The Red Ventures Guide to SXSW

5 minute read

This month, more than 20 RVers from a wide range of functional roles across RV CLTNYC and ATX offices attended the SXSW festival in Austin. In addition to mingling with some of the world’s biggest brands, strategically scheduling our evenings around ‘surprise’ concerts, and consuming a higher dose of delicious tacos than is medically recommended – we learned a lot, and we took the notes to prove it.

3 Takeaways from this year’s featured content:


1) Change is coming.

In the last year, the world has awakened to the importance of privacy – but it was still striking to see the number of SXSW sessions singularly devoted to the topic. Regulation has lagged far behind technological advancements for years, which has allowed data monopolies (like Facebook and Google) to grow without constraint. For marketers, the new implications of GDPR in terms of how we collect data and use it to inform customer experience are simply staggering.

In addition to significant shifts in security and compliance, general agility and adaptability are more important than ever before. Brands must diversify their marketing mix and constantly test new platforms/strategies/processes in order to survive.

At the same time, social media is ripe for disruption. Many consumers view social media as “unhealthy” and have already begun “dieting.” This creates interesting new responsibilities for brands in terms of how we can create valuable (healthy) content that effectively retains audiences – but it also means consumers may already be looking for new platforms. And what happens to influencers and brands when audiences flee the only platform(s) they’ve invested in? (Hint: the same thing that happened to the brands and musicians who poured all of their money into MySpace.) (Another hint: They lost.)

Whether it’s an algorithm update on existing channels or a full paradigm shift in social media, brands who are equipped to pivot quickly are those who will survive – and thrive – in the future.

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Speaking of adaptable, here’s our own Julian Kheel stepping up at the last minute to rock the SXSW stage!

2) “Authenticity” is more than a buzzword.

It’s the secret to how brands and influencers can connect with consumers outside of an already-loyal base. The value of influencer marketing is not about “one-off” shares on social media; it’s about real-world endorsements.

Obviously, if your audience knows you’re posting something because you’re getting paid to do it, they’re not going to connect with you or the product. But, if it’s clear that you genuinely believe in a product, you use it in your everyday life, and you can speak authentically about it – there’s real value in that. (Even if it’s also clear that you’re paid to promote it.)

Additionally, as marketers, we should remember that branded content performs best when the product/brand is serving a larger, universally relatable story – not the other way around. Two amazing examples of this are National Geographic’s “Look Up” ad, and Microsoft’s 2019 Super Bowl commercial, “We all win.”

These two pieces have two things in common: 1) they tell emotional, relatable stories in which the brand is the hero and 2) I may have cried a little while watching. I had to tell you that if I’m being authentic.

3) Experiential marketing is impossible to ignore.

SXSW is world-famous for invading the entire city of Austin with immersive brand activations that are hard to ignore, and even harder to resist sharing on Instagram. Attendees stood in line for HOURS (not an exaggeration) just to be sold to by brands like Netflix, Amazon, Bose, Samsung, Bumble, Lululemon, HBO, and others.

Success of these activations is obviously much more difficult to measure than the digital campaigns we’re used to at Red Ventures, but their potential impact was clear via social engagement, exit interviews, lead gen, and – we expect – e-mail remarketing.

And along those same lines, the emphasis in these activations was definitely on experiences. What’s in it for the consumer? At the Netflix activation, you could ‘solve a crime’ with actors, play poker, and attend secret concerts in a speakeasy. At Amazon’s activation, you could play with puppies, complete a scavenger hunt, and explore a ‘heavenly’ garden. The bottom line: consumers are no longer content to just SEE something. They want to DO something. And top brands need to deliver.

Note: SXSW activations may take this concept to the extreme, but there’s definitely an opportunity for ALL marketers to apply an interactive element to their content, social media, and customer experiences.

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“Yes, I’ll buy 5 Snapchats, please.”

3 Tips for attending SXSW in the future:


1) Prioritization is key.

SXSW venues are all over the city of Austin, and lines become long – fast. Be strategic about your schedule by prioritizing the topics you’d like to attend well in advance, mapping out the distance between venues, and most importantly – getting there early. (Bonus tip: Take notes of which sessions are being recorded/posted online later, and consider de-prioritizing those until after the festival.)

2) Don’t be shy.

In every session, at every show, even at every food truck – you can’t help but bump into reps from some of the world’s largest and coolest brands. Take advantage of those moments! Start up a conversation, be prepared with business cards, and connect with them on LinkedIn and other social media later. Our team made some awesome new connections with reps from Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Patreon, Lyft, BandsInTown, Stitcher, and Reddit – to name a few. The B2B potential at this festival is incredible, and we can’t think of any other event that brings this many diverse and impressive companies together in one place.

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It’s called “networking,” have you heard of it?

3) Don’t limit yourself.

There is so much to do at SXSW that it would be a shame to not go exploring. Most of us were there for the marketing content, but we absolutely also geeked out over AI and big data sessions – and we learned a lot. We ran into panelists and celebrities at the evening concerts, and we even brought back work-related insights from the Daily Show’s Donald Trump Twitter museum.

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Pictured: Late-Night Inspiration

What we’re saying is – SXSW is an unlimited source of creativity, inspiration, and energy. Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone in order to find it.

And lastly, we just have to say…

Obviously, we learned A LOT – particularly in the arenas of brand-building and experiential marketing. But within the context of SXSW, we all agree that Red Ventures is a clear leader in the interactive space already. Data-driven/Data-enabled performance marketing was at the center of all featured content, and in many ways what we heard at forward-thinking panels and keynotes actually reflects how we’re already doing things at RV today.

We say often that “change is in our DNA,” and “our secret weapon is our adaptability.” And based on what we learned at SXSW – those qualities will only continue to set us apart in the future.


Keep those creative juices flowing – check out one RV designer’s tips for standing out from the creative crowd. Then, take a deep dive into the future of data science with some hot, hot takes from world-renowned data analyst Kenneth Cukier.

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About the Author:

Kelly McMurtrie | Senior Creative Producer

Kelly is a Senior Creative Producer on the Red Ventures Corporate Communications team and the secret voice behind our website content, video content, and social media. She is currently writing about herself in the third person.

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