Wednesday, March 16th, 2016 | 6 min read
We can debate whether or not it’s worth attending SXSW until the cows come home, but there’s no denying that the conference is one of the best places to find the trends and technology that will shape the future of marketing. Dark social, personal broadcasting channels, ephemeral content, wearable tech, and improving the mobile web experience are just a few of the topics that marketers and technologists explored over the past five days.
While we didn’t see any game-changing apps drop this year at SXSW Interactive, the talks, panels, parties, and lounges revealed the big topics marketers are grappling with and which brands are paving the way with technology that will transform the brand-customer relationship.
Here are four lessons from the conference.
If one thing was clear at SXSWi 2016, it’s that virtual reality technology has arrived, and it’s going to transform the way brands connect with consumers—in the very near future, not in three or five years.
McDonald’s, NASA, Samsung, and Dell each offered VR experiences in their SXSW installations. At the McDonald’s loft, attendees were invited to paint the inside of a Happy Meal Box and then email themselves a picture of their artwork; meanwhile, Dell’s VR experience allowed people to swim with whales and learn how humans are damaging our oceans.
Virtual Reality at the McDonald’s Loft
Virtual Reality at the NASA Booth
A long list of panels and talks on VR—like Virtual Reality: From Empathy to Action and New Advertising Models for Virtual Reality—showed that marketers are trying to figure out how to be a leader in this new field.
Josh Machiz, Director of Integrated Marketing at NASDAQ, told us that social media will be an important catalyst for bringing VR experiences to consumers:“The next big thing in social will be Virtual Reality. Social media will be the medium through which customers use VR to connect with brands. Let’s say we’re ringing the bell at Nasdaq; someone can put on a headset at home and experience that through VR.”
Since Meerkat launched at SXSW 2015 and Periscope followed suit two weeks later, many have wondered if livestreaming is simply a fad. The answer offered up at this year’s SXSW is a resounding no: livestreaming is here to stay.
At the panel That Snapchatter Makes More Than You, venture capitalist Talia Goldberg asserted that livestreaming represents the democratization of content: anyone with a smartphone can create great content and build an audience. It also empowers content creators to shape the future of television by skirting the bureaucracy and limitations of traditional media and launching their own TV channel (starring themselves).
The question of whether or not more established platforms who launch livestreaming technology will push out the upstarts also came up in several panels. Ashley Codianni, Global Director of Social Publishing at CNN, talked about her company’s success with livestreaming on Facebook over Periscope; if a brand already has a large audience on an established platform, and it can test new technology there, why start from zero on smaller channel?
Brands and influential content creators are finding a welcome home on breakout platforms like Snapchat or Periscope, but the next step is to get better at quantifying the impact of marketing on these platforms. At SXSW 2016 people asked: How do you measure the impact of content that disappears soon after it’s published? How do brands assess the benefit of collaborating with influencers on livestreaming and messaging apps?
It’s likely that we’ll see a number of analytics solutions for these platforms—some in-app and others built as third-party services—in the near future.“There will have to be a way to measure ad spend [on these new platforms]. It’s one of the challenges, but it’s also one of the huge opportunities.”— Talia Goldberg, Venture Capitalist, Bessemer Venture Partners
The use of consumer data to create more relevant, enjoyable customer experiences was a hot topic at SXSW 2016, with wearable tech featured at the Trade Show and several branded lounges—plus a long list of panels on the Internet of Things (IoT).
The session description for Future of Entertainment and “The Channel of You” points out that as services and products get better at collecting behavioral data, we get closer to next-generation predictive analytics that will eliminate the need for us to sort through content ourselves. Soon, with the help of connected devices, companies will be able to serve up only the kinds of content we want to see.
This means less irrelevant advertising and better customer experiences, but marketers asked: where do you draw the line between collecting information in a way that is helpful and entering into Big Brother territory? How do you protect privacy in a world where your every move, both online and off-, is tracked and measured?