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When SXSW Interactive first began, the festival embraced a growing digital counter culture comprised of technologists, creatives and entrepreneurs – future-focused folks who were early adopters in the social space and evangelists of a new world. Yet over the past few years, SXSWi has moved from the fringe to the mainstream. Digital culture IS culture. And we’re all a part of it. This year, tactical, how-to workshops were replaced by inspirational and thought-provoking sessions that challenged how we view our world. Curiosity trumped mastery, stories trumped data and humans trumped technology. In this report, we’ll recap the people, startups and brands that stole the show in Austin – and outline the key themes that will have the biggest impact on marketing.
Big, bold personalities stole the show at SXSW 2013. As content shifted from tactical to inspirational, the most‐buzzed about speakers came from new and sometimes surprising industries and backgrounds. From pro athletes to politicians, SXSW brought us dynamic presenters that spoke intimately about the impact of digital on their own lives. The result: refreshing, entertaining content that moved and inspired.
ELON MUSK, Founder of SpaceX & Tesla Motors “I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”
MATTHEW INMAN, Creator of The Oatmeal “I'm not a cartoonist. I'm a stand‐ up comedian whose stage is the Web.”
TINA ROTH EISENBERG, Designer & Blogger, a.k.a Swissmiss “There’s a line between those who create things and those who destroy them. You have to figure out which side you’re on.”
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL, Former NBA All‐Star & Founder of Shaq Inc “I'm the world’s tallest geek.”
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC Host “The media is meritocracy because content is trafficable. Writing well, researching well – you’ll get pickup.”
CORY BOOKER, Mayor of Newark “We have better tools than [our parents] had. We can create value in places that our parents couldn’t even imagine.”
CINDY GALLOP, Founder & CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn “Gen Y is ambitious and entrepreneurial and wants to be a part of the new world.”
GRUMPY CAT, Eternally Despondent Feline & Internet Celebrity
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This year’s standout startups comprised an interesting mix of software and hardware. Social apps, once the sole starlets of SXSWi, shared the spotlight with technologies that one might otherwise see at CES. Here are some emerging companies that stood out: Company What it Is
Vine is a Twitter‐owned mobile service that allows users to create short‐form video in a format that’s easy to share and view. SXSW goers used Vine to share animated snap‐shots of their adventures in Austin.
Leap Motion is an advanced motion‐sensing technology that is on a mission to change how people create content, play games and consume media. As Co‐Founder David Holz puts it, “The ability to control our digital environments the same way we control our real environments is upon us.” At SXSW, Leap Motion invited attendees to test out the matchbox‐sized device at a dedicated demo station.
Mass Relevance is helping brands seamlessly weave their digital efforts to the real world through real‐ time interactive displays. The company was back at it a year after releasing their SX Social Viewer to debut its new Q&A platform. Wayin (which powered Chevy’s SXSW hub) and Feed Magnet were also on the ground at SXSW to tackle enterprise social curation and engagement.
While Google is far from a startup, its new Glass product captured a ton of buzz at SXSW. Wearables (think fitness tracker apps like the Nike FuelBand to augmented reality devices like Glass) were a major trend, in large part due to Google making a spectacle of its somewhat sci‐fi spectacles in Austin.
SideCar is a ridesharing app that promotes sustainability through community. The startup educated attendees about its service by giving away free rides throughout the conference, including clutch transportation to Spotify, Tumblr and LinkedIn events.
Cubify is a startup on a mission to help people “express” themselves with 3D printing. We spotted this crew at the Crowdtap party printing party favors like costume mustaches and sunglasses on the fly.
Launched on Day 1 of SXSWi, Hater allows (and encourages) users to express their negativity within social media. People can “hate” specific things, like products or public figures, and connect with others over shared hate lists.
Tinder describes itself as a “fun way to break the ice.” The platform allows you to anonymously browse photos of singles nearby and submit a “Like” if you’re interested. “No one [was] using it in Austin, but everyone [was] talking about the Hot‐or‐Not dating app,” writes Business Insider.
Posse is a local discovery platform that “helps you find all the best places in the world.” Users can submit simple queries (i.e. “Best dive bars in Austin”) and receive verified recommendations from friends and local experts. Posse demonstrated how this works by releasing their own guide to Austin that featured curated lists from influencers like our David Berkowitz.
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SXSW used to be known for startups only. Not anymore. Over the past few years, brands have increasingly turned up at SXSWi to connect with influencers and reinforce their companies as leaders in digital (view our collaborative ‘Brands at SXSW’ pinboard to see examples). In 2o12, we saw the launch of the Nike FuelBand and a flashy American Express promotion that culminated with a VIP (read: cardholder) only Jay‐Z concert. This year, brands were once again out in force. Here are three trends we tracked in Austin:
Media companies came to play
Media and entertainment properties brought a bevy of unique installations and experiences to Austin. Some of our favorites included efforts from HBO, USA Network (client) and Mashable. Other M&E companies with representation in Austin included the New York Times, PBS, BBC America, A&E, Fast Company and Turner Media. o o HBO: To promote the third season of ‘Game of Thrones,’ HBO rebranded pedicabs as iron thrones and hosted an original art show inspired by the series. USA Network: Our client USA Network traveled to Texas to promote its newest show, “Graceland,” with an innovative video paint series that colored the streets of downtown Austin and that lead into an interactive screening and premiere. The video paint program, the first of its kind for a TV series launch, rolled out scenes and key lines from Graceland to excite the crowds of SXSW for the series premiere in June. The campaign led into the VIP invite‐only screening with the cast and then a not‐to‐miss party with show mash‐ups, DJs, an Instagram interactive wall and the who's who of SXSW. Mashable: What got even more buzz than the show “House of Cards?” Mashable did, with its house of memes. The Mashable House hosted SXSW star Grumpy Cat along with meme‐loving humans like the guy best known on Reddit as “Scumbag Steve” and Nyan Cat creator Chris Torres.
Repeat brands return
Several brands are emerging as SXSW staples, shunning the one‐and‐done model to reinvent themselves among a new crowd of influential digital natives. Some included: o Chevrolet: Chevy was back at it again this year, offering free rides in a Cruze Eco or Malibu LTZ, inviting attendees to power up in its New Roads Lounge and promoting test drives in its newest models. Chevy even launched a digital hub, powered by Way In, to aggregate and highlight conversations around #ChevySXSW. GE: After partnering with Quirky last year to reinvent the milk carton, this year GE was personalizing cups of coffee by etching visitors’ pictures in the foam. Samsung: Samsung, another SXSW staple, brought its popular blogger lounge back this year and launched a series of new activations in anticipation for its Galaxy S4 launch on March 14.
Utility and creativity pack a powerful punch
To cut through the clutter, brands delivered useful perks in creative ways. Examples included: o o Moo – The print business card remains de rigueur at SXSW (Hashable, a startup that promoted digital introductions at SXSW 2011, has since bitten the dust). Moo offered free business cards to attendees who could pick them up at the festival. Oreo – To help Millennials visualize the mobility of Oreo’s new “Grab & Go” packs in the most dynamic way possible, 360i and client Oreo launched a fun and unique “Grab, Guess & Go” interactive display in the Austin Convention Center. Using an interactive green screen, the brand digitally transported Oreo snackers – with their “Grab & Go” packs in hand – around famous landmarks and hot spots in Austin. Those that were able to guess the notable venue within one minute received the chance to win gift vouchers to local businesses. Beats By Dre – Beats by Dre invited people to book appointments with faux nurses and doctors at the Beats by Dre Pill Clinic. In a waiting area, they were offered free drinks and photo opps. People were brought to patient rooms one at a time to experience the Beats by Dre Pill speaker, a competitor to Jambox.
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For brands, SXSWi helped further dissolve the boundaries between the digital world and the real world and underscored the need to consider marketing programs within this larger picture. Below are the key themes we identified at the conference along with explanations for why marketers should pay attention to each.
Pundits and attendees looking to find the ‘next big thing’ at SXSW are really looking for memes, or bits of cultural information that spread and create shared relevance on a large scale. Standouts at past SXSW conferences, like Twitter, Foursquare and GroupMe, were memes in their own right, successfully spreading within the community and then far beyond as well. What makes the conference unusual and powerful is that attendees proactively seek out these memes and commit to spreading them further. Why it matters: Brands can be memes, too. Last year, Nike’s FuelBand became a product meme. This year, BBC America’s mechanical bulldog emerged as an experiential meme – something people could not stop talking about and sharing through Vines, photos and videos. Marketers can capitalize on the shared relevance that memes present. Before SXSW began, for example, Friskies tapped Grumpy Cat to star in a new campaign. Usually it's not quite that literal though. When brands resonate with consumers, it's often because they understand what motivates their consumers to share those ideas – or memes – with others.
Experiential Bridges Online and Offline
This year, brands leveraged interactive installations and experiential marketing to connect on the ground presences at SXSW with their digital communities. For example, the Mashable House brought digital memes (like Grumpy Cat and Scumbag Steve) into the real world, allowing visitors to share them from the House to their social networks. As another example, A&E’s Bates Motel experience incorporated imagery from the premiere and allowed fans to not only tweet and share pictures, but also to walk away with a flipbook showcasing their experience. Likewise, thousands of attendees visited Oreo’s Grab & Go interactive game and shared their experience through Instagram and by using the #oreograbgo hashtag. Why it matters: Creating for your consumers, instead of directly for your brand, creates trust and an understanding that we (the brands/marketers) get them. As the digital world becomes a crowded place, brands who understand that meaningful offline experiences translate into meaningful online connections (and vice versa) will be able to fully tap the potential of experiential campaigns.
Instead of focusing on a shiny new social platform and its how‐tos, marketers directed their attention towards exploring ways that brands can tell stories across multiple channels. At the center of many conversations was the need for a more holistic approach to social content and the value of purposeful day‐to‐day conversation with consumers. Now that most brands have presences on multiple social networks, synergy is critical for a meaningful and impactful message. Why it matters: There has never been a more important time to have not only a clear content strategy and social plan, but to ensure that strategic direction is in alignment with your larger brand story (paid, earned and owned across both digital and traditional media).
While SXSW has traditionally focused on software, this year we saw the attention shift to hardware – specifically to wearable hardware. Popular wearables today are mostly health‐related – think Nike's FuelBand, the FitBit and Basis – but also include new innovations such as Google Glass. As Foursquare Founder & CEO Dennis Crowley noted in his keynote, "I'm generating a lot of data. This is what nerds do right now, and what a lot of people are going to do in a few years." Will everyone be using Google Glass in the next year? It's doubtful – but we expect to see improved product design and lower price points over the next few years, both of which will help wearables evolve from trend to reality. Why it matters: As was the case with mobile and smartphone adoption, the rise of wearables underscores the furthering dissolution between digital and IRL (in real life) experiences. The rise of connected devices – specifically human‐connected devices – means that consumers’ lifestyles are increasingly always‐on and data driven.
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Journalism and Advertising
As more people get their news from digital media of all formats (anything from Twitter to RSS readers), the definition of journalism has changed. SXSW panels on the subject discussed attribution, real‐time coverage and the notion of news ownership. In some cases, blogs can reach more readers than the evening news – and citizen journalists can capture moments that big media networks sometimes cannot. Specific to marketers, native advertising within journalism emerged as a hot button issue at SXSW, following increasing attention on the topic over the past year. As sites like BuzzFeed and The Atlantic forge ahead with new models based on ‘spreadable’ content, we’re seeing greater collaboration (while still maintaining separation) between online advertising and editorial. Why it matters: As the media landscape evolves and sharing becomes increasingly important, marketers have an opportunity to create spreadable content that tells a story in similar fashion as a news article. This underscores the need for creating content and copy that tells a strong story about your brand – a nod to the ‘Mad Men’ era style of advertising where storytelling was paramount. From an earned media perspective, successful brands will recognize a new and growing crop of online influencers across all platforms – not just bloggers, but on sites like Instagram and Pinterest as well – to reach targeted and engaged readers.
UGC in a Real-Time World
Tapping into fans to help create content can help optimize marketing costs while creating stronger fan connections to your brand. When done right, user‐generated content has the power to make fans pay attention and feel invested in your advertising. As an added benefit, fan‐created or fan‐inspired content can provide new insights to help marketers identify how consumers perceive and experience the brand, and in turn can help push the brand forward. Why it matters: Marketers will want to carefully consider why and what they ask fans to create and establish a clear point of relevance to encourage participation. From an operational perspective, align teams (internal and external) to identify and execute UGC within a real time environment. This means preparing for the unexpected – Wal‐Mart could have never predicted Pit Bull’s trip to Alaska last summer – and establishing boundaries and values to guide snap decision making.
360i is an award‐winning digital marketing agency that drives results for Fortune 500 marketers through insights, ideas and technologies. 360i helps its clients think differently about their online presence and evolve their strategies to take advantage of the new world of marketing communications – one where brands and consumers engage in interactive and multi‐directional conversations. Ad Age recently named 360i the #2 Agency in the country in its 2013 A‐List issue and also named it one of the “Best Places to Work” in Marketing & Media for two years running. Current clients include Oreo, Capital One, Coca‐Cola, Bravo and Diageo, among others. For more information, please visit blog.360i.com or follow us on Twitter @360i. © 360i LLC. All Rights Reserved. 5
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