10 Key learnings from SXSW interactive 2013

By Ben Howden26th March 2013
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We recently returned from our first trip to South by Southwest Interactive. It lived up to expectations - overwhelming, exciting, eye opening, exhausting and full of amazing people and ideas would all be suitable descriptors of the event.

It's near impossible to summarise the key themes from SXSW as there were thousands of speakers covering topics as diverse as government, entrepreneurialism, startups, culture, entertainment, social media, mobile, retail, gaming, science, space, health and medicine to name a few. The wealth and diversity of content there was literally mind blowing.

So instead of us trying to summarise the key themes from SXSW Interactive we thought we would have more success outlining 10 things that we learned from attending the event along with some of our thoughts. We hope they inspire you as much as they have inspired us.

  1. There is a shift in people valuing experiences over ownership

    Undoubtedly there is a shift happening with people starting to place more emphasis on quality experiences rather than owning products. This can been seen in the rise of collaborative consumption or the sharing economy where consumer values are shifting from ownership to access. Psychological research also suggests that in the long, experiences make people happier than possessions. The joy associated with purchasing a new object fades over time but with experiences the happiness lives on through memories. The example we liked at SXSW highlighting the shift in demand for experiences is BlackJet, the private plane charter service modeled on Uber Private Drivers.

    Our musings: How can you augment your products with amazing experiences? Apple has done this in-store with the Genius Bar and free product workshops.

  2. 3D printing is set to change the way live

    3D printing was all the talk at SXSW. No longer do we need to create a mold and make 10,000 of an item just to get it produced. With 3D printing almost anyone can create just about anything they can imagine from a downloadable CAD design file. The technology is already being used to create everything from toys to replacement parts, and even houses. One thing that is clear is that production of goods will never be the same again.

    Our musings: Is 3D printing a strategic threat or opportunity to your industry? What possible applications are there to your business?

  3. Hardware and physical objects are increasingly connecting the online world with the offline world

    Hardware is increasingly being used to connect the offline world with the online world and augment our experiences. Think mobile wallets, Nike+ FuelBands and Disney's RFID MagicBands. The MagicBand will enable guests at Disney World to enter the parks, purchase food and merchandise, unlock their hotel room and access rides with the wave of their wrists. We liked Nike's FuelBank so much that we bought one for the entire team here and are planning a hackathon using the Nike+ API.

    Our musings: How can you use hardware to augment and enhance your customer experience? How can you use hardware to get people to do more of the things you want them to do?

  4. The old way of doing marketing is dead. We are entering the relationship era

    As a marketer at heart and an experienced social media strategist this is one I am passionate about. The old way of doing marketing doesn't work anymore. Consumers are not consumers, they are real people and the consumer era of marketing is crumbling due to forces such as the collapse of mass markets, transparency, social connectivity and trust. We are entering the relationship era where transparent and honest practices, authenticity and trust are critical to success. Here is a quote from Bob Garfield, author of Can't Buy Me Like that we really loved – “Companies that care about something bigger than selling their product sell more of their product”.

    We also recommend checking out the campaign Let Her Jump by Secret deodorant which demonstrates the power of this new way of marketing.

    Our musings: How are you shifting your marketing to build relationships with people? Think of every chance to have a conversation with people as an opportunity to build a relationship and improve the way you do business.

  5. Content marketing has arrived but is challenging marketers

    If you've been keeping an eye on the marketing landscape lately then no doubt you are already aware of this one. Content marketing has arrived and it's going to be big. Thanks to the rise of social media and the relationship era creating great content is critical to enable us to build relationships, tell stories and increase engagement. The challenge for most organisations are facing is shifting their business from a traditional advertiser model towards a contemporary publisher (storyteller) model. Creating great content doesn't come cheap and requires the addition of new skill sets and talent within an organisation. We suspect most brands will struggle to get the content marketing piece right in the short term as they come to grips with this new way of building relationships with their audience.

    Our musings: Is content part of your marketing plans? Stop thinking about what you want to tell your customers or potential customers and start thinking about what they want to hear. Let them help drive your content strategy.

  6. Everything is now social

    If you're tacking social on the back of your existing marketing efforts you're missing the bigger picture. Social isn't a just a marketing channel it's a way of life and it should be woven into the fabric of your organisation. Richard Branson and Virgin get it as demonstrated by this video that was released today. SXSW hammered home that social is at the top of everyone's agenda yet it was evident that many organisations are still having trouble measuring the return on their social media investment.

    Our musings: Don't think of social as a marketing channel. Think of it as a way of doing business. How can you apply a social layer to everything you do?

  7. Bricks and mortar retailing is not dead

    Who said bricks and mortar retailing is dead? In the fourth quarter of 2012 online sales accounted for 5.2% of overall sales in the US. Yes online is growing steadily but the clear majority of spending is still happening in bricks and mortar stores and this is not likely to change anytime soon. No matter how hard we try, the physical shopping experience cannot be replicated on the web. In fact, pure play online retailers have recognised this very point and many are now planning their assault on bricks and mortar by creating their own physical presence. One of the US's largest online men's fashion brands, Bonobos, has already launched five stores across the US coined 'Guideshops' which allow you to try before you buy.

    In our view the biggest opportunity for bricks and mortar retailers is using online and mobile to enhance the in-store experience. The ability to identify people before they even enter a store and then customise the experience accordingly. Or allowing people to scan a product in-store with their mobile phone and then arrive home 1 hour later to find it paid for and neatly packaged on their front door step.

    Our musings: Online is not a threat to bricks and mortar retailing. It's an opportunity. Those that figure out how to leverage online and mobile to enhance the in-store experience will be the winners.

  8. Smartphones are changing the world we live in

    At a macro level smartphones are revolutionising the way we live, particularly in third world countries. In a recent article by Bill Clinton on the the case for optimisim, he cites a 2010 U.N study that found cell phones are one of the most effective advancements in history to pull people out of poverty and goes on to reference example such as smartphones solving counterfeit medications in Africa and smartphones helping to restart the lives of others through democratizing charitable giving.

    But in western civilization the smartphone revolution is having a huge impact on the way we do business. From location services to augmented reality smartphones are set to change the way we find and consume products and services for good.

    Steve Yankovich, VP of Innovation and New Ventures at eBay talked us through their plans on using smartphones to create frictionless shopping experiences at point of sale. He questioned why we couldn't drive up to a petrol pump, fill up our tank and drive away. Why should we have to swipe our credit card or go in store to pay? Or how can we use data such as location, name and previous purchases to empower store employees to deliver amazing customer service? He believes that smartphones are set to unite e-commerce and commerce and after hearing him talk I get the feeling both PayPal and eBay are not far away from unveiling some ground-breaking solutions in the mobile space. Steve also told us that 1/3 of all eBay transactions are now touched by mobile and that $634 is spent on eBay mobile every second.

    Our musings: Mobile is not optional. If you don't have an optimised mobile presence then you're not meeting customer expectations and are missing a huge opportunity. If you do have an optimised presence then start thinking about how you can leverage things like location and data to further enhance the customer experience.

  9. Anyone can start a business

    If it's one thing we noticed at SXSW it's that entrepreneurialism is alive and well. We talked to a countless number of startups that were looking to take their idea and turn it into a commercial success.

    The fact is that access to technology and software has broken down the traditional barriers that used to exist when starting a business. These days it's much cheaper to access services such as design, development, accounting and customer service than it used to be which means that almost anyone with a great idea can start a business on a shoestring. Crowdsourcing is also playing an increasingly important role with sites such as 99designs and providing entrepreneurs with low cost access to the talent they need to start and run a business.

    Our musings: This can only be a good thing for innovation. Big companies in established industries are being challenged by startups that are reinventing the traditional way of doing things. For example, Uber is reinventing the taxi industry by eliminating everything that is bad about a traditional taxi experience. Airbnb is reinventing the accommodation industry by connecting people with extra space with people who are looking for a place to stay.

  10. Wearable Tech

    As technology evolves from bulky external devices to compact lightweight and aesthetically designed forms it will start to augment our senses and daily routines. As I sit here typing this post I have a Nike+ FuleBand on my left wrist tracking my daily activity levels and using gamification to encourage me to be more active by pitting me against my Facebook friends. There has also been much hype surrounding the somewhat mythical release of Apple's iWatch, which if launched will no doubt be a catalyst for a boom in wearable technology as competitors release their rival products. Successful Kickstarter backed project Pebble E-Paper Watch successfully raised over $10 Million demonstrating the massive consumer appetite for such wearable devices.

    In a SXSW talk on the future of fashion, Nina Garcia Creative Director at Marie Claire said that wearable tech still has a long way to go before becoming mainstream. “Wearable tech is not aesthetically there yet”, she said. However, we are betting that it won't be long before connected accessories feature heavily at leading youth fashion outlets.

    And of course a conversation on wearable tech wouldn't be complete without mentioning the exciting but increasingly controversial Google Glass Project. The idea is to put an always-connected device on your head that's capable of listening to you and giving feedback either by sound or a display that floats right in front of your eyes. Google is the first to acknowledge that creating a reliable, useful and good-looking head mounted display is not an easy feat, which is why they're taking things slow with Google Glass. And despite the hype around Google Glass there is growing discontent about the prospect of Google tracking and recording every passing moment of our lives and what this means for the future of privacy.

    Our musings: Wearable tech is here and is only set to get bigger. The question is how can your business tap into this evolution of technology? Nike+ has already released an API to select developers that allows them to tap into the data to create other applications and Google is already engaging with developers to create applications for Google Glass.