SXSW recently wrapped up its 10 days of festival and conference after taking over the city of Austin with upwards of 70,000 attendees, 1,200 keynotes and talks, and an overwhelming number of experiential campaigns. At South by, attendees expect to be wowed, and brands push the limits of their creativity in order to deliver.
For the last six years, Mashable's "Mashable House" has stood out among the crowd at SXSW Interactive. This year was no exception, and we've got some insider info about how Mashable pulls off their experiential activations—our CMO, Alexandra Gibson, recently interviewed Natasha Mulla, the VP of Experiential Marketing at Mashable, as part of our Future of Event Marketing series.
Throughout their conversation, Alexandra and Natasha discussed everything from Mashable's high-level experiential marketing strategy to how the brand measures the success of specific campaigns, like the Mashable House. Keep reading for highlights from their conversation, or register for our Future of Event Marketing interview series to listen on-demand.
Alexandra: You mentioned in an article that the Mashable audience really wants to know what's new and what's next. How do you bring those trends to your event strategy?
Natasha: It really will depend on each event—we look to incorporate those trends very uniquely with each project we work on. Essentially, we start by thinking: "What is the goal of our event?" If it's something like the Social Good Summit, we want to create conversations around good, whereas it's more of an interactive experiences for an audience like that at South by Southwest.
It's really mostly about creating unique experiences for each event specifically, and not just putting the same trends into everything.
A: Speaking of South by Southwest, I know that the Mashable House is always a big staple on the must-visit list. Why are events like SXSW important to your brand, and how do you measure their success?
N: The important thing about events like the Mashable House is that it really does allow us to engage with the community of folks who read, view, and share Mashable content everyday. If offers them a chance to interact with each other, and us [the chance] to interact with them IRL and get them to really feel like they're part of the Mashable community.
I think that for us, engagement is really the best way to measure success. With the Mashable House each year, we try to create an immersive experiences that utilizes the latest memes, trends, and things that have broken the internet for our community to see, touch, feel and engage with. If we come out of that event with a certain amount of shares, posts, snaps, then we really can utilize that to say, "Okay, we've done our job right, we've created that immersive, exciting experience."
A: In addition to the Mashable House, I'm also very interested in learning more about Mashable's Social Good Summit... Can you tell me a little more about why that Summit exists and why it's important to Mashable's organization?
N: We host the Social Good Summit the Sunday and Monday leading into the UN General Assembly. The goal is to take the conversations that are happening during the UN General Assembly and bring them into the community at-large [in order to] drive conversations around the global goals that tend to get addressed during those conversations.
We talk about how technology and new media is helping us achieve those goals and get to where we want to be. We ask the question: "What kind of world would I want to live in in the year 2030?" We try and cover not just what we want to be doing or where we want to be, but what's being done to get us there. What actions are being taken? What can you do to help? We're trying to create change and move us forward on a global scale.
It takes place in New York, but we do a live-stream that hits over 200 countries and territories. We translate it into seven languages, so folks all over the world can view and participate in multiple ways.
A: At Event Farm, we talk a lot about how offline experiences drive business results. How would you say that offline experiences drive business results for a largely digital company like Mashable?
N: Offline experiences create that tangible product that we don't always have. As I was saying with SXSW, it gives us the chance to really engage with that community in a real way. We have a great community of folks that view, read, tweet, post and share. Having that real life experience, that offline experience, gets you that tangible connectivity, which is really helpful for us as a brand.
For us, there are a lot of benefits for creating those experiential moments... It offers us that tangible product we don't necessarily have [as a] completely digital brand.
A: How do you report on your campaigns and your events to justify the spend?
N: We always start with the goals that we want to hit in terms of engagement, impressions, attendance, and revenue. I work very closely with our social team, partnership team, and content team to figure out how we can achieve those goals.
We try to show that the impact is not just attendance. You want to make an exciting event for the people that are there—you want to make sure it is top-notch, but at the end of the day, it's not just about the 200 folks that showed up for the X number of folks that registered—it's everything that can come out of it.
There's content that's creative from [the events] that can live on online, there are those social engagements that people create, there's the potential press coverage, impressions, reach, and additional content elements that are created that give you more than just the number of people in the room. When you're talking to a manager and they're asking why it costs $100,000 for "just this many people," the answer is that you're not spending it just for however many people—you're spending it for all of those other things, all of those other results.
A: Especially for you, all of the media and content that's created from [an event], it reaches far beyond those 200 people. Let's talk a little bit about experiential technologies: what are you most excited about right now, and why?
N: There are a lot of tools coming out that make it easier for us to create an offline and offline connectivity from an event. Right now we're using Facebook Live a lot, and I think if it's done well, it can really help enhance the event. I think there was a concern that if you stream too much, it will take away from what's happening and people won't come to your events in the future. I don't think that's necessarily true—I think you can create those online moments with tools like that, and it will get people excited and engaged and maybe want to come [to your event] in the future.
A: You've been in the event industry for most of your career—what are the biggest shifts that you've seen in how events are viewed as part of a greater marketing strategy?
N: When I started working on events, you had the event, then you had some sort of recap—a place where folks could go to get photos and download them if they wanted—and now [events] live on very well. There are social challenges and contests around [events]—at things like the Social Good Summit, we can have a live stream that's translated, we can invite people to come and cover the event on their social channels.
We can utilize all of these different tools to have [events] live in so many different places that they're allowed to be a lot bigger than what they were before. It allows you to think in a more dimensional way sometimes, and I think that has been the biggest shift for me since I started working in events.
Do you want to listen to more interviews with event pros? Check out our Future of Event Marketing online series, now on demand.