Where’s Wesley? SXSW Success on a Small Budget

Where's Wesley SXSW

With SXSW recently behind us, many companies are sitting in board rooms asking themselves, Why didn’t we get any traction at SXSW? Many are even wondering if the huge amount of money they spent was simply wasted.. As a mecca for tech companies, it’s the perfect place for raising awareness of a brand, but why do so many companies fail at this massive tech gathering?

Statistics for SXSW Interactive 2016

  • Interactive Festival Participants: 37,660 (from 82 foreign countries)
  • Interactive Festival Sessions: 1377
  • Interactive Festival Speakers: 3,093
  • Interactive Media in Attendance: 3,493

If you haven’t been to SXSW, let me paint a picture for you. Think of all the spam messages and telemarketing calls you get. Now give each one a physical body. Then place each one of those people in every nook and cranny inside and out of the Austin Convention Center. There are so many product pushers it is easy for attendees to get numb to the whole thing.

Here’s what we were up against:

  • Established brands that come to SXSW every year, and this year was our first.
  • Companies that have a big enough budget to spend their way to success, and as our name suggests, we’re cheap.
  • Standing out in a crowd of people trying to stand out.

Bringing people to you, instead of the other way around?

Our creative marketing team came up with a plan. Like Frank Underwood says, If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table. Instead of hunting down people, and begging for their attention, let’s have them come to us. We didn’t want to force them to find us, we wanted them to WANT to find us. That’s where the Where’s Wesley concept came in.

  • The plan; for me to dress up like Waldo (or Wally if you’re not from the US)
  • Give away coupons to anyone that recognized me as the character
  • If they took a picture of me and used the hashtag #NCSXSW they would also be entered to win one of five Amazon Echos
  • A week before SXSW we wrote a blog post letting all of our users in on the promotion. This way our loyal customers know exactly what to do for guaranteed prizes
  • Those who didn’t read the blog post could still participate if they happened upon me, and called me out

It’s important to read the field, and not just play the game.

It worked out beautifully. We even had a fair bit of luck come our way. A few days before the festival started, Seth Rogen announce his new project: a live action Where’s Waldo movie. Their marketing team blanked the area with Where’s Waldo stickers. Score! The other fortunate thing that happened was me winning the lottery to see President Barack Obama. I was placed on the first floor in a very visible area. Both of these things really increased our exposure.

Once we knew we had a good message, we amplified that message with Ads.

The strategy we had in place helped even more. We bought targeted ads with location filters for the Austin area on both Facebook and Twitter. I made sure to publish what panels/sessions I was going to so our users could find me easier. This also made me visible to an audience interested in website technologies. I also moved locations – A LOT. This increased the chances of someone spotting me. I made sure to go to several official and unofficial parties. And last but not least, I wore the same costume… EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

It was super fun, but very exhausting. I wouldn’t recommend this type of marketing approach to anyone who doesn’t enjoy talking to people who might have a hard time operating on very little sleep. But, lucky for me, I love to meet people and my two small children have trained me in the art of functioning on very little sleep. Another key element was that as the Director of Social Media at Namecheap, rather than just a pretty face contracted through a PR agency, I was able to talk in depth about the company and how we want to create great customer interactions. This allowed us to build new relationships and to take in valuable feedback on how people viewed us as a company.

For all the above reasons it was an unqualified success, but looking at the numbers it was a quantified success too. On Twitter alone we got over 4.1 million impressions – by far our most successful campaign to date. The cost of doing this promotion was under $5,000.

Not bad for our first SXSW.

We don’t know yet how we’ll turn the table over next year, but in the meantime we’ll be building on the brand awareness we gained at this year’s SXSW Interactive.

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