SXSWi 2013 Recap: Key Takeaways
Last week saw the start of the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) interactive, film and music festival here in the United States. Since 1987, thousands of thinkers, doers, investors, fans, startup hopefuls, and lovers of all things tech have been descending on Austin, Texas to share their new ideas, technology and products.
In just the past few years, some of the emerging tech that is now completely part of our culture made huge splashes at SXSWi – names like Twitter, Instagram, Gowalla, Foursquare, and GroupMe.
Consistent with our vision to be our clients’ most important partner, we were at SXSW, adding to the conversation, listening to others, learning from everything. Below, people from around our network share key insights and learnings.
Cherie Cox, CEO/Partner, SicolaMartin/Tech.YR
As a local resident of Austin, Texas for 20 years, I have experienced the evolution and growth of SXSW first-hand. What began simply as a music festival in 1987 for “up and coming” artists has transformed over the years into a global convergence of the latest innovations in music, film and most notably, technology.
I’m proud to say that our agency team, together with VML and Y&R (as part of the global Tech.YR practice), created an impressive showcase at our own “#Imaginarium” event which was designed to exchange forward-thinking ideas as they relate to the future of technology innovations. Throughout the day, we had an excellent line-up of tech-focused leaders who shared their insights on everything from advancements in social media to science to the future of collaboration.
When comparing my years of attending both SXSWi and CES (the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas) the distinct advantage of attending SXSWi is that it focuses on the increasingly personalized ways that actual content can be created, shared and consumed — as opposed to simply promoting the specific device that it’s consumed on. While devices are becoming increasingly commoditized, the interactive experiences have become increasingly personal, portable, and device agnostic.
Our overall SXSWi takeaway was that a combination of rich, consumable content and enhanced interactivity are the critical success factors moving forward. Brands must develop deep, quality content that can be shared on demand with increasingly savvy consumers in both the B2B and B2C space at every stage of their buying journey. From a technology standpoint, making the actual platforms better and easier to use seemed to be the focus of this year’s event versus the actual applications that were highlighted in previous years. Another key focus was on driving online interactions into offline experiences. This included everything from making designs physically tangible and dimensional (with 3D printing) to the new ways that people are using technologies and services such as Airbnb and Uber to make the move from online to offline connections.
All in all, 2013 was another impressive evolution for SXSWi and will continue to be a top priority for my team. We left inspired and certainly gained many new insights that will empower our thinking and client interactions moving forward.
Amy Griffin, Senior Account Executive, Y&R Midwest
Over and over, I heard about the burden and the complication of all of the information now at our fingertips - the same information that is meant to be enriching our lives and making them more convenient. In one session, Author Clay Johnson urged the audience to go on an information diet: to actively seek out the information you need and to limit the rest so it doesn't become white noise. For example, only check your email at set times during the day, and weed out people on Facebook that aren't important to you. A point that Johnson touched on and was reiterated by Evan Smith, CEO and editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, in a later session was that too much information actually creates a confirmation bias (in that we don't have to hear opinions that we don't agree with because we only listen to, say, MSNBC or Fox) and, ironically, makes us more ignorant. By sifting through all of the messages coming our way, and making sure they are from quality sources, we can be more productive and not only reactive.
Because of this issue of constant connectivity, it's looking like curation is the order of the day. Brian Kralyevich, VP of Design at Amazon, mentioned the soulfulness of curation – by limiting ourselves we are forced to be more thoughtful and in some cases, personal (like a man forced to pit a limited number of songs for a mixtape for his girlfriend). In the way that one Instagram photo is more salient than an entire Facebook album, we should be focusing on how to bring a less frenetic experience to consumers. I hope to help my clients look through this lens as they build out new ways to reach their users. Knowing which information is the important information is the new battle in this day of messaging bombardment (both personal and commercial).
Sulaiman Beg, Global Content Manager, Y&R
It’s hard to come back from SXSWi and not think of the relationship between connection vs. connectivity. On the one-hand you have thousands of people, with their necks craned down, peering into their tablets, computers or mobile phone screens seemingly disconnected from their surroundings, and then on the other hand, there’s the experience of watching some guy with a 3D mobile printer strapped to his chest showing you the watchband he just finished printing out. Connection vs. Connectivity.
My inaugural experience at Southby (I can say that now, I guess) was, as it was for many, witnessing firsthand (via Google Glasses or Makerbot tech) this shift from the digital to the physical world. I saw it in the way Leap Motion will make aspects of Minority Report a reality, and I saw it in the way our Spark Plug company Hyperactivate used their hashtag art to create a great visual mosaic experience for American Airlines.
Sure, walking through the trade floor and “Startup Village” the luddite in me (the kind that eschews Facebook for Instagram) saw a lot of dud apps (do we need an app where we can post pictures of things we hate? “You hate lines too? Grrrreat.”), but the overall experience of knowing that there were people like Ping Fu, the head of Geomagic ‑ a global company providing 3D technology for digital reality ‑ who planned to use her mobile 3D printer, in part, as an educational and medical tool, were really thinking about the benefits of this tech for mankind. For marketers and consumers, the possibilities are endless: imagine creating anything from anywhere? Making a website is easy. But to take any idea and make it into an object in the physical world – now, that's great. Maybe not just tomorrow, but someday. And that’s the Southby experience in a nutshell: thinking about tomorrow.
Krisha Newham, Group Account Director, VML
Big Data. Big Data was the headline in several sessions, including a Stephen Wolfram-led session about what’s next for data analysis and presentation. What’s big data? High volume, high velocity and high variety data. The key is how to tell to leverage it to gain insights and tell stories, and more importantly, how to do that in a timely fashion.
Storytelling. “Storytelling” has replaced “content” as a buzzword. Sessions at SXSWi focused on how brands need to do a better job drawing in consumers with interesting narratives, versus a strict content creation model. For example, telling the backstory on a video shoot because it emerged organically versus just creating the video itself because it’s slated on the editorial calendar. In fact, some brands (like Coca-Cola) are hiring journalists instead of copywriters. This journalistic and more editorial approach means that the narrative becomes key instead of what the brand is pushing – a more engaging and authentic experience for the consumer.
Broadcast. One of the most interesting threads at SXSWi was actually TV - digital has made TV relevant again. Social has driven consumers back to live TV for fear of spoilers, the use of various platforms has enhanced the TV viewing experience (dual screens) and sites/brands are looking at “programming” digital experiences versus using a content calendar. Digital isn’t killing TV – it’s evolving it.
Predictive Discovery. The use of algorithms and data will give us more predictive experiences – instead of searching, our devices will tell us what they think we should know.
Physical/Digital Convergence. Using digital to be more in tune with the physical. Brainwave training, evolution of devices, wearables...all of these are leading down a path where your consumption of digital data becomes even more integrated and personal.
Nancy Maloney, Senior Strategist, Y&R Midwest
One thing that really struck me about SXSW 2013 was that the focus seemed to be more on ideas than tech or gadgets this year. There didn't seem to be one MAJOR tech trend or gadget that everyone was talking about. (There were a few, but no one specific item that was dominating the conversation, as has been the case in years past.) But big ideas were everywhere — and conversations seemed to be centered around those.
I think this trend is indicative of a directional change for the festival. Perhaps it's a response to ‑ or a reflection of ‑ a burgeoning cultural trend: people stepping away from "technology for technology's sake." Today, people are asking for something more than that. Some may say that, as a result of this new direction, SXSWi has lost its way or jumped the shark. I think it means that we've turned a corner. I believe it illustrates that we have learned that the most successful "digital" developments, tech and trends are entrenched in something larger. Perhaps we have learned to put the focus on the ideas that will enable us to develop and use technology and gadgets better to serve our purposes, meet our needs and improve our lives.
Predictably, popular statistician Nate Silver spoke about predictability and big data. But rather than focusing on big data itself, he stressed that big data alone will not bring big progress. He emphasized the importance of creating a balance between big data and intuition. He outlined the ways in which our educational system must be reformed in order to support the growing demand for qualified data scientists to ensure that big data does lead to big progress. (The answer, by the way, is a greater focus on mathematics, specifically probability and statistics over calculus.)
If we truly want to move our online interactions from simply transactional to collaborative, we can't do it through technology alone. We need a big idea to drive and guide our efforts and establish relationships with our consumers in ways that benefit them. The better the ideas, the better the technology. And ultimately, ideas transcend and elevate products.
Henry Monsell, Senior Planner, Y&R New York
So they say SXSW offers the unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies. And after my first visit I have to say I would agree. Accidentally bump into a tech developer with two phones, an iPad mini, three sets of glasses and baggy pants, turn to say sorry, and find yourself staring at a teenage rocker with two instruments, a skateboard, three sets of jewelry and pants far too tight.
I arrived in Austin to be, and these are my words pre-SXSW-adventure: inspired, introduced, reminded, taught and more importantly changed. So have I?
I've certainly been inspired. You can't but help think there's more to life than the marketing bubble we cocoon ourselves in, when you hear tales of fortune and discovery from the four corners of the world. And I've been introduced. Introduced to a range of people and products both within our industry and beyond (some to be remembered and some less so). I’ve also found myself reminded of those forgotten apps that make our lives richer and more connected (so iTunes says). And yes I've been taught too. From Google's talking shoe to speaking to a number of “geeks” in the trade-show on “the magic behind the coding.” Although I still think it'll be a while yet to when I'm cracking jokes in 1's and and 0’s.
But what about “changed”? Tricky one this. Would I even know if I have changed? Well, I'll answer this as honestly as possible, and in doing so, strengthen my views that our clients need to block out this week every year. No I haven't seen the light, nor discovered a part of me that I never knew existed, nor see the world through a different Instagram filter. However, I do, for now at least, feel a little more excited for the future. SXSW 2013 may not have introduced “the next big something,” but that's not the point. The point of SXSW is to highlight that there will be a next big something. And only those looking, will find it.
As soon as our clients begin to mirror this frame of mind, the conversation will be less about making the most of everything today, and instead be about making the most of that something tomorrow.
Sosia Bert, Executive Producer of Digital Content, Y&R New York
There were no big launches at SXSW this year. No Twitter. No Foursquare. No Nike FuelBand. Which seems strange considering the boom happening in Silicon Valley right now. There were lots of little apps trying to be heard and have a presence, but nothing groundbreaking.
There was no official presence felt from the hot new apps like Snapchat, Vine, or even Instagram, but maybe the fact that everyone was already using them to document the experience and communicate with each other was enough. The big mama, Google, had a major presence on panels and sessions, their playground, and debuting new information on Glass and experiments like the talking shoe.
So what does it mean? Is the market saturated and the big players are just getting bigger? Are people's attention spans tapped with the social media and tech entertainment they're already using? Is SXSW too inundated with messages and it's become harder for startups to get the amount of attention they need?
Or was this just an off year?
We know in advertising that the market has become broad and fragmented. To be heard you need to target your audience in a precise and strategic way rather than inundating media channels to hit everyone, because that's not possible anymore. So maybe the new and next big things are doing that as well. And maybe the next big things aren't the next big thing for a mass audience. Maybe they're more targeted and individual.
Another thing I noticed this year was an emphasis on the emotional connection that people have with their tech devices and the interface designs and tools. Not just about how tech can serve you, but making sure to pay attention to how your tech can change you, change how you live your life, change your outward perception to others. There is much emphasis on what something does for you, but how does it affect your life when you stop a dinner with a friend to take a picture of your food? And how can even things like the wording of error messaging make you feel and change your demeanor and mood? One speaker on moral design pointed out that we interact with our phones more than any other object or person. How can that object, and the way it is designed, not change you?
Nothing new, but the trends at SXSW this year were about 3D printing, Google (especially Glass), Leap Motion gestural interface (which works incredibly well and at an $80 price point is sure to spread), hashtags everywhere, and Grumpy Cat, a meme who made a real life appearance in Austin and who people lined up around the block to see. The ad world seemed to have descended on SXSW more than last year, with more of a presence from the people who are not specifically digital. I heard from multiple companies that they don't send people to Cannes anymore - they send more people to SXSW instead. Agencies and production companies fought to outdo each other with their parties, to have a PR presence and have the cool innovation cache. Many, though, only came to network, peripherally soak in the experience, and didn't attend any of the panels or sessions.
I love the tech side of it though, the freedom to have truly geeky intelligent conversations on the street with old friends and colleagues about the interesting things you've seen and heard, the new ideas sparked, and the inspiration and mental pathways opened up especially when you go to sessions and workshops that you think have nothing relevant for you. You can't not learn and not be inspired by being there. I highly recommend for our clients to go and have the experience if they can. There is an inherent truth about the digital world, which is that it is always changing, and you must constantly self-educate to stay on top of it.
We should be taking risks right now. With everything changing there are no long-established best practices. At one panel I heard one person mention that you have to go on your good gut feeling of - is this appropriate for my target market, and is it interesting?
For work to be noticed, you have to be innovative, take some risks, and be prepared to do new things that haven't been done before.
Ingrid Ducmanis, Digital Group Creative Director, Red Fuse/VML New York
To me it seems the big takeaway from SXSW 2013 is that there is no big takeaway this year. But not in a bad way. Rather SXSWi has grown to cover such a vast array of subjects and disciplines, electing one or two splashy launches or celebrity sponsorships to represent the whole would be a disservice to the truly remarkable scope of knowledge and experience the conference offered. It’s this sheer diversity that I think I found most inspiring. I veered happily and somewhat randomly from visions of the future delivered by Elon Musk and Al Gore to museum directors Katie Hill and Scott Stulen discussing how they organized and curated the first-ever Internet Cat Video Festival. (With almost no advertising at all, 10,000 people showed up at the festival, demonstrating the power of offering an online community the chance to have an offline experience.)
And everywhere I went, everything I tuned into, everyone I talked to, I found something of value to the work we do for our clients. In Red Fuse's case, since we are dedicated to Colgate Palmolive brands, I found two themes particularly relevant. One was the "quantified self" — keeping track of our footsteps, calories, breaths, sleep cycles, etc., with the ultimate goal of all this data-gathering being to take better care of ourselves. As personal and oral-care brands are, essentially, about taking care of ourselves, and I feel there is definitely a movement here we should be tapping into.
The other theme that jumped out as particularly relevant to Colgate was best encapsulated by Stanford professor BJ Fogg's session titled "Why Tiny Habits Give Big Results." His research into human habit formation (something I believe all marketers are trying to achieve at the end of the day) shows that asking people to take big leaps or make big changes almost always results in failure, whereas suggesting the tiniest of changes can actually be wildly effective. Tiny changes (floss one tooth a day, do two pushups a day, etc.) are easy to accomplish and quickly build confidence and momentum. Taking small, doable steps towards health is actually the underpinning strategy of Colgate's current Colgate Total campaign and I'm excited to see if we can't use some of Dr. Fogg's findings to stake out a real, ownable movement for the brand.
Matt Farrugia, Digital Director, GPY&R Melbourne
SXSW 2013 – was the year of the hardware to enable further creative exploration.
It wasn’t just a pilgrimage for the modern techno-geek. This year was more about the opportunities ahead for creativity converged with technology in the physical world. Opportunities through leveraging products such as MakerBot’s 3D printers and digitizers, which can duplicate physical objects; and Leap Motion’s sensor devises that will redefine the way we interact with interfaces.
But above all the noise of new technologies, thousands of new apps, and opinions and predictions, what really cut through were the individuals with big ideas and ambition - set out to achieve their goals with simple visions.
There was Alexis Ohanian who co-founded Reddit in 2005 at the age of 22. He spoke about tales of entrepreneurship beyond Silicon Valley and the power of crowd funding. Today he’s considered the mayor of the ‘open’ internet, driving awareness of his views on SOPA, he even made a call to congress live on stage.
Kim Dotcom was strangely inspiring. Through a rare Skype interview by Wired Mag’s Charles Graeber, he shared his experience of being charged with the largest copyright infringement in U.S history. During its peak, Kim’s company contributed to 4 percent of the Internet, with many organisations including the Brazilian Government having 8,000 accounts. This man is gaining cult status.
Dennis Crowley, CEO and co-founder of Foursquare, spoke about the future of check-ins. Today Foursquare’s 30 million users have created 3 billion check points around the world – hello Big Data.
Matthew Inman, of Oatmeal, raised one million dollars in nine days to save the former laboratory of Tesla – then turned it into a museum. This would have to be my favorite example of using creative skills and crowd-funding for the greater good of society.
And finally, there were workshops of all types, although one that resonated with me was ‘Geek Nirvana: achieving data driven happiness’ with Google’s lead Psychologist Brian Welle. Brian is responsible for the happiness of 35,000 people at Google – an incredibly important and valuable staff metric at Google. Brian gave insight into the models Google implement to achieve staff happiness through data collected from surveys and showed methods for how to implement these insights gathered. Through all this they discovered culture being one of the most important. And not just being about free Red Bull and foosball tables; but rather an organic journey that takes time.
So my key take outs:
- Creative is king: don’t use technology for technologies sake – have an idea.
- Crowd funding is the way forward for start-ups.
- Digital is now part of our second skin, part of our lives; technology is us.
- Those who define core values to help how teams / people come together, will succeed.
Ideas, sxsw, interactive, Digital, y&r new, GPY&R, VML, red fuse, tech.yr