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SXSW 2013: Lessons Learned From an Austin Cabbie

SXSW isn’t just for music, tech and movies. In the last four years, it has increasingly become a hotbed of marketing and communication activities with big brands spending big dollars. This year was no different – there were dazzling parties, free swag, and utility-based activations like Oreo-branded pedicabs.

Many brands had a memorable impact. But as we reflected on our experience at SXSWi 2013, we were surprised that our standout marketing moment happened miles away from the action downtown, in the back of an Austin cab en route to the airport.

Outside of our hotel we flagged down a cab, and the driver, Bob, told us he was on his way to pick up someone also going to the airport and that we could share the ride if we wanted to. “Sure!” we said. A huge favor from Bob. After a few minutes of listening to the music playing in the cab, we inquired about the artist.

Gemma: “Who’s singing this song? I like it!”

Bob: “Oh, it’s this guy, Josh Halverson. He’s a local musician who was a passenger in my cab a year or so ago. Do you want one of his CDs?”

Bob gave us both a copy of Josh’s CD, on the condition that we like Josh’s Facebook page and comment on his wall to let Josh know we received it from Bob. We’d heard enough of the music to decide that Josh deserved a “like,” and did so right there in the cab as we were chatting. Bob handed us a business card so we could credit his name correctly and before we knew it, we had followed Bob on Twitter and were chatting about his blog, “Confessions of an Austin Cabbie” and his personal Twitter  strategy.

The beauty of this moment was that Bob let us discover the music he was playing in the cab. He didn’t push it, he just played it and let us decide for ourselves whether or not we liked it. With a simple word-of-mouth recommendation, Bob earned our social currency and this column space on The Hit Board. He also helped PR his buddy Josh (not a paid arrangement) in the process.

It speaks to a trend many SXSW attendees noticed – the need for a more personal touch in an always-on digital world. As we neared the airport, Bob pointed out that it was hard for him to see out of the back window because it was covered with a big white sticker – some kind of outdoor branding. Which company had paid good money for this window space? Who knows? We certainly didn’t notice – or care. The real “cab-vertising” moment happened inside the car.

Signing off for this year!

Gemma and Megan

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