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How do you stand out in a world where everyone has a voice? Where every kid on the block can go very loud on the net? Where there are petabytes of content being published every couple of hours. How do you stand out at #SxSW where thousands of people bitten by FOMO try to figure out to which of the 6,000 or so sessions to go to.

Brilliant activations help of course. Deloitte’s Future of work, HBO’s Bleed for the throne… it stands out, gets noticed and picked up.

This year’s edition also showed the tremendous power of ambassadors. From a multitude of panels, stages and guest appearances, ambassadors spread the word on their cause. Guy Kawasaki singlehandedly hosted, moderated, and spoke on a dozen sessions on and off the festival concourse. The quiet former CMO of Apple uses his tremendous clout to make as well Canva, an audiovisual editing suite, as Mercedes shine. Very cleverly, not by preaching the new shiny object of both brands, but by linking the brand name to his personal values and vision on the rapidly changing online community.


Kawasaki is not the only one with a discreet Mercedes star on his chest. The German car giant played it big this year with a Mercedes Media Lounge at the very heart of the action. Hosted by Tech Set giants Brian Solis and Stephanie Agresta, a fine selection of panels and speakers came sharing their best in an intimate setting, open to select journalists, online media and influencers. The brand cleverly attached its logo to the power of the finely selected orators. With topics as the future of transportation, personal transport in the cities of tomorrow, sustainable energy, inclusion, traceability, design, Mercedes created over the five days of the show a strong link with innovation, respect, and thought leadership.

The Silver Star could also be found in the EQ house, a house discretely set up around their electric car offering, but dedicated to keynotes and talks about empowerment and innovation.  Here the brands iconic She’s Mercedes was hosted, where an impressive suite of powerful women talked about their journey to success, and how to overcome the multitude of obstacles still hindering the path of countless girls and women.

Bonin and Thurston

Bonin Bough,  (Marketing Exec, TV Host, Investor, Author;  Ex. C-Suite Mondelez & PepsiCo and a FastCo 100 Most Creative) and  Baratunde Thurston (ex editor The Onion, Actor, Comedian, Author) use their influence to make sure minorities and people of color get the light they deserve. Both are ambassadors of causes that are way broader than their personal endeavors and projects.

Having Clout

The tremendous power of these people is linked to their personal clout, the result of a steady and trustworthy way of communicating on who they are, and what they stand for.  They write, speak, tweet, and publish. They are on video, on Instagram and on stage. They don’t sell anything. They stand for something: a cause, a project, a dream. They share their thinking. Their frustration, their success, their failures. This, over the past years, has given them tremendous credibility. Trust. Power.

Personal brand

I know the popular adagio that you should concentrate on doing the work, that personal brand is irrelevant, that credibility and fame will follow. But I do notice the power of the people that invest in a content ecosystem around what they do, and what they stand for. The always-on communication lays the groundwork to help understand from a distance who they are, what they do, what makes them tick.  I see a lot of CEO’s, CMO’s, Heads of Business Units etc deploy a communication network around their person, and I believe that is a good move. It broadens the possibilities to talk about the softer, more humane aspects of the brands and causes they represent. It shows where they are going. It tells a lot about the logo’s they represent.

Ambassadors over influencers

Seeing ambassadors doing their thing, irrefutably puts shade over that other phenomenon: influencers. While ambassadors are selected on their lasting link and connection with the brand, the so-called influencers hop all over the place, changing their allegiances to brands as quick as a bigger paycheck comes in. I see less and less value on that side of the equation, it looks more and more like walking billboards if you ask me.

If there is no long-term, respect based, value matched connection… there is no sense, no purpose. No value. Money down the drain.

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