The first and only time I went to SXSW Interactive was in 2007, the year Twitter launched. As the story goes, they melted through a dozen servers over four days keeping up with the traffic. Twitter was not the only brand bringing literal and figurative heat to the conference that year, though. Dozens of brands (probably more now) chose SXSW Interactive as fertile ground for their big debut. And why not? Out in the real world is the place where you can showcase the real humans and values behind your work.
As someone in the user experience and design fields, I spend a lot of my time thinking about how interactions can articulate what a brand stands for. Do menus appear slowly, and languidly—like the box that lets me know my iPhone wants to connect to my AirPods? Does an app shower my screen with coins as a reward for checking in, like Swarm? In both cases these experiences are communicating intent and brand signifiers: Apple's calm coolness or Swarm's funny irreverence. In fact, working on app and software design for so long can make you forget that, as great as these experiences are, they're substitutes for IRL experiences that we don't get to have much anymore.
A tale of two experiences: confident versus playful
As Twitter and so many others discovered at SXSWi all those years ago, the real magic is in being there; for companies making apps, it's the culmination of all the small choices you've made in your code and designs. For marketers, it's where all the messaging and the email and social campaigns pay off. Event marketing is probably one of the most overlooked and most critical parts of any organization. If you're working really hard on a product, a community, or a cause but you don't have events in the hopper, you're really only working half of the problem.
In our experience, clients find it easier to hold events when they have a reason to do so—like to announce a product, or drum up business. But some of the most successful events are those built around community. Salesforce, Github, Apple—all famously host in-person gatherings geared towards developers every year. These events further each company's ground game of being top of mind with those best in a position to promote them. But brand-building community events obviously aren't the exclusive domain of tech companies. Non-profits, political causes—even web communities like YouTube and Dribbble—have had success gaming the format of developer events if not the content. The come-as-you-are ethos of a hackathon lends itself surprisingly well to a whole host of other events.
Events like SXSWi are famously not fussy. You bring yourself and your laptop, and listen to people speak whose work you may already admire or follow (and maybe eat your weight in Austin barbecue). Viewed through this lens, where hosting an event only requires that the people that you call your customers bring themselves, event marketing starts to seem more manageable. Add in a management and access layer like Event Farm's own free Check-In solution, and you can be one step closer to frequent events that bolster your brand. Maybe there isn't even an agenda, or a high profile destination. Event Farm's own Connection Makers event series happens in the bar next door to our Santa Monica office–where our technology is born and raised.
In person events are the difference between the feeling you get ordering coffee through an app every day, and the feeling of the barista knowing your name when you go into the store.
In person events are the difference between the feeling you get ordering coffee through an app every day, and the feeling of the barista knowing your name when you go into the store. They provide context and cohesion for your online activities, and allow customers to put a name with a face. But maybe most importantly they can be the first line of information gathering, giving you otherwise elusive first hand feedback that can help shape your product or service for years to come. And all of this because of a little old fashioned human contact, the original user experience.
We're going to be bringing more posts like this one with even more tips on real-world ways to use Event Farm. You won't want to miss them, so subscribe to get our email with latest posts and links to things we think you'll want to know about.