Three Things to Know from SXSW 2017

SXSW has always been always been a hot topic amongst marketers, and these days, it is no different. However, conversation in recent years has been surrounded by scrutiny. Those who have long made the annual trek to Austin will readily remind you that, “it’s not what it used to be.” Still, as cries from purists and pundits proliferate, the reality is that SXSW still represents a one-stop shop for the up-and-coming trends and technologies — each of which will have a residual effect on how marketers curate the next iteration of experiences for their consumer base.

With that, we sent a team down to Texas this year to seek out upcoming trends and to what extent they can be effectively leveraged to design the next wave of consumer experiences. And, because of the information overload that is SXSW, we’ve narrowed it down to the three topic areas that we think will have the biggest effect for 2017.


Virtual Reality: All Need Not Apply

The use of virtual reality in the marketing world and beyond is nothing new. Recently, many of the most innovative brand campaigns have involved breakthrough applications of VR. However, that’s not to say the usage of VR alone equates to a great idea — we saw that firsthand at SXSW. While some brands, such as Dell and YouTube, were able to develop creative activations around their proprietary technologies, others — who shall remain nameless — looked to be grasping at straws and utilizing VR solely for the sake of saying so.

As brands and agencies continue to push forward in efforts for 2017, it’s imperative to consider the fit between campaign and technology before making the significant investment that is required. Jaguar did exactly that when bringing virtual reality to the LA Auto Show in November 2016.

Seated at tables of six, participants could grab a pair of goggles and a controller for a 35-minute experience that put each user in the driver’s seat of the I-PACE concept car. Attendees could interact with each other and with those at a simultaneous event in London, and there was even a live Q&A within the VR world hosted by Jaguar executives. Not only did this VR experience allow interaction between consumers (as opposed to the typical one-to-one interaction within VR experiences), but it also offered a look behind the wheel — a rare occasion at auto shows.

Artificial Intelligence: Know Where the Boundaries Lie

One of the most popular gifts of the 2016 holiday season was Amazon’s Alexa. Though Alexa is only one application (albeit an accessible one) of artificial intelligence, it is telling of a trend that we’ll continue to see more of going forward.

In a session titled, “Can I Order a Drink Via My T-Shirt Yet?”, panelists discussed some of the ways AI can make a difference — perhaps most notably in the area of predictive ability. James Thompson of Diageo noted that a consumer’s first drink choice of the evening is predictive of how the rest of the evening will unfold. With this kind of information, brands can step in and create a tangible impact on the consumer decision-making process.

With all of this information, though, comes significant responsibility and an ethical duty to uphold. Many consumers are unaware of the massive amount of their personal data being collected out there and how all of it is being leveraged. In order to build trust with consumers — and, subsequently, build future capabilities of AI — brands and marketers need to make sure they communicate clearly and with transparency when it comes to their customers.

Personalization: Customize the Experience for Your Consumer

As brands vie to expand their audiences in the coming years, it will be easy to get drawn to the shiny object that is technology. In a world of continuous innovation, there is a natural inclination towards the cutting edge. That’s all well and good, but as soon as we forget the power of human touch in conjunction with technology, we’ll have lost both brand loyalists and future advocates.

So, how do we expand audiences? We need to continue to strive towards making experiences that enhance lives. With all of the data on consumer behavior being collected, the possibilities for personalization are endless. One panelist in a talk titled “The Future of Luxury” posited that bartenders will soon ask customers looking for a drink, “how would you like to feel?” They will then be able to take your answer and craft a personally-curated, mood-enhancing cocktail that is meant to increase natural serotonin levels.

Of course, a cocktail is only one small example in an endless landscape of possibility. Distilled to its core, though, the point remains: make it your obsession to understand the customer and customize their experience accordingly. 

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