Each year, the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) descends on Austin, Texas. The event – broken into three sections – gives the local economy a measurable boost and sets tens of thousands of people loose on the city.
Companies use the particular focus of each SXSW component to reach different audiences. These firms are focused on capturing attention, building brand awareness and ultimately, collecting dollars. But the three types of festivals are different.
The Interactive part (SXSWi) is all about the Web and how new tools and techniques help people share content via the Internet. The Video part is all about movies, video and visual content creation and sharing. And the Music part is about bands and singers putting their talent on stage for others.
Within these three sections, the most blatant brand exposing takes place during the Interactive. For SXSWi attendees are often categorized as early adopters of new technology. That means bringing a product to market or testing it among this crowd is an appropriate move for many companies.
The big movers and shakers this year were actually movers. By that, I mean the geolocation companies Foursquare and Gowalla.
Attendees used these tools to broadcast their whereabouts and plans 24-hours a day while in Austin. In fact, the sharing began even before the conference opened with missives detailing how people were getting to Austin.
This year, Chevy decided to create a roadtrip challenge. Eight teams took part and drove from their respective home towns to Austin. Chevy did this to create awareness of their Chevy Volt among social media folks.
The teams in the Chevy SXSW Road Trip Challenge had to complete 50 challenges along the way and the winning team received the opportunity to drive a Chevy Volt at the festival in Austin. The winning team – judged on how many challenges they completed and how well they connected with people along the way – ended up being from Detroit.
But automobiles are not the only way people got to Austin this year. Planes, trains and buses were aptly represented, too.
A group of Boston folks flew on a JetBlue NerdBird to the conference. The flight, so named because it was full of geeks headed to SXSWi, ended up being a boon for JetBlue because a number of the blog and Twitter personalities on board have national prominence within the social media and marketing field.
Other festival goers took trains and buses to Texas because of financial or other constraints. And the variety of vehicles didn’t end there. In fact, while on the ground at SXSWi, attendees had even more transportation options from which to choose.
Chevy was offering free test drives in a handful of new car models including the Camaro, the Corvette and the Malibu. And if you offered to tweet about your experience, Chevy would also give you a longer ride – saving the cost of a taxi to destinations like local restaurants or party venues.
In that same vein, Microsoft had a fleet of BING-branded vehicles on site to transport people around the city. Unfortunately, their one-way approach was similar to their attempts to garner attention at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. As at CES, the BING group offered up rides from a set location, but didn’t supply a method to schedule a return trip.
To get a ride, you were required to download the BING application on your mobile device, but there too there was no function allowing users to call for a ride or alert the BING crew where or when to pick them up. Finally, when compared to the Chevy fleet of shiny colorful cars, the BING vehicles looked like funeral sedans or last year’s airport limos.
Other options in Austin ranged from pedicabs (people-powered bikes that seat two or more people in a chariot-style trailer) to the Zappo’s bus to a fleet of Segways to Austin’s version of Zipcar – the Car2Go.
Car2Go allows residents (who must qualify to drive the vehicles) the ability to jump in any Smart fortwo vehicle around the city and then drive it to their destination and leave it. It’s a similar concept to how the pink Velib bike program works in Paris where you get a free bike rental for half an hour by just sharing your credit card. Bikes in Paris need to be returned to special locking racks, but the Car2Go vehicles are tracked by microchip and can be parked anywhere within city limits for users to share with others.
Finally, the fallback transportation at SXSWi was the almighty foot. After nearly a week of traipsing around the convention center and up and down 6th Street (the central food and entertainment strip in the city), your feet could be achy and covered with blisters.
But when you’re there to make connections and learn about the newest innovations in technology and social media techniques, it’s not how you get to Austin (or get around in the city) it’s that you get there at all and make use of your time in the best way possible.