Who Did It Better? The Best and Worst Experiential Marketing Events at SXSW

SXSW Interactive is more branded today than it has ever been in the past. As a marketer, I was like a kid in a candy shop last month as I wandered the streets of Austin, Texas, trying to absorb all the marketing around me. It seemed as though everything at SXSW was branded in some form or fashion, and, while much of this branding came in the form of typical guerilla marketing or free swag, there were a few brands that had stepped up their game and took their SXSW marketing to a whole new level.

Samsung_Studio_LoungeBrands took over restaurants, bars and event spaces around the convention center, and some even built temporary structures for the week. The brands completely transformed these venues into immersive experiences for SXSW Interactive attendees with everything from product showcases to cocktail bars and buffets to lounges with stunning views of the Austin skyline. The brands did everything from repainting the interiors and exteriors to replacing the existing furniture and walls with their own. Most even replaced the name on the side of the building with their own logos and names. Marketers did all of this to facilitate innovative and memorable experiences for SXSWi attendees and to engage thought leaders in a live, experiential ways.

After visiting many of these, I could clearly see which were truly engaging with the attendees and creative positive associations between the consumers and the brand and which were missing the target. It all came down to whether the brand stayed true to itself and how well its execution aligned with the event. The two best examples were IBM and Samsung.

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Breeding Success at SXSW

sxsw-2016-platinumlogoHaving completed its 21st year, the SXSW Interactive conference has been around almost as long as M/C/C has, and that is impressive. Its hundreds of panel sessions cover a variety of topics from future trends to marketing and branding. For a full-service digital marketing communications agency like ours, this conference is a great source for insights, ideas and inspiration as well as validation for our employees.

Our agency has always been on top of new media, technologies and applications. We have proactive relationships with our clients, and they expect us to continually recommend new ideas and tactics that will improve their efficiencies and increase their ROI.

At M/C/C, we’re always looking for seminars and conferences that add value. Our employees get new ideas, and we pass those onto our clients through enhanced services and/or increased performance.

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Not Just Another Pretty Average Face

Competing for new customers is tough these days. To stand out in your market, you need to create a unique advantage in virtually every facet of your marketing mix – in your products, your distribution, your pricing structure and, not the least, in your promotion. Simply doing the same as your competitors just won’t cut it.

Businessman Computer Planning Marketing Brand Concept

Oftentimes, clients ask us about the value of marketing or, more specifically, the value of unexpected communications. In my former life as a copywriter, I’d make the case that every brand needs to create a unique look and voice that stands above the crowd. But as a creative director, I understand now that when clients talk about value, they’re mostly concerned about the bottom line. What’s THAT value? How much will our mind-blowing idea for a website or online banner increase their sales?

For starters, I’d say it’s impossible to try to ascribe revenue to one particular piece of marketing communications. For instance, launching a revolutionary e-commerce site would likely impact a client’s sales revenue, but attributing all success to that site would be shortsighted. What about the email campaign that likely supported the launch of the site? Or any pay-per-click campaign that drove traffic to the site? Or inside salespeople referring customers to the site? Or every piece of communications the company ever produced that created an impression in the market? The real value of marketing communications must be accounted for holistically, not just in one project or even in one campaign.

That disclaimer aside, there are a number of ways that we can demonstrate how our creative communications create real, financial value for our clients. I’ll cover three of them briefly, just to share some real-world client experiences. So the next time you’re in budget talks, fighting for a fair share for marketing or the subject of an employee review needing to demonstrate what you accomplished last year, be sure to keep these in mind. The math around marketing communications is not nearly as fuzzy as it used to be. It has real value – in dollars and cents that you and your agency can maximize together.

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A Drone Here, Some Augmented Reality There and Other Future Video Expectations

Most frequent fliers like the aisle seat. A little more elbow room. Higher ceiling. Slightly faster exit. Not me, though. Give me the window. I’ve seen this world from the ground level. I want to experience it as the birds do. I’ve seen buildings at ground level. I’ll gladly trade claustrophobia for the chance to witness the ascension above the tallest skyscrapers. It’s a vantage point I don’t get to experience every day. That same sentiment creeps into the creative world.

Simply put, humans like experiencing new things. We laugh hardest at jokes we’ve never heard before. Our taste buds awaken with savory spices. And our ears perk up at descriptors like “rare” and “never-before-seen.” When I look at video production, new experiences are shaping success. Audiences have grown tired of the same old camera angles and content. They long for techniques like first person point-of-views, aerial glances and slow motion to keep their attention. When used appropriately, these production methods transform good productions into great ones. It’s changing the way we see our world, and it’s altering the expectations for future creative projects.

What does the future look like? I’m not entirely certain. Maybe flying cars. Hoverboards. Some Nikes that lace themselves up. The future of video can be just as difficult to predict, but one thing is certain: tripods? Where we’re going, we don’t need tripods.

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Out-of-work guerrillas find solace online

No education in marketing, advertising, PR or design is complete without an extremely obnoxious foray into the world of guerrilla marketing. Whether you had that professor who explicitly required that you create something of a “guerrilla” nature, or you were that overzealous student who would rather Google marketing ideas than party on the weekends, I have no doubt that you’ve seen more photos of manhole covers, bus stop decorations and 3-D billboards than you care to remember.

I’ll admit that even I have multiple (extremely clever) examples of non-traditional campaign components in my book. But I can assure you these stunts are not what landed me a job at an agency that specializes in the unexpected.

I want you to think long and hard about the last time you saw a guerrilla marketing effort in-person. For the sake of this exercise, I want you to exclude publicity stunts (because they’re actually very traditional) and flash mobs (because I’m getting really tired of them). Now, if you have an image in your mind, I want you to think about what makes this effort so non-traditional.

Is it because the medium doesn’t fall into any of the usual spectra – print, broadcast, outdoor, online? Does the format stand out from other similar ads?

Are you starting to feel a little behind yet?

It’s no secret that marketers have done petty things to catch the eyes of big crowds, but the reality is that non-traditional marketing has become so traditional that nobody cares anymore.

With the rise of the Internet, the purpose of guerrilla efforts evolved from catching eyes to generating buzz. Then, non-traditional banner ads broke through to those who gave up their outside time to sit on their computers. Now, in a world where anyone can take the Internet with them wherever they go, social media reigns supreme, and people are rediscovering the great outdoors.

The only problem now is that nobody’s going to look up from their smartphone to see the life-sized bovine hanging off your billboard.

But really. Would anyone even be surprised to see that? The Internet brought a plethora of images into every home – both pleasant and horrific – and those people whose attention you’re trying so desperately to attract have seen it all. You’re wasting a lot of money.

To marketers, the Internet also brought unlimited places to place advertisements and unprecedented information regarding who sees them. So why are you exhausting your budget on a few seconds of interest that, yes, will be remembered slightly longer than a billboard, but will ultimately leave you clamoring for adjectives to justify ROI to your client or boss.

So I encourage you:

Students: Don’t waste your time looking at old campaigns unless it’s for a grade. If you have to do something guerrilla, for God’s sake, do not make a 3-D billboard.

Marketers: Stop trying so hard. You’re beginning to look desperate.

Professors: Quit it.

Now here’s a game. How many marketing buzzwords can you find in this blog post, and how many of them did you see on an exam?

Play to Win. Now.

By Mike Crawford

Those who follow sports know the big difference between a team that’s playing to win versus one that’s playing not to lose. The team trying to win is aggressive and proactive. It creates the action rather than waiting for the action to come to it. This allows the team to determine its own success. Conversely, the team playing not to lose hunkers down and just hopes the other guys screw up. With this passive approach, victory is not determined by the team’s ability, but by the opponent’s inability.

Advertising and public relations are critical to your company’s success. You cannot afford to sit back passively and wait for your customers to begin placing orders before you start an aggressive marketing communications program. And now is the time, as you’re planning next year’s budget, to commit to that plan.

If you truly want to increase your sales for next year, then include an advertising schedule in your budget. It’s that simple. There are so many reasons to advertise. If you don’t believe me, call me, and I’ll be happy to share them with you in person.

A public relations program for next year can help educate your target audiences on new products and services while supporting your sales process. It’s also a great way to increase your company’s credibility in the marketplace.

Other programs, like developing database and direct marketing campaigns are effective ways to move your audience. These vehicles allow you to be more aggressive and thorough in your messages to increase your response rates. These programs have another key benefit. They allow you to stay in front of your target audience and be a part of the buying decision.

Finally, do not forget to include Internet marketing in next year’s budget. Currently, it’s the best lead generation tool available. Your website design needs to be interesting, inviting and captivating. It is critical that your website content be thorough and keyword-rich. We have talked about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in previous issues of the Technique newsletter, specifically here, but the topic merits further discussion. As you’re planning the 2006 budget, be sure to include funds to get your company on page one of search results when your prospects are searching online for a product or service like yours.

Remember, there are three types of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. To succeed, you need to be in the first group. You need to play to win. That starts today – while planning your 2006 advertising and public relations budget.

Wanna be quoted? Try speaking English.

By Michelle Metzger

The old adage “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” rings quite true for us PR pros but in a slightly different way. We can get a client an interview, but we can’t talk for him. Therefore, it is imperative that we teach him or her how to communicate best with reporters.

Let’s face it, it’s not easy for most techies to come down from their high cloud of Mbps, throughput, platforms, solutions and integrated, interoperable patch panels, but if you’re going to talk to a reporter, you have to put it in a language we all understand – English.

The reason a corporate spokesperson or press release writer at a company needs to speak this very basic language is because the audience, while certainly tech-savvy, went to journalism, not engineering school. They are the gatekeepers to the audience you ultimately want to reach – potential customers and partners. But you must get through them first, and if they can’t understand a word you say, they might nod politely, but you will not reap the rewards of their pen.

To illustrate how far the jargon-world has gone, I pulled a few quotes from recent press releases off PR Newswire. Observe.

“Bottom line, these test results exceeded all of our expectations,” stated <>. “The performance in terms of throughput and latency met our most stringent network requirements and it is the first Ethernet Wireless Platform to match our QoS requirements for the delivery of voice, video and data services to the end users.”

And another poor soul…

“Our FTTP and FTTN solutions provide operators with the flexible platform they need to economically drive additional revenue now while providing a seamless migration path for the future.”

Now, while I actually understand what these people are trying to communicate (my nerdish tendencies are showing, I realize), it is clear to me that these people need HELP! Most technology company executives think that their news releases, pitch letters and press statements are going directly to the engineers who might buy their product and actually understand what they are trying to say.

They are sorely mistaken.

The purpose of any public relations piece is to get a reporter to call you for an interview. That’s it. It’s not your opportunity to tell the entire world the innermost workings of your company or product. It is not your opportunity to wax eloquently on all the virtues of how this silicon chip is going to revolutionize the semiconductor industry for decades. Keep your mind focused on the purpose of these communication pieces.

One quick rule of thumb is to let your 80-year-old grandmother read your press release. If she can understand it and grasp why this news is important to the world, then you have succeeded. If her eyes glaze over and she asks you to get her a cocktail, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Another tip is to stay away from words that are so overused that they no longer have any real meaning. The top picks for this category include words like “solution,” “revolutionary,” “world-class,” “best-of-breed” and quickly climbing the ranks … “elegant.” Every company thinks it has the best solution and a revolutionary way of approaching a problem. Also, most tech reporters are still nursing snakebites from the last time they wrote about a company that was “revolutionizing” something and closed their doors soon thereafter, so the fact you are touting to do the same scares them a little.

Just remember that the proof is in the proverbial pudding, so make sure you speak in clear terms that do not over-hype the value you bring to the market. Ask yourself what sets you apart. Why is your company or product better – in real terms? Do I have customers or partners that will validate what my company does?

One other really good practice is to come up with juicy sound bites long before you get an interview with a live reporter. These are phrases that sound like an actual person speaks. They clearly communicate the value (not the speeds and feeds) of your company and product. Here are a few examples of quotes to get your brain going.

“When Santa brings little Johnny a new Web-enabled phone this Christmas, we’ll make sure he’ll be safe to surf.”

“When someone dials 911, they need to know someone will be able to find them – even if they’re on an IP phone. Let’s face it, it could be the difference between life or death, literally.”

“When a doctor needs to download an MRI file, he usually doesn’t have time to wait forever. That’s why we make sure hospitals are equipped with cabling that can handle these kind of large file transfers. It’s just the right thing to do.”

After reading those, you probably can figure out what the companies do in general terms and the value each brings to the market.

If you have trouble learning how to translate technology jargon into plain English, there is no need to fear. Just hire a translator who can understand what your company does, how best to communicate your value and one that can help craft messages to guide you as you learn how to use this wonderful new language. It won’t hurt much; we’ll even speak slowly.

Learning to think big.

By Pam Watkins

The tremendous growth, influence and success of the United States have always been results of innovation. In the most recent past, technology innovation and leadership have been at the center of our continued success. And not just in commercial terms. The U.S. military is the most powerful force in the world not because we have more troops than any other country. We don’t. It is because we have more sophisticated technology than any other military in the world.
Being the most powerful and wealthy country in the world is not an entitlement we deserve but one to be earned and to keep earning. Our position is not guaranteed. Other countries are catching up and will rival our leadership position sooner than you may think.

How will we maintain our leadership position and high standard of living? Education is the answer. To maintain our competitive edge, we need to make sure that we are developing new generations of creative thinkers with the vision to develop new ideas and new products. We must support learning and creative thinking through the use of all our arts and cultural resources during early childhood. These are powerful tools that engage kids and help them become creative thinkers and the innovators of tomorrow. No industry should be more concerned and focused on this issue than the technology industry.

Supporting the continued development of innovative thinkers goes well beyond providing schools with free or favorably priced hardware and software. It goes beyond providing more calculus classes at the high school level or engineers to volunteer at the local schools. These are all valuable and important only if we have developed students who can take full advantage of them. Arts and cultural programs in schools have been cut at alarming numbers over the years. It should be no surprise that we are struggling to stay innovative and creative as a country. The biggest challenge for anyone sharing this concern is knowing where to begin to help.

Several programs across the country are engaging children through arts and cultural programming and are producing meaningful and measurable results. One of the finest is in Dallas. Big Thought, A Learning Partnership, is dedicated to academic achievement, youth development and family learning through arts and cultural programming. It provides programming and training to schools, administrators, teachers, libraries and community centers across North Texas, and the programs pay off in improved academic achievement.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that more hours in math or science or history will produce better results. Repeating the same activity again and again in anticipation of a different result is often called insanity. So, the next time you look at the programs in your local schools, make sure arts and cultural programming are integrated into the curriculum. If you want to find out more about what is possible and what is working, go to www.bigthought.org or drop me an e-mail.
The future of technology-and our country’s leadership-depends on thinking like this, thinking big. It’s high time we start.

Play to Win. Now.

By Mike Crawford

Those who follow sports know the big difference between a team that’s playing to win versus one that’s playing not to lose. The team trying to win is aggressive and proactive. It creates the action rather than waiting for the action to come to it. This allows the team to determine its own success. Conversely, the team playing not to lose hunkers down and just hopes the other guys screw up. With this passive approach, victory is not determined by the team’s ability, but by the opponent’s inability.

Advertising and public relations are critical to your company’s success. You cannot afford to sit back passively and wait for your customers to begin placing orders before you start an aggressive marketing communications program. And now is the time, as you’re planning next year’s budget, to commit to that plan.

If you truly want to increase your sales for next year, then include an advertising schedule in your budget. It’s that simple. There are so many reasons to advertise. If you don’t believe me, call me, and I’ll be happy to share them with you in person.

A public relations program for next year can help educate your target audiences on new products and services while supporting your sales process. It’s also a great way to increase your company’s credibility in the marketplace.

Other programs, like developing database and direct marketing campaigns are effective ways to move your audience. These vehicles allow you to be more aggressive and thorough in your messages to increase your response rates. These programs have another key benefit. They allow you to stay in front of your target audience and be a part of the buying decision.

Finally, do not forget to include Internet marketing in next year’s budget. Currently, it’s the best lead generation tool available. Your website design needs to be interesting, inviting and captivating. It is critical that your website content be thorough and keyword-rich. We have talked about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in previous issues of the Technique newsletter, specifically here, but the topic merits further discussion. As you’re planning the 2006 budget, be sure to include funds to get your company on page one of search results when your prospects are searching online for a product or service like yours.

Remember, there are three types of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. To succeed, you need to be in the first group. You need to play to win. That starts today – while planning your 2006 advertising and public relations budget.