It is no surprise that Austin’s landscape creates an ideal mural for brands coming to SXSW. At the blink of an eye pop-up displays appear on almost every corner, live music is heard every few feet, and shops and restaurants transition to scenes directly from upcoming movies or TV programming.

YouTube, Twitter, Dell, Amazon, Gatorade and more converted spaces throughout downtown Austin to create unique experiences. If we were to try to recap them all and review the experiential efforts we’d have at least 10 posts, but you and I both don’t have time for that.

Given SHIFT’s love of fully-integrated programs we did want to take a look at two multi-day brand events, highlighting activities and overall efforts. Keep these things in mind when making decisions on whether you pursue your own event during SXSW, or when attending similar events in the future. We’ll be taking a look at the Spredfast Social Suite and the IBM Experience.

SpredFast Social Suite

For the second year in a row Spredfast was the belle of the ball in terms of SXSW experiences. Converting their downtown office space into the “Social suite,” Spredfast created a “must attend” event for a majority of the Interactive portion of SXSW.

Human Interaction by actual staff: Although you may say “well duh it was in their office,” I was highly impressed with the fact that the suite was fully populated with Spredfast employees and not temp staff hired to simply smile and point you to demo screen. As soon as you entered the suite you were greeted by smiling faces who welcomed you, made you feel like you were entering a home away from home, and yes – if you were curious about the company or product they could jump right into a conversation with you.

Swag: Everyone likes free stuff, but Spredfast certainly takes it to a new level (and stays on brand). Attendees had their pick of T-shirts, tote bags, sunglasses, S’well bottles and more.

Unique food: With so many networking events in Austin during SXSW, Spredfast knew it had to offer more than the usual local food items like tacos or bbq. No, no. Instead, attendees at the social suite were provided a one of a kind milkshake. A milkshake topped with a donut, donut holes, whip cream and if you were feeling like that was not enough sugar – top it off with some candy.

Social Media: As you may expect given their product strength, social media was a home run for Spredfast. The official hashtag #SoSpredfast was in view everywhere to keep social shares in front of them. They offered an “Instagram it” station for photos (perhaps of your shake), a slow motion camera set up for high-tech action shots, and their social media team was quick to respond to any comment or questions you had on Twitter with a fantastic gif game.

Onsite Content: This to me was the biggest differentiator from other events thrown by other brands. In addition to showcasing product, offering food/drinks and swag – each afternoon featured exclusive live panel sessions with fantastic speakers to give you a little something “extra” to think about during your week of SXSW sessions.

They were kind enough to recap these on their blog and I would recommend you take a read of the following:

If you attend SXSW 2018 and Spredfast is offering this area again, I strongly recommend you RSVP and check it out.

IBM Experience at SXSW

Unfortunately, IBM did not reach the same breakdown level of interest as the social suite.

Last year IBM did a phenomenal job with its IBM “Cognitive Lab.” Dismantling the often forgotten Vince Young Steakhouse downtown, the building was reborn into an IBM branded building of culinary and robotic wonder. The entire set up was a consistent reminder of the power of IBM Watson. As you were greeted at the door, you were asked a series of questions that would help “Chef Watson” alert bartenders to your preference of drink and create a signature beverage for you. While waiting in line at the bar, staff would walk you through an IBM app to see if you’d be likely to use it in a restaurant or bar to create your cocktails, or show you a variety of robots that could either tour your around the restaurant, out dance you, or perhaps beat you in a game of rock, paper, scissors. With a brief human interaction you were able to move on to interactions with a variety of IBM products and experiences that may change your mind on what the blue brand truly stands for.

This year, however, with the IBM Experience we had a completely different feel and unfortunately in the opposite direction. In a larger space, IBM moved into Brazos hall and rather than unified theme or solution as the focal point it was very much the entire IBM family of products thrown at you in what felt like a middle school science fair with attendees trying to maneuver through giant expo boards. If you wanted swag, a drink from the Watson craft beer area or information any of the product segments you were pushed to websites, tablets or other devices to answer survey questions to fill the IBM contact data machine vs. feel you were having an experience or connection to the brand.

At SXSW 2018, we encourage IBM – and all brands – to focus on the positive impact human-focused events have on attendees. Plus, milkshakes never hurt.

Matt Trocchio
Vice President


Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk