. We called a cab to get back into town and after an hour of a ‘no show,’ I ended up having to walk back into the city with a heavy bag on my already sore shoulder.
Once we were there of course, they had it nailed. Fun demos, great food, casual atmosphere and plenty of knowledgeable and engaging in-house and agency folks to interact with and ask questions. Customer engagement & Hospitality gets an A+.
A few companies did the Salt Lick Barbeque van trips, which I’ve done myself with a client in the past. It’s great on one hand because it celebrates something local and is unique, but on the other hand, the transportation out and back eats into other events that guests may want to attend so it presents an extra reason not to show up.
Make your venue easily accessible, easy to find (signage) and whenever possible, avoid other major event conflicts so you don’t force your guests to choose.
Don’t even get me started with the traffic jams and pedi-cab incidents you have to deal with SXSW week. An Irish bud was literally thrown out of a pedi-cab because the ‘kid’ had never driven one before and it was his first day. Unfortunately, he spent the rest of SXSW limping around and popping strong pain pills.
6. Spend a Whole Lotta Money on a Booth Gimmick & Have the Wrong People Work the Booth:
There were a few creative ‘gimmicks’ at various booths yet while their booths had passion and all the trimmings, the people working the book didn’t. If you’re spending a fortune on a booth, design, collateral and more, make sure you bring people who not only live and breathe your product, but have the kind of energy that will get others to climb on board as well.
In a few cases, it seemed like they couldn’t wait for the day to end so they could begin party hopping. It’s not that I don’t resonate with it – it’s exhausting working a booth for 8 hours a day, having done it more times than I’d care to remember. That said, there are people who dig talking to people and pitching over and over AND over again. Find them, nurture them, educate them DEEPLY on your product or service and do whatever you can to keep them so they don’t go elsewhere.
7. Get So Drunk That You Can No Longer Talk Effectively About Your Product OR Yourself:
I realize that SXSW is more like a summer camp for social media afficiandos, geeks, film makers and musicians than it is a traditional conference, but let’s face it, it’s not as if the whiskey, beer and wine served are top shelf at 95% of the events, even in the VIP sections.
Aside from your product or service, I may actually want to learn more about you as a person, whether that is because I might be interested in partnering with you at some point in the future, hiring you, buying something from you or who knows, even writing a book together. Amazing collaborations can come out of SXSW (and have), so realize that you’re always marketing yourself, even between midnight and 3 am. You’re always selling at SXSW even when you think you’re not.
8. TWEET While You’re As Drunk (See #7):
Those of us who are online often will likely all admit that they’ve sent something out, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere that they’re embarrassed about or was inappropriate.
The same applies to video btw. People can shoot you somewhere and in days if not minutes, your mug, your voice, and your drunken self is public for the world, your employer, your business colleagues and your family to see.
9. Carry Cluttered Business Cards That Make It Hard to Find You:
Ever notice how “cool” it is now to carry a business card with only your name and a website on it. The logic of course is that if you’re really interested in them, you’ll go to their website for all the data that you need, which of course drives traffic to their site. For those with too much time on their hands or those you do end up having a meaningful or long conversation with, then that may in fact work.
Most of the people I end up wanting to talk to longer than ten minutes at a cocktail reception tend to be extremely overbooked, busy people. Sometimes I attend 3-4 events a week, which adds up to a whole lotta cards. Imagine how many I end up with after a week at SXSW covering not just Interactive, but Film and Music? I don’t even try at this event and end up with 100 by the time I get home.
Sometimes I’ll tweet out a ‘cool’ thing about a company or person in that moment if I was ‘moved’ by something, a task I’m 99% less likely to do the next day or the next week. The industry simply moves too fast and the always on, social media culture has only accelerated things.
The majority of cards I got at SXSW didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter handle listed…at a conference where Twitter exploded, at a conference full of bloggers, tweeters and social media consultants, at a conference where “in-the-moment” tools like Foursquare are used hourly. Yadda Yadda Yadda you get the idea.
And so, most of those companies didn’t get a call out because I was too busy to take to pull up their site and even for a few sites I did go to, it was difficult to find their Twitter handles. Marketing 101 folks. It’s a social media event.
10. Have No Cards At All:
Every time someone doesn’t have a card at an event, the response is: “I ran out of cards or forgot them or if someone wants to find me, they will.” Fair enough, you don’t want to be found and you really don’t want people to contact you.
If you’re at a level in your career where you’re either an ‘industry celebrity’ and simply don’t want to be bothered or think you are an ‘industry celebrity’ and just too arrogant to be courteous, then fine – be mysterious or too important to carry them.
To be fair, I get it. When I dish out a card, I worry that I’ll be thrown onto some inappropriate mailing list or onto a media list that isn’t targeted to what I write about (I ended up on an enterprise software company’s mailing list in the last year and one of their sales reps actually called my house at 8 am in the morning trying to sell me a 3K solution for my business), or someone will follow up asking for free consulting it disguising it as a simple question to get my unique perspective or insights.
That said, I always feel I can learn something from someone new and often I learn something new about myself and how to handle complex situations from the people I least expect. Sometimes when I think I’m the teacher, I end up becoming the student and vice versa.
Bottom line, I think it’s disrespectful not to carry a card and I wasn’t born in Asia. Sure it’s a game, but in the networking game, it’s part of the protocol.
Sometimes people say, “I just came here to meet up with a few friends.” My thought is: cool, then why did you come to a networking event in the first place? Why not go to a private bar where you’re not surrounded by new people and catch up with old friends? It’s like playing golf on a South African golf course and not wearing the ‘socks.’
And, for those who live in a digital-only world and that’s your excuse, remember that not everyone else does. If your response to that is: if they’re not playing in the digital world and can’t Bump me their data, then they’re not relevant, then you shouldn’t be in a role that IS marketing-driven. You never know where your customer is going to come from or when. Protocol 101. Be respectful. Carry a card, even if you decide later on to never talk to them again.