Apr 24 2014
Ryan Manchee

Key Takeaways from SXSW


Looking back at the geek mecca known as SXSW, I’d like to reflect on what marketers can take from this experience. For me, the main theme centered around Data and four interrelated areas: privacy, contextual, self-discovery, and visualization.


As we become more connected than ever before and more data is being created, privacy is becoming increasingly important. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden took the headlines with their (video) talks about WHO can access our information, HOW that information/data can be used, and WHAT we should be sharing. This applies to the digital advertising world in how marketers target consumers and what personal information they are collecting. With consumers continuing to take their privacy seriously, marketers can show value and maintain a sense of openness and transparency in how they utilize consumer data.


The Echo Nest (now a part of Spotify), gave a brilliant presentation about how it maps music to geographic, demographic, and psychographic parameters to help music services recommend songs and artists, and keep people listening. It utilizes hyper-local location and time of day to map out where someone is and what they are doing to make better recommendations. While advertisers may look to similar data sets for traditional digital marketing, this could be a new way to utilize context.

Another separate development discussed is the rise of beacons to bring more relevancy and information to consumers while they are in a physical location. MLB has 20 beacon-enabled ballparks so fans receive game information and offers as they walked through the gates or past concession stands.


As consumers become more aware of the data available, they are discovering ways to be smarter about the world around them and themselves. Wearables were massive at SXSW -- the sessions and the individual conversations I had with people covered the utility of newly harnessed information that wearables can bring to a consumer. With smart watches, glasses, rings, shirts, shorts, socks – there are major opportunities for brands to align themselves in identifying how value can be created with this new data. We may soon see branded wearables and sponsored apps.


One of the key aspects for wearables to bring real value to consumers (and marketers), is how they help visualize the data, especially when it came to 3D. HBO’s Game of Thrones’ Oculus Rift experience made folks feel like they were ascending the Western Wall. Perhaps a brand like Coca Cola could create an experience that puts you in the stands World Cup, or maybe Nissan could create the experience of driving the latest Z sports car.

Another way data can be re-imagined into a physical realization is with the 3D printed candy. It may be a novelty today, but imagine what 3D printing could mean when it’s in homes across America (and moves beyond bad tasting 3D sugar cubes). Maybe like 3D printed Oreos? Yes,  Mondelez tied-in to SXSW by letting attendees 3D print Oreos with flavors inspired by trending Twitter topics. The 3D printing opportunities weren't just limited to edible items. We saw other physical objects, from actual people being scanned and printed (in miniature forms) to full size, fully functional guitars. There are limitless possibilities and I expect to see rapid adoption and more amazing creations.

The Future

A session with Biz Stone and author Steven Johnson captured my sentiment on all the innovations I experienced at SXSW. They spoke about two great innovators -- Alexander Graham-Bell and Thomas Edison, and how neither of them saw the significances of their own inventions. Bell believed his telephone would play music for someone far away, and Edison thought his phonograph would record/play back conversations to be sent to someone far away. Both were wrong, and backwards. As we look at what is showcased at events like SXSW, the best part is imagining how they will evolve into something even greater.