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Jim gives his thoughts on VIP parties, finding balance, and other marketing lessons learned from SXSW.

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The SXSW Interactive conference brought the new media community together from all parts of the country to share ideas. What were my key takeaways? Here are my thoughts from a personal and Wired marketing perspective. Lets get right to it.

Twitter is heretwitter-logo
Yes, I know that Twitter has been here since SXSW 2007, when a cute little bluebird floated down and landed on a windowsill like a Disney movie. But now Twitter is HERE, demanding to be fed like a drunken Big Bird stumbling through a house party and spilling beer on your laptop.

I really think people should care a lot less about how Twitter is going to make money, and more about how their business is going to utilize the service – although it made for a great opening question for the Chris Anderson – Guy Kawasaki keynote conversation.

In fact, I predict that the “how your company should be using Twitter” service market is going to expand exponentially, much like search engine optimization advice. There are so many companies where the geeky marketing manager or the PR department will utter the phrase to the CEO ‘we need to be on twitter’ that not only will it be a key component of ad agencies, but individuals will start businesses to start this service.

BTW… Follow HopkinsonReport on Twitter

Facebook is tooOh, don’t count out Facebook by any means. I don’t think they are going stand idly while Twitter fights for the spotlight. While a lot of the discussion over the weekend had to do with some things on the tech side and I had some interesting talks with programmers, they’re also fighting back with interface improvements and marketing angles. It’s going to be a very interesting year.

Balance of events
Life is all about balance, right? The key to these conferences is

  • One third education, where you’re going to panels and learning new things about our business
  • One third promotion, where you’re representing your company or brand, whether it’s doing an interview, handing out postcards, or throwing a party
  • One third networking, really getting to know the people, be it at an early morning running group or a late night party

People count
And I can’t emphasize this enough… the people count. Companies like to do business with people they like. Just a single face-to-face meeting can make a huge difference vs. endless conference calls.

The Velvet Rope of VIP Status: A tale of three parties
This is a subject that I thought I would share with you, even though there’s probably no way I can come off without looking like a jerk. But here goes.

Let me state for the record that I did NOT reach out in any way to ask for special treatment for these parties. Trust me, I was much more focused on making sure MY event went smoothly, then planning out my conference schedule, and letting the rest take it’s course.

However, my assumption was that people saw online that I worked for Wired, and a few reached out to me. Honestly, in some cases I couldn’t tell if they were personalized emails or auto-generated by Facebook’s invite system or on a BCC. But here are three stories about expectations.

1) For the first major party that I attended, which shall remain nameless, a person not only wrote me, but sent me wristbands via overnite mail, with a handwritten note, and the business cards of two contacts. A handwritten note! Paying shipping costs! To send me a VIP bracelet. OK, sounds good to me. But long story short, when I got there, it turns out that I had a VIP bracelet for cutting the line (which there wasn’t), but required a different VIP bracelet to get to a different area of the party.

Again, not a big deal at all. But isn’t that simply a horrible user experience? They went over the top with an unsolicited effort of time and money to tell me I’m a VIP, only to give a confusing, negative experience. I’m curious how many people besides me had this. Dozens? Hundreds?

2) My favorite party of the weekend was thrown by Facebook, and for that one my “VIP experience” directly aligned with expectation. When I realized I was going to go, I dug through my emails and found the one I needed, shooting a quick reply to the PR person that had contacted me. They got back to me quickly that I would be on the list. This allowed me to save some time on the way in. Inside, there was a great group of people – I ended up meeting people I would interview for the podcast the next day –, a great DJ, a great space, a really fun overall vibe, and it wasn’t so crowded that you were falling all over everyone. A friend who lives there says the fire marshall has a lot of pull in that town.

3) Lastly is the story of surprise expectations. I got a late start on my last night, and was trying to meet up with a friend and went to the very end of the line at the Blurb.com/Mashable party. I thought that perhaps someone had written me, but I couldn’t remember and I didn’t bring out my Treo. So after waiting for about 15 minutes, one of the party reps came through the line and said, does anyone think they’re on the VIP list? So I stepped forward and matter of factly said, you know, I think there’s a chance that I am. He scanned the list and lookee here, there was my name. Cool! The experience far exceeded the expectation, and I saved a little time that night.

So how does this all tie back to marketing?
One, if you’re going to try and treat a specific subset customers differently, you walk a very fine line between making your best customers feel welcome, and the majority of your customers feel slighted.

Two, it relates back to the old saying, better to underpromise and then overdeliver. Always try to exceed customer expectations. Marketers can be guilting of playing up a product or service as the greatest thing ever, but that often leads to failed expectations. That’s why a lot of companies simply stick the word BETA on their site, offering the crutch of hey, we’re just in beta. We need to keep an eye on that tactic as well.

OK, marketingguy [at] wired.com if you still want to call me a playa, give me a “how dare you” for being out of touch, or making fun of my limited internet fame. We’re talking not having to kill 15 minutes playing Yahtzee on my iPhone while waiting in line, not rolling with my 10-deep entourage and sipping Cristal with Diddy or Beyonce in da club.

The crutch of technology
Much like how humans must always fear the power of the sea, so it goes with technology. Thousands of iPhone carrying new media mavens entered Austin ready to tweet and talk until dawn. But the failings of AT&Ts system brought the mighty geeks to their knees. But maybe that was a good thing, forcing more face to face networking.

And it carried over to the film side as well. I went to a panel for the movie I Love You Man, and as I walked in, they were trying to show the movie trailer on a screen to a packed auditorium. Sure enough, there was no audio. The difference, was that Paul Rudd and Jon Favreau started hysterically ad libbing the lines from the movie. There’s a reason those guys make millions in comedy.

Managing devices
I thought it was interesting that the flow of technology went like this for me in several cases:
– Met someone via TWITTER that was interested in an inteview
– Set up the details via EMAIL on when to meet
– Notified them via TEXT MESSAGE that I was on my way
– Called them via MOBILE PHONE to pick them out in the crowd
– Shook their hand in PERSON when finally meeting them


Jim’s random notes from the Chris Anderson / Guy Kawasaki “FREE” conversation

  • I’m not even trying to suck up to the boss, but at one point, as I was in a darkened room with hundreds of people watching the show on a giant screen, I felt like I was in a movie theater watching two famous actors in a film about technology
  • Chris emphasized a point when dealing with Free, that you don’t just make money in one way. This was something I was getting across in my podcast about “Revenue Models of the Hyperinfluencer.” He said you can use your social reputation to generate income, some (like Guy) through speaking, maybe a professor uses it to make tenure, or you use it to get a better job
  • He felt that for something like a paperback book, where there is paper and printing costs and warehouses and distribution channels, the product has a cost, so there should be a charge. But for digital products where the cost approaches zero, those should be free.
  • The problem the music industry is having, is that they’ve been focused on making money only one way… through CD sales. They need to be agnostic about where the money comes from
  • The way someone monetizes the non-free version of a product could be done through various means
    • Via time (use the free version for 30 days)
    • Via features (you have to pay for additional features)
    • Via bandwidth/storage
  • He had some great points in talking about China
    • They actually use piracy to make money. A music artist – he used the term Canto-pop – isn’t concerned that his CD is ripped off and distributed illegally. He WANTS that. That means everyone has his music, and he gets more famous. He then monetizes that fame by doing concerts, store openings, and product endorsements
    • China is the largest market of free pirated goods
    • China is the largest market of high end luxury good
    • Thus, the two need each other. Because you can get a $15 Louis Vuitton knockoff bag on the street, is the reason the $500 real deal is so valuable
  • He described the difference in attitude between New York and San Francisco. Here in New York, because banks are failing and Wall Street is failing, it’s as if these INSTITUTIONS are failing. But on the west coast, these things are more evenly distributed. Because people are passionate about their individual efforts, everyone feels they can make a difference

Use technology for good / higher meaning
From Tony Hsieh at Zappos talking about finding happiness, to multiple social and charity organizations embracing Twitter and social media for good, there was a fantastic undercurrent of using all this wonderful technology that we obsess over and try to monetize every day to try and make the world a better place. That felt pretty good.

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