There were approximately 18,000 people in attendance at the recent South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. Of course this size group is a very attractive proposition for branding opportunities, so brands of all sizes descend on the conference in the hopes of grabbing a few seconds of attention from some of this huge audience.
Some of these brands are startups hoping to be the next big thing; others are more established brands like Chevy or Pepsi. All come with the hope of being noticed and talked about. For most, this is an extremely expensive event to attend. There is the cost of sponsorship, the cost of materials, staff, travel accommodations, the list seems never-ending. Even as a speaker who received a free ticket for speaking, I would estimate the event cost me over $1,000 to attend. Not a huge amount, but not exactly chump change for a small business owner either.
While I was primarily there to speak and to do interviews about my book, I was also part of a small group of guys (all of whom are friends) who decided to try something a little different at SXSW this year. Initially designed as a fun way to draw attention to pet projects, it rapidly grew in shape and size. And so www.fivekilts.com was born.
The concept was extremely simple. Five geeks in kilts would attend the conference, talk to people about products, and raise awareness for local businesses in Austin. What started as fun, ended up serious business. While the group stuck mostly to its initial concept of promoting Austin businesses, we were also approached and worked with Mozilla, the development company, and attracted a lot of media attention, including the front page of CNN.com.
We also raised awareness for a local dog rescue, were photographed hundreds of times, did several media interviews and sparked conversation everywhere we went. The financial cost for all of this? Nothing. All five of us were going anyway, and we all had kilts. All it cost was our time and willingness to be the face of a brand for a day.
So what, as a small business owner, can you learn from this? Well, obviously men in kilts attract attention. But I’m not suggesting you start wearing a kilt (though they are extremely comfortable). What you can learn is that money isn’t always the answer to your branding problem. Thinking creatively and doing something that your competitors aren’t or perhaps wouldn’t is much more likely to get you the brand awareness that you are looking for.
It’s also a good idea to be careful with stunts, and make sure that they have a heavy dose of humor directed at yourself rather than others without making your brand seem ridiculous. Ultimately, what you are seeking is differentiation not ridicule, and there is a fine line to be walked between them. You want to be remembered, but only in a positive way.