Mobile Marketing Social Media

‘Earning My Attention’: Key Takeaways from SXSW

March 19, 2014

Coming out of an exhausting, yet rewarding jaunt in Austin at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, our brand ambassadors returned inspired and full of new ideas. In addition to hitting up the food trucks and bars, and networking with colleagues and old friends, they dedicated their time to both learning from the educational sessions they attended and through their daily experiences.

The below is a first-person account from one of our brand ambassadors, Lesley Robin (Director of Digital Communities at 360i) upon her touching down in Austin. In this excerpt Robin details several key takeaways from the event, gives examples of how these experiences can relate to every day consumer life and shares what brand marketers can learn from her experiences.


I headed to SXSW with an arsenal of devices determined to succeed at learning, networking and partying. Armed with my laptop, iPad and iPhone, and prepared with apps like GroupMe, the SXSW scheduler and Eventbrite, I was fairly confident I’d be “owning” SXSW this year. But after checking in at the hotel, grabbing my badge and heading into the panel sessions, I became consumed with new distractions like finding my friends, planning the night’s parties and calculating how long it would take me to speed walk from the Convention Center to the Mashable Tent. I realized I was only half paying attention most of the time, and I quickly became so overwhelmed that I was ready to throw all of my devices and well-thought-out plans into the brisket-riddled dumpster at Stubbs.

In a world where we are interrupted some 80 times a day by texts, alerts and push notifications, how can brands use social to grab the attention of their core audiences when life to many just feels like a ‘Portlandia’ sketch? The key is in understanding the behavior of users in the digital age and embracing that behavior rather than trying to change it.


Consumption Habits

Even with a menagerie of digital devices, people are still willing and able to pay attention— but the question becomes: How much attention? The answer really depends on the user’s environment, device and time of day. For example, if I’m hit with content at 11am when waiting in line for a triple tall iced latte, the content needs to be mobile-friendly and easily digestible, or I’m not interested.

If I have some downtime at work (a VERY rare occasion at 360i) I am more likely to consume list-related content to which I personally relate. And, if I’m reading a BuzzFeed article that I think my friends will find clever and emotionally relevant, I might share it on Facebook before I finish the article (Don’t judge— you are likely guilty of this too).

And at night when I get home, I’m ready to pay attention—primarily to my television. I’ll likely spend this precious attention-worthy time watching ‘The Real Housewives’ and tweeting about the sassiest moments from the show (and getting extra excited if the cast happens to respond!).

Brand Takeaways:

  • Make content mobile-friendly, especially during the day or for second screen opportunities.
  • Create bite-sized, emotionally relevant content for daytime hours, and save more time-intensive content for later in the day or weekends.

Push vs. Pull Content

It’s also important for brands to consider the platforms their content is being shared on, as this will affect user attention levels. Certain platforms ‘push’ information to a user (think Instagram and Twitter), and on these platforms it is fair to assume that attention is low.

Then there are ‘pull’ platforms (like Pinterest and YouTube) where a user engages to discover cool stuff. Attention levels are higher with pull platforms because users are choosing to immerse themselves in that particular content. The key to winning attention is in scaling a user’s attention with the right push and pull-related content. Sure, I’ll visit YouTube to watch a 3-minute trailer for a new movie I want to see, but I’m probably not going to watch it on Twitter.

Brand Takeaway:

  • Don’t repurpose the same content for all social platforms – design content specifically for push and pull environments.

Photo via Pinterest

Keep It Simple, Honest & Authentic

Finally, the number one best way to earn attention is to just be real. Give me what I want, when I want it. The perfect example of this at SXSW was Nespresso’s brand activation. During a panel session I was multi-tasking on Twitter and frantically attempting to share a quote to let everyone know I’m #SuperSmart, when I noticed a friend’s tweet about getting free coffee at the Nespressso Dome. And as I was really exhausted after seeing Snoop Dogg Lion the night before, and free espresso was honestly more appealing than just about anything in the world at that time, I decided to give it a go. With the guidance of my friend on Twitter, my tired feet found their way to a big dome that was filled with friendly ladies and free, delicious coffee. Success!

Photo via Lesley Robin

Another great way to earn attention by keeping it real is to reward loyal fans. Fred Graver, the head of TV at Twitter, made a comment at SXSW that I can’t stop thinking about: “A retweet is the new autograph.” This is SO true! For a TV network, the most important thing to do while a show is airing is to retweet and respond to loyal viewers. This type of interaction is more valuable than winning a physical prize (although I would still cherish a Real Housedog pet bowl, obviously).

Brand Takeaways:

  • Acknowledging and engaging with fans is just as important— if not more important— than creating original content. Favorite and retweet often.
  • Keeping brand activations simple and giving consumers what they actually want is more effective than being flashy (and potentially inauthentic).

Earn It

The bottom line is that brand marketers cannot just assume they have the attention of consumers online—they need to earn it. To do so, they need to embrace digital behaviors instead of trying to change them. People still have the capacity to pay attention despite owning enough digital devices to fill a small museum – brands just need to keep it real and keep it authentic.