The 30th annual South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) was hosted in Austin, Texas, March 10 to 19, 2017. SXSW brings together professionals in almost every industry: technology, health, art, music, design, and food, just to name a few.
SXSW is a huge event, but not every business can find the time to make the trip to Texas and experience it firsthand. Thankfully, there are events and conferences just like it held all over the country where brands can get creative and make an impact. Even if your business can’t attend in person, there are plenty of lessons you can take from SXSW to build brand recognition at events closer to home.
Sponsoring events is important because it gains visibility for your brand and helps demonstrate enthusiasm to consumers, especially Millennials. A recent study by the McCarthy Group found that 84% of Millennials don’t trust traditional advertising. If they’re your target audience, sponsoring events is an effective, nontraditional way to get their attention.1 But every generation appreciates when a business gives back to the community. One important lesson from SXSW is to keep your sponsorship in line with your values. That’s the best way to ensure your support is seen by the right potential customers. If you’re a business that wants to appeal to families, consider sponsoring a youth sports team or school event. Those more interested in B2B growth can potentially work through the local Chamber of Commerce to find sponsorship opportunities, or support an industry conference. You could even join up with other businesses to sponsor an event more literally by planning and organizing it yourselves.
With sponsorship, sometimes the best strategy is to go in thinking long-term. For example, distillery Kimo Sabe was the official sponsor of SXSW in 2017, and after a successful festival they reached an agreement to stay involved in a smaller capacity for three more years. This works out well for both sides: Kimo Sabe gets continued brand exposure and the organizers of SXSW know they have at least one sponsor established in advance. This same kind of relationship between you and an organization or annual event could be the beginning of great things for your brand.
Winning an award for your company’s service or products is something many small business owners hope for. However, the awards at SXSW remind us of an important fact: Sometimes, the only way to be considered for an award is to nominate yourself or ask someone to nominate you. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce annually gives out the “Dream Big” award for Small Business of the Year to just one of the over 27 million small business in the United States.2 Simply due to the sheer number of candidates, the award judges aren’t capable of going out and evaluating every single small business. That’s why they require you either be nominated or apply to be considered. The same usually holds true for big professional organizations or regional awards. If you don’t tell them you exist, they might not have time or resources to come find out about your business, even if you’re the ideal candidate to win the award.
Sponsoring an award ceremony is another way to gain brand recognition, either among your peers or with target customers, depending on which awards show you choose to support with your time or funding. If you clicked through to the Dream Big awards website, you might have seen the award itself is sponsored by insurance company MetLife. For them, a target audience is small business owners. By sponsoring this award, they’re gaining brand exposure and learning about thousands of prospective clients at the same time.
One important lesson from SXSW is to keep your sponsorships in line with your values.
SXSW is all about connection. On a local level for most small businesses, connection initially occurs by knowing your community and trying to meet its needs. If you see a lot of litter, adopt the highway. Volunteer for a cause that’s important to your city. Take interns from the local high school. Whatever your tie to the community looks like, it’s what will keep people passionate about and loyal to your brand. As you form that connection, you’ll also get the opportunity to meet other small business owners and professionals in your industry. Stay in touch and support each other with advice and resources. Online forums and groups make this possible even for those in niche industries or remote locations.
SXSW is an annual hub for innovation and collaboration. If your small business was going to be the hub of something in your community, what would you want it to be? Start there and begin sponsoring events, submitting for awards, and staying connected with both your peers and neighbors to start the wheel turning of the difference you and your company were destined to make. Whether your efforts are part of a big festival, or just the day-to-day lives of your local community, they’re sure to help you get in front of new audiences in unique and genuine ways.