‘Interactive in a different way’: Visible’s head of experiential Kirstie Rivard on activating at SXSW
Digital-only phone carrier Visible is back at South by Southwest this year, albeit virtually. The brand was last on the ground in Austin at the 2019 festival with a pop-up activation for the festival’s music portion.
Digiday caught up with Visible’s head of experiential, Kristie Rivard, to hear how the brand is approaching the festival this year as well as how the company is thinking about experiential later this year.
This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
You’ve done an experiential activation at SXSW in the past. What’s your approach this year to connect with a virtual audience?
2019 was the first year for Visible at SXSW. What attracted us to the festival was that in-person, hands-on activation, the experience and that feeling when you walk away from something thinking, ‘Wow I’ve never done that before.’ We had a transparent music box [for our activation at SXSW] in 2019. It’s really hard to replicate that without being in-person. What brands have done — and this is true for SXSW as well — is that you connect in a different way. It can be just as meaningful, different, but just as meaningful.
This year, we’re very digital. We’re supporting SXSW digitally as one of the major music festival sponsors. We’ve leaned into themes of connection through our blogs, our tweets and to remind people that it’s important to connect and be kind.
What are you doing to connect?
Specifically for SXSW, we’ve leaned into our blogs and tweets, all of the social aspects that they have. For a brand, even seeing your brand is important. We wanted to make sure we still supported the artists. We know it’s been incredibly difficult for them. It’s really important to stay active in that arena. In fact, we did a Red Rocks Unpaused activation last year when the pandemic hit. We wanted to do something that would still put the consumer at the center of an experience while still supporting artists. We wanted to do something enjoyable and interactive in a different way.
Why did you want to be at SXSW despite it being virtual?
SXSW has a very compelling community they’ve built. It still introduces us to new audiences we wouldn’t reach through our other marketing tactics. We’re a digital to consumer brands — we have no retail stores — that’s why the in-person and experiential offering at SXSW [in past years] was very compelling to us. But when you strip that out we still want to support music, artists and SXSW.
How has the last year changed how you’re thinking about experiential marketing?
I don’t know if it’s changed it. I think we understand it still services its purpose in the beliefs we held before of people connecting more intimately with the brand, they’re more likely to consider us, they’re more likely to activate. That’s all still true. If anything, it allowed us the opportunity to introduce people to using different formats to connect. For example, our Red Rocks Unpaused activation. We would’ve never done that had the pandemic not happened. The venue was closed. As a marketer, you have to think about how you can reach people and reach them at scale. We also had a captive audience because there wasn’t anything going on in real life to compete with that event.
As people are starting to get vaccinated and areas open up more, are you thinking about in-person events or in-person experiential for the second half of the year?
We are considering it. We do have a partnership with Denver Arts and Venues. They manage the Red Rocks property so we’ve already got some things we’re planning there. We’re also looking at a few other partnerships that would have in-person pieces to it. We’re definitely looking at it. We just want to make sure wherever we are that we’re thoughtful, people feel safe, and can enjoy themselves without worry. We’ll obviously adhere to all [Covid safety] policies.
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