South by Southwest (SXSW) is one of the year’s tentpole events for business professionals and tech, film and music buffs alike as they congregate in Austin, Texas for a 10-day networking and BBQ-palooza. The festival has turned into such a big deal that President Obama will speak at the keynote. It marks the first time in the conference’s 30-year history that a sitting president has participated.

For brands like Mazda, they’re celebrating their second year at the event in grand style by becoming one of the seven “super sponsors.”

The car manufacturer’s main activation for SXSW this year features the Mazda Express Shuttle System (no need to hail a cab!). The car company will transport around 6,000-to-8,000 people during the conference. A Mazda-and-Pandora-curated music playlist promoting emerging artists will complement the experience.

“Our goal is to connect with the people that go to SXSW and get them inspired around music, film and interactive. We’re bringing about 30 cars from our full lineup to SXSW and giving people an opportunity to ride around in those cars and get to various events and venues,” Eric Watson, Mazda’s marketing director, told [a]listdaily. “We really want people to see our new interiors for the Mazda 6, Mazda 3, CX-5, CX-3, connect with the driving experience you get with our cars and really be able to interact with the vehicle for a short period of time.”

Other Mazda models like the CX-9 and the MX-5 Miata will be on display for people to see, and Watson says they have VIP access and privileges lined up for people who already own a Mazda vehicle.

Mazda will also be participating in the usual panel discussions as well as partnering with Town Square Media around Hype Hotel, which is a big music component to SXSW. They merged forces with the Jalopnik Film Festival to bring movies to a different audience. They’re also holding court at the ACC Lounge to provide unique experiences, charging stations and giveaways—attendees can register for the Mazda Express shuttle service there, too.

[a]listdaily met with Watson, who’s worked a slew of positions for companies like Land Rover, Jaguar and Ford throughout his career, to discuss how Mazda plans on engaging consumers for the duration of the conference, and beyond.

What makes SXSW such a desirable event for Mazda to participate in?

SXSW is really a unique experience. It’s becoming part of the culture around technology, film and music, and really, it gives us an opportunity to be amongst thought leaders and people who are coming there to seek inspiration. That aligns really well with some of the passion points of our brand. … Mazda is a company that’s about innovation and always seeking a better way to be able to pursue our different technologies. 

What is Mazda’s main mission throughout the entire event?

We want to connect with people there to let them know what our company stands for—that we’re an innovative car company that really is about driving and putting the customer first, and that’s what we want to get out of that—connecting with people around those technologies. 

What are some ways Mazda is working toward connecting with the consumer?

It’s anything from participating in the different panels and forums to partnering with other people, bringing together technology, music and film and giving an experience to those who are there visiting.

How does Mazda use social media to educate and enhance the user experience with consumers in new ways? 

When we announce a new vehicle, or do something special at an auto show, we’ll create a hashtag strategy. A lot of times we invite influencers, bloggers and others that have social influence and reach. We give them access to see our vehicles and be able to report on those first-hand. We often use social strategies. [Influencer marketing] is a small piece of our plan, but every time we do an event or an activation, we use it … One thing we’ve been trying to do over the last year is engage our owners and our most loyal customers with the brand. In February, we went to Colorado and we engaged about 40 owners in something we call the “Mazda Ice Academy.” We gave them an opportunity to drive our new all-wheel drive vehicles in snow and show them against the competition. We also allowed for them to drive a sports car, the MX-5 Miata, on an ice track. 

The tech craze at events like SXSW range from automotive infotainment systems and connected cars. What is Mazda doing to be a leader in the pack with those two areas?

Mazda is really pursuing technologies that allow people to experience the drive, and to takeaway those distractions, and to have an experience where they’re connected with the road, and also able to have their technologies in the car as well.

As the usage of Uber and Lyft heightens, what is the hardest part of selling car ownership to millennials and digital natives?

I think people are in different life stages and needs. The vehicle industry has been very strong the last three-to-four years. The industry is up to almost 17 million cars a year. So people will go through different needs in the ownership cycle, but people still need cars.

How are you raising awareness for them to buy Mazda?  

A lot of that is through content and engaging with the customer, whether it’s through social media or finding a video on YouTube or connecting them with another owner who shares their same interests. We need to make those connections so they can engage with our brand.