SXSW Interactive 2013 Summary: 7 key themes that matter to marketers

SXSW Interactive 2013 Wordle

Trying to synthesise hundreds of SXSW sessions into a handful of key takeouts accurately reflecting the current digital zeitgeist is a little challenging. Based on my experiences I’ve pulled out what I believe are some of the most relevant themes for brands looking to leverage digital today and tomorrow.

1. Hardware is Hot

Hardware is hot right now. The innovation race is centred around how developers and brands can bring game changing hardware to market, cheaply. From affordable 3D printing like MakerBot’s 3D Digitizer, Ouya’s Android’s TV gaming console to Google’s Talking Shoe and Augment Reality Glass concept.

2. Physicalisation of Digital Experiences (Tangible Keepsakes)

In a world where digital innovation has rapidly been occurring over the past decade, dematerialisation has taken place as physical items have been movedinto the ever elusive cloud.  However, while we as humans appreciate the benefits and advancements of digital technology, we’re now beginning to see a return towards tangible goods using the very same digital technology that has helped remove them from our lives. There’s a big opportunity for brands who are able to converge the two if they’re able to create products that link the emotions we attach to items in the digital space to the physical forefront. Stitchtagram a perfect example of this trend.

3. Humans as the New Interface

The future of design will use the Human body as the ultimate interface. As we struggle to cram more stuff on our screens, the real innovation is happening in or around the human body. Whether it’s intuitive gesture based tech like Leap Motion, programmable clothing or embedded technology actually in our skins, brands gazing into the future will be designing brand experiences in or around the body.

4. Think Psychology before Technology

It’s an obvious one, but brands wanting to create circulation (‘viral’ has officially been blacklisted)of their ideas or content need to start with the psychology of why people use or share a service or idea, not with the platform or technology. It goes back to basic needstate driven marketing, but is so important in a world where we’re screening out non useful tech.

5. Hack your brand

Hacking your brand by opening up your API to crowdsourced development and iteration is not a new concept in the USA. But for Aussie marketers it may come across as a destructive concept, it’s actually extremely constructive if done well. It’s about opening up your brand. 2013 will be the year where 24hr Hacksessions and real time creativity become more mainstream and marketers look to agency partners to deliver solutions (particularly NPD) to big problems quickly.

6. Feedforward not feedback technology

In today’s world of big data, we have the ability to create immediate feedback based on real time data. Think RFID sensors, NFC.  When people understand what they’ve just done, it influences their next decision. Marketers need to leverage Feed Forward technology; guiding consumers to make better decisions by providing the right info at the right time in the right context, intuitively.

7. Always On = Always Now

In our latest global study, Planet Hyperconnected we saw an emerging cultural trend that the ability to be always on and digitally connected wasdriven by a desire to always be IN the moment.  Here at SXSW, this theory was proved further as speakers such as Chris Risdon’s “Behavioral Change as a Value Proposition” and eBay’s Steve Yankovich talked about how in this constant era of connectivity brands need to capitalise on people’s motivation in the moment.

That’s my wrap for SXSW 2013, looking forward to resting my brain after the last intense yet stimulating five days and seeing if 3D printing goes nuts in Australia.

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SXSW Day 4: Sharing Hate, slow content, living data, embedded tech and tangible keepsakes

SXSW Interactive day 4 was about getting in touch with my geeky side. I wanted to spend some time today attending sessions and exhibits from way out there tech futurists and try and get a glimpse of what’s around the corner. I also wanted to see if there were some digital counter trends to balance the 600,000 mentions in social media of the word ‘Innovate’ so far during the conference.

Here are my Day 4 SXSW Interactive 2013 highlights:

Forget ‘Liking it’, ‘Hate it’

Sometimes things just annoy the hell out of you and you want to share it with the world. Now there’s an app for that.  The most buzzed about app of Day 4 was an app called Hater where you can share what you hate on social networks. It’s like Instagram for everything you hate.  Watch out duck face selfie’s, celebs and politicians this could be a hit.

Slow Content in a Hyper-connected world

In today’s hyper-connected world where everyone is seeking an always now existence, brands are looking to deliver real time snackable content to cater for our ever diminishing attention spans. Today Margot Bloomstein offered a counter trend with her  ‘content strategy for slow experiences’ session.

Slow content aims to slow down users, focus their attention, get them exploring whilst helping them act more deliberately in the moment. It’s not a content approach for every brand, but it’s perfect for those looking to create a deeper brand narrative and genuinely invite consumers in. Patagonia creates slow content experiences, delivering deep long form content, rich copy, rich in detail with total transparency – the good and the bad.

Unlike Amazon-type etailers where speed through checkout is the goal, slow content helps the customer make the right choice, not just a choice. Ikea is doing this really well. Brands looking to demonstrate their passion and purpose should think about a slow content approach.

Living Data predicting the future

We all seem to agree that big data is sexy, if used the right way it can solve many of the world’s problems.  Filtering the signal from the noise is the big challenge for marketers. Futurist Bryon Reese’ ‘Algorithms optimize Human existence’ session went into fascinating (although somewhat scary) detail about the potential for using big data and tech to improve the quality of life.

We’re headed to a world where everything we do (behaviour, speech, thoughts) will be digitally recorded (and perfectly remembered), creating a digital record of your life. But more than the record, the data can be analysed, collecting every cause and effect and developing solutions.  Surveillance state you say? Maybe.

Reese believes “Everybody’s life will become action and data to make others’ lives better“. Significant stuff.

The brands of tomorrow need to look at how they can use, what I call, Living Data to identify patterns and then deliver utility that help people help each other.

Embedded technology making Humans the new interface

As digital devices get smaller they will get more embedded into our lives, literally. A session called ‘The Human Body is the next interface’ explored the future reality whereby embedding micro machines inside the human body will happen.

Pharma and healthcare industries could be the most innovative marketers in the world in the next few years. He referenced several fascinating scenarios. Imagine a baby in a cot, with the blanket containing embedded Nano tech. The blanket senses skin temp, alpha waves, pulse and other vitals, the blanket then releases medicine for baby based on signals from embedded tech. Closer on the horizon are bras that detect signs of breast cancer.

It’s not all life saving preventative tech though.  Programmable clothing is not as far away as you might think. French brand Lacoste recently celebrated their 80yr anniversary with this ‘Future of Polo’ programmable clothing piece. Pretty cool possibilities.

Forget Minority Report type stuff. The Human body is the next interface.

Tangible Keepsakes born from a digital world

Brands can get obsessed with creating digital stuff, as we’re constantly told that’s where and how people live. ‘Embracing Analog’ a session run by Ann Mack, Paul Woolmington and Frank Rose offered an alternative point of view. Their research into the current digital need states of Americans, from Millennials to the Grey market, identified that people are craving sensory appeal in a digital world. Woolmington states; “We want something to have and hold – we crave the tactile and like to ignite the senses.”

It would seem people today miss memories in a physical form. Interestingly, 73% of Americans want to turn digital memories into physical ones.  People are wanting “tangible keepsakes” from their digi experiences. They want to preserve things that have emotional value to them.  Brands like Stitchtagram who turn Instagram pics into handmade pillows and bags are all over this trend. Brands need to think about how they create branded memories that exist both digitally and physically.

So, one more day of digital love, Tacos, start up tech parties and speeches before the 25hr journey home.