3 Successful B2B Marketing Promotions At SXSW

Many people gathered for the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin Texas, around 19,000 of them, and there was not much talk about B2B social media marketing. The conference that grew from its design/development beginnings now has a huge marketing and social media component, but the information largely focuses on consumer brands. Between the sponsorships of the event and the trade show, there are companies pitching their products and services to other businesses, and that’s B2B. Some are done subtly with sponsorships or events, while others are overt at a trade show.

The following three promotional marketing examples are based on the company’s business, relate to the target audience and connect to the spirit of SXSW. We also offer a takeaway on each example for small and medium-sized companies.

GE Carousolar

GE set up a solar-powered carousel and outdoor lounge, complete with solar-powered charging stations. This large display was located in a parking lot a few blocks away from the convention center. It was visible and fun, plus it demonstrated GE’s ability to capture power from the sun and turn it into something both useful and entertaining. The conference included a Greater Good track, so there were many people and companies who are concerned with renewable energy and sustainable business practices. This “event” attracted both conference attendees and local Austinites, with and without kids. The connection between GE and solar power is easily made in people’s minds with the carousel, and they will think about GE when they think about solar power on a larger scale.

Social Component: Check in on Foursquare for a free shirt.

SMB Marketing Takeaway: Create a visible display that shows an unusual use of your product or service, but make it fun and memorable. Provide some value for visitors to the display.

FedEx Delivers Lunch

FedEx served lunch to hundreds of people of every day in Austin. It is easy to provide lunch to people, but FedEx tied it to their products and services in two different ways. Food truck culture is huge in Austin, so they converted a FedEx truck into a food truck and parked it outside the convention center to serve lunch. They also had custom made boxes that look just like regular FedEx boxes and labeled them Lunch Boxes. This was a FedEx experience that sticks with you and gives you a good feeling about them when you use their service. Will it make someone switch their business shipping from UPS to FedEx? Probably not. But it will make someone think about FedEx when they do have a choice.

Social Component: Prominently posted Twitter and Facebook links and had associates encouraging people to follow their social profiles and let friends know about the free lunch. I thanked @FedExDelivers in a tweet with a link to a photo of the lunch box.

SMB Marketing Takeaway: The product or service tie-in is the most important part of this example. Make sure that any giveaways show off your product. Squeeze balls and buttons might bring a bit of awareness, but they are not related to what your company does.

Softlayer Server Challenge

Softlayer makes servers and they wanted to make a splash at SXSW. The hottest giveaway on the trade show floor was Apple’s iPad 2, and Softlayer also was giving one away. But to enter their contest you needed to assemble a server. Yes, a server. They wanted to demonstrate how easy it is to put their servers together and get up and running. A contest where you do just that makes that point stronger than anything else. Remember, this is a conference for techies, as well as marketing folks, so there are plenty of people with experience building servers. Hands on experience with a product is a good way to make an impression with potential buyers.

Social Component: None

SMB Marketing Takeaway: Don’t just ask trade show attendees to drop a business card into a bowl for popular drawing. Have them interact with your product. If a timed contest doesn’t work, a random drawing is okay, so long as people had their hands on your product.

Do you have other suggestions how small and medium-sized B2B companies can make an impression at a large conference or trade show?


  1. says

    Interesting post Jeff. As a UK b2b marketer, SXSW was out of my reach (this year) but I followed what I could. It is interesting, but not surprising, that b2b is again the poor relation, and the cases you could find didn’t really have a credible social media offering. But its a start and other companies can look at this and considering trialling it themselves in the future.

    The location based services are going to be of most interest at a show. Checking in and getting something in return could pay dividends. How about bundled content on a memory stick or 30 days exclusive online access adopting a freemium, test and trial model? Contests like you say work well.

  2. says

    Tim: Thanks for the additional info about GE. Good to see you too

    Rene: Thanks for the comment. Yes, B2B examples and content are hard to find at SXSW, and many companies still do not fully incorporate social media into their marketing presences at trade show. Location marketing definitely have some promise with trade show marketing.

    Virginia: Thanks for adding the Nokia example.

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