crowds and banners filling the hallway at south by southwestSouth by Southwest, the infamous tech (and film and music) conference is starting this week. And every brand is thinking about how they’re going to make a splash. This is where Twitter got big. Where Foursquare launched. Where The Four-Hour Workweek was discovered. Can you join their ranks?

Here’s the problem: everybody is promoting their company, and everyone has more money than you. You’re not going to have the biggest billboard. You’re not going to have the coolest band. And all that free booze you’re giving out? After people drink it they’ll forget about you and go to the next party.

Perhaps it’s too late for many companies with plans, but I want to suggest an alternate form of marketing at SXSW: delighting people.

Here’s what you need to do.

red phonebooths at south by southwestDo something delightfully unexpected. This ISN’T free booze or a shirt with your logo on it. This IS a bus with karaoke. This IS a shade/hydration lounge. This IS Zappos’s ponchos during a rainstorm. This IS an old-school phonebooth.

Don’t neglect your true fans while you’re in Austin. Your customers don’t care that you are at a party with Snoop Dogg. They do care that they can’t access their account. And nobody at SXSW is going to want to try your service if they see people complaining about your customer support. You can make it clear to your customers that you may be less available than normal, but do your best to continue to answer their questions quickly.

Don’t let your service go down. Part two of respecting your true fans. This year UserVoice is flying in two waves because we still have the scars from one disastrous SXSW where the site went down while we were ALL on a plane to Austin.

Give back. Listen to people’s pitches. Tweet about cool companies you meet. Buy someone a beer just because they seem cool. If you’re nice to people, they’re more likely to help you out with that retweet, that blog post, or even that connection to the VC firm of your dreams. Instead of trying to be strategic about who you’re nice to, be friendly and generous to everyone. You never know who holds that golden key.

Good luck, and see you at SXSW!
Hall photo courtesy of Aaron Hockley.

Phonebooth photo courtesy of Wayne Sutton.