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360i Report: SXSW 2015 Recap Report

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Executive Summary

In the 2015 SXSW Recap Report, 360i is bringing you the top highlights from SXSW interactive 2015. Read on the learn about the major themes, personalities, trending tech, notable brands and sessions that moved and inspired us this year.
Brand Takeaways
Transforming Data into Insights and Action will Differentiate Innovative Brands

“The best companies have a data analytics person who reports directly to the CEO,” said SXSW keynote speaker and Silicon Valley whiz Bill Gurley in his conversation with author Malcolm Gladwell, reaching thousands at SXSW. Today we’re moving beyond the cliche “big data”’ buzzword era into one where brands are making data actionable in powerful ways.
Whether the data is used to create more valuable experiences for consumers, to test and optimize campaigns and content, or to inform key strategic decisions, it was clear at SXSW that data will be the differentiator between brands that win and brands that falter in the future. Organizations should be investing not only in the acquisition of data, but also in talent that can turn data into action and outcomes.
Diverse, Cross-Functional Teams will Amplify Innovation

Alongside Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer of the United States, woke up the crowd in her keynote talk How Innovation Happens when she said, “It’s just a proven fact that diverse teams make better products. If you want better products, better reach and better economics, have diverse teams.”
Brands that are able to leverage the radically changing workforce and its never-before-seen values of collaboration and diversity will be the ones that see the most innovation happening. Diversity — across genders, skill sets and race — will only increase in importance in the future. Businesses that want to win tomorrow can get a jump-start by investing in diverse, cross-functional teams today.

Ask Better Questions to Get to Meaningful Innovation

At SXSW it’s easy to fall into the trap of being mesmerized by the latest new shiny object in the tech world, but this year many top panels stressed that the most important leadership skill for businesses and business leaders is learning how to ask the right questions. The moment a brand stops asking questions is the moment it stops innovating solutions to its most vexing challenges. As Peter Drucker once noted, “There’s nothing more dangerous than the right answer to the wrong question.”
New apps, technologies, approaches and data can be incredibly valuable to a brand only if they are part of solving the right problems. Marketers who wish to encourage more questioning among their teams before trying to innovate could employ innovation expert Hal Gregersen’s “4-24” project: spending 4 minutes a day (24 hrs a year) asking better questions about problems, both large and small, they are facing.

Major Themes
Here are the topics that rose above the noise and likely will continue to drive conversation in the coming months.
Delivering on Data

The word data has been thrown around in recent years, to the point of exhaustion for marketers. But there’s a good reason it remains such a hot topic: There’s more data than ever before, and brands that can win with data will win in the ever-changing modern marketing landscape.
A variety of packed panels, including one led by 360i Chief Strategy Officer Lee Maicon, discussed data literacy and the value exchange between shoppers and businesses. Well-crafted data strategies stand to improve a variety of brand offerings – and equally important – to strengthen consumer loyalty and impact purchase behavior moving forward.
Communities: Narrative & Engagement

Progressive brands and marketers are harnessing communities in new ways. Whether it’s working with influential community members or using advanced technologies that help create and distribute better content, the themes of narrative storytelling and community engagement were big topics of discussion at SXSW.
It’s important to note that the word is shifting beyond its traditional, social media community origins to encompass groups unified by a central theme or idea. Wearables, TV / movie fans, concert / festival-goers and streaming music subscribers are examples of communities that were showcased at SXSW. Many sessions explored how brands are working with, or could work better with, different communities.
Modern Content Distribution

SXSW is sometimes referred to as “geek spring break,” for its emphasis on progressive technologies — but the festival is equally filled with progressive ideas.
One that stood out in Austin centered around the notion that the old, ad-based model of brand communications is transforming. With new platforms and the ability to use data to personalize experiences and engage consumers, the notion of a conventional media buy is changing. Panels like Content Marketing vs. Don Draper, The End of Ads and Back To The Future of Media were big hits among attendees.
Retail Reexamined

In retail, the desire for marketing communications that move customers from product discovery and awareness to intent and purchase has always been the Holy Grail. SXSW hosted dozens of panels that stressed how in the not-so-distant future retailers will have a slew of new touchpoints that will seamlessly connect the digital and physical worlds to form new connections with consumers at various stages of the purchase cycle.
These new connections will create a more unified consumer experience across all channels — from TV, to digital, social and in-store.

Traditional forms of advertising will still be important to drive retail sales, but with these impending advances in technology — especially in mobile — brands will be able to connect the dots more seamlessly along their consumer’s journey.
Growth Through Intrepreneurship

A new generation of talent is entering the workforce: one that is more frequently remote, multi-functional and transient than any before it. Historically, these traits would have all been viewed negatively, but many SXSW sessions encouraged brands to embrace these attributes in order to harness this much more creative, collaborative and flexible talent pool.
Intrepreneurship, or the practice of using entrepreneurial thinking and skills within a company, was highlighted as a way to engage talent and is ripe territory for brands looking to attract talent, innovate in their category and keep pace with change moving forward.
Cultural Disruption

Innovators, Ph.D.s, scientists and futurists took the stage at SXSW to share their thoughts and debate one another around the impact that innovative technologies are having on culture.
As far-fetched as it may seem, they all support the notion that we must collectively discuss how the digital revolution (or evolution) is impacting many fundamental aspects of humanity — like identity and relationships.

Though there was no conclusive answer, the discussion provoked new thinking about how technologies — from social and mobile, to public and personal — are becoming complexly embedded into everyday life, and what it will mean to be a brand of the future.

Notable sessions included: AI, Immortality and the Future of Selves; Facebook, Twitter and The Future of Free Speech; and Home Smart Home: The Future Conscious Home.

Personalities

These are the movers & shakers that captured our attention at SXSW.
WALTER ISAACSON — President & CEO of The Aspen Institute:
Issascon spoke in the How Innovation Happens keynote — alongside Google’s Eric Schmidt and the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith — about the virtues of adopting new technologies in our ever-increasing digital world. Art, copy, code — “each of these concepts is beautiful and a powerful force of our world.”

ANDREW COCHRANE — Digital Director of Mirada Studios:
Cochrane spoke about immersive and interactive storytelling in the digital age. Immersive and interactive stories are not told to the audience; they are experienced. We are witnessing the birth of new mediums that allow storytellers — including brands — to reach their audiences in new, exciting and deeply personal ways.
AMANDA PARKES — Fashion Technologist, Founder of Skinteractive Studio:
Parkes was candid that she believed today’s “hard” wearables are only the beginning — she sees the future being much more about wearable fabrics that consumers will adopt. While Apple, Google, and Facebook will continue to innovate, these are just the “tip of the iceberg” for emerging tech. Some of the most real innovation is happening out of the spotlight, and will come from brands and agencies alike.
TODD YELLIN — VP of Product Innovation, Netflix:
Yellin shared seven years of lessions from A/B testing at Netflix, noting that it can help solve problems and debates, can empower trying new things and can help move business metric for brands. However, he stressed that testing isn’t always the solution — “no matter what metrics say, brands need to stick to their values.”

MICHAEL MICHALOWICZ — Author, Entrepreneur and Lecturer:
Michalowicz talked about social axioms and how we frequently accept things for “the way they are.” Many successes come from questioning axioms: Roger Bannister first broke the 4-minute mile after studying how geese fly, and hot dog eating champ, Kobayashi, shattered the Nathan’s contest record by changing the age-old process.

BRIAN GRAZER — Academy Award-Winning Producer, Author; Co-Founder of Imagine Entertainment:
On stage speaking about his new book, A Curious Mind, Grazer discussed a few fundamentals for exercising curiosity and inspiring innovation (e.g., he meets people beyond his industry — law, medicine, etc. — every two weeks). He also hit on the values of a good creative working relationship: “Taste. Work-Ethic. Trust. Respect.”

PHIL LIBIN — CEO of Evernote:
Libin described how even though we may think we are making the best, most rational, informed decisions regarding real life problems, we usually operate in the shadow of our “lizard brain.” We first look for the answer with the least potential negative outcomes — the safest option — which often has fewer potential positive outcomes, too. Instead, look at the option with the most potential positive outcomes, and take risks for a bigger payoff.

KARL ISAAC — Head of Brand Strategy, Adobe:
In the Inside Out: Where Corporations and Innovation Meet panel, Isaac discussed Adobe’s approach to becoming a modern, creative company and the importance of empowering teams to be “The Three O’s” — Optimistic, Open-minded and Opportunistic — when facing new problems and creating innovative solutions.

JEFF GOTHELF — Author, Principal of Neo Innovation:
In his Building a Culture of Learning session, Gothelf highlighted three characteristics for building continuously learning teams: (1) Small, dedicated, co-located, self-sufficient teams (2) Incentivized for solving problems over creating output (3) Encouraged to take smaller risks with clear definitions of success.

PATRICK TERRY — Owner of World-Renowned P. Terry’s Burgers in Austin, TX:
Terry talked about the power of modern word-of-mouth. He has run an extremely successful burger chain in Austin without any marketing. Instead, he relies on making a high-quality product with surprisingly reasonable prices and exceptional customer service. By focusing solely on the customer, he has been able to build an empire of brand advocates who authentically share and recommend P. Terry’s to a wider audience for $0.

Trending Tech

Here are this year’s standout technologies that made their presence known at SXSW.
MEERKAT

What’s it about?: Meerkat is the app that stole the show at SXSW. Users connect via Twitter and can live-stream via their mobile devices or view and comment on another user’s stream.

Why does it matter?: Meerkat is the first company that’s cracked the live-streaming code in such a way that everyone from Jimmy Kimmel (who has already streamed dozens of times) to your grandma can use it easily and effectively.

While limitations exist, audiences thus far are extremely engaged, too. In just one day at SXSW, there were 15,000 streams with more than 200,000 people tuning in!

VIRTUAL REALITY (VR) TECH

What’s it about?: VR was very big at SXSW, with both hardware and software companies touting their latest offerings. Oculus, Samsung, Avegant and Jaunt were all in Austin.

Why does it matter?: Attendees were buzzing about VR’s immersive storytelling potential to radically change the market for many industries.

Sports, entertainment, journalism and music all had sessions dedicated to how VR will change how we think of those spaces.

BITCOIN

What’s it about?: Bitcoin has been referred to as the “currency of the Internet” and is one of the first currencies born on the Internet to be used in the analog world economy.

Why does it matter?: While we’re early in the adoption curve for the crypto currency, Bitcoin stands to change the economics of the world at large.

Panels covered a range of topics, including: Government Policy & Regulation, How Any Brand Can Utilize Bitcoin, MIT Bitcoin Project, and How Bitcoin will Disrupt the Accounting and Auditing Industry.

WEARABLES + HEALTH

What’s it about?: Wearables have been a hot topic for the past year, but SXSW saw a new wave of wearables dominating conversation: smart textiles.

Why does it matter?: “As things get smaller and cheaper… I see technology and fashion becoming one,” says Billie Whitehouse, co-founder of Wearable Experiments.

The new world of wearables will track and record health and fitness statistics, clean themselves via sunlight, provide haptic feedback to aid in seamless integration with mobile devices, and even stabilize body temperature for us.

INTERNET OF THINGS

What’s it about?: The IoT — the idea that connections will come from the physical world — continued to be a hot topic among the tech elite at SXSW. Beacon tech stood out, earning a lot of attention in this category.

Why does it matter?:
The idea that everything and anything will be connected in the future means that there will be an explosion of new data that brands can tap into.

Whether its micro-location data with beacons or product usage moments and timing through smart appliances, the IoT will put brands that can deliver on the data at the forefront of their industries.

ROBOTICS

What’s it about?:
The sensors and technology required to power robots are becoming increasingly inexpensive and accessible, which means robots are poised to aid mankind in nearly every industry.

Why does it matter?:
From disaster-relief and humanitarian crises to scientific exploration and automated delivery of goods, robots are expected to change many aspects of our lives.

A variety of panels discussed related topics, like the future of artificial intelligence and how we’ll interact with robots. There was even a robot “petting zoo” for attendees to touch, operate and program!

Notable Brands

SXSW had no shortage of brand activations; here are our favorites: #clients and non-clients included.
A&E:
To promote the upcoming season of Bates Motel, the network built an impressive replica of the show’s main set. Fans lined up around the block and tweeted for the chance to stay in one of the rooms for that night at SXSW!

THE SIMPSONS:
To mark the 25th anniversary of the kwik-e-mart appearing on the classic cartoon, the show tapped into food culture in a fun way as SXSW played host to the first stop of the national kwik-e-mart food truck tour.

SQUIRL.CO:
It was hard to miss the group of squirrels sitting around Austin reading every day. The activation included an app that delivers its users geo-relevant book passages, so when a person is in a certain location, he/she can read an author’s words about that place.

TOYOTA:
SXSW attendees were wowed by the automaker’s Oculus-powered distracted driving simulator. The clever activation reinforced the brand’s mission to end distracted driving, especially for teen drivers.

EX MACHINA:
A sci-fi film that debuted Saturday at SXSW used popular dating app Tinder to trick many men who liked “Ava” into learning about the film. It was a smart tie-in to the movie’s theme: artificial intelligence and modern love.

MOPHIE:
The cellphone case/battery pioneer partnered with the Saint Bernard Rescue Foundation to rescue dead cell phone batteries in response to tweets around Austin. Hundreds flocked to meet the pups, dead battery or not.

CANON:
Canon hosted a filmmakers lounge where SXSW goers could relax, refresh and learn more about Canon products through a touch-and-try area in the lounge. The brand also hosted daily interviews with notable filmmakers like iJustine!

HOOTSUITE:
The popular social media management system won big with its impossible-to-miss transportation options. While pedaling their way through Austin, riders were refreshed with cold beer.

GOOGLE:
Always a presence at SXSW, Google promoted its rapidly expanding Google Fiber high-speed offering, announced for Austin this year. Hundreds tried Google’s VR-powered simulator that let users “fly” over Austin.

HBO: With few shows present at SXSW, Game of Thrones was the most popular by far. The SXSWesteros interactive exhibit was crowded throughout SXSW and dozens of pedi-cabs carried attendees around on the “Iron Throne.”

USA:
Promoting the network’s new hacker drama, Mr. Robot, USA partnered with Boingo to give ATX airport wifi users a surprise “hack.” At login, it dispatched a cryptic group of young men in black hoodies chanting “Mr. Robot!” to promote the premiere of the pilot at SXSW.

Sessions We Loved

Though it’s impossible to attend every amazing session at SXSW, these are the ones that stuck with us after Austin.
Infinity and Beyond: Pixar and 20 Years Since Toy Story

Panel Members:
Ed Catmull President, Pixar & Walt Disney Animation;
Galyn Susman Producer, Pixar Animation Studios; Jim Morris President, Pixar Animation StudiosPete Docter Director & VP, Creative Pixar Animation

Why we loved it:
For the 20th anniversary of Toy Story, several Pixar leaders took the stage in front of a packed audience to discuss the first-ever computer animated hit. They offered a rare glimpse into the imagination-driven process and the tech created to bring it to life in parallel. The panel also discussed how their belief in the idea led to a revolution and revival in the dying animated feature film category, prompting Disney to acquire Pixar Animation Studios.

The Anatomy of Selfies That Sell

Panel Members:
Chris Haines Director of Strategy, Fluid;
Pau Sabria Co-Founder & CEO, Olapic

Why we loved it:
2.6 billion photos are shared on social media each day. With this huge rise in user-generated-content (UGC), it’s becoming increasingly apparent to consumers when content is overly branded and staged. In fact, 63 percent of consumers trust UGC over branded content. The panel discussed how to work with brand advocates and influencers when thinking through content strategies, to ensure brand messages are well received within target communities.

Bill Gurley and Malcolm Gladwell in Conversation

Panel Members:
Malcom Gladwell Author, Writer, The New Yorker;
Bill Gurley Venture Capitalist, Benchmark

Why we loved it:
One of the most packed sessions at SXSW, these two shared an inspiring conversation that touched on disruptive technologies, Uber, Millennials, and VC trends. “Millennials view cars as a utility, not as a social statement — that’s a huge shift,” Gurley noted on the impact and growth of Uber.
On whether we’re in another ‘tech bubble’: “No. But we’re in a risk bubble. Money being frivolously spent in Silicon Valley. Expect to see a few dead unicorns [tech startups] this year.” Research well and invest intelligently.

Behind the GIF: The Future of Online Visual Culture

Panel Members:
Victoria Taylor Director of Communications, Reddit; Alex Chung Founder & CEO, Giphy; Tim Hwang Director of Marketing, Imgur; Selena Larson Journalist, The Daily Dot.

Why we loved it:
The lively panel discussed the Internet’s visual messaging phenomenon: the GIF. “GIFs capture an emotion and reaction and serve as a vehicle for expressing it.” They are becoming increasingly important in advertising and are attention-grabbing. 80 percent of the GIFs people are watching already come from movies and TV, so entertainment brands in particular should look for GIF-able moments to promote long-form content.

User Experience Design Shaping Our World

Panel Members:
Genevieve Bell VP Intel Fellow, Intel Corporation;
Mimi Ito Professor, University of California Irvine

Why we loved it:
Anthropologists by profession, Bell and Ito explored the development of technology and how we can leverage it to explore the dichotomy between what people say they are doing and what they are actually doing. While technology is changing the way we gather data, the two stand by their hallmark of a good research methodology: that your consumer is the expert on what you want to know, not you or your teams.