3 trends that caught our eye at SXSW

The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival, held in Austin, Texas, is an incubator of cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity, featuring a trade show, startup accelerator, innovation awards and speaking events with industry leaders. “From hands-on training to big-picture analysis of the future, SXSW Interactive has become the place to discover the technology of tomorrow today.”[1]

This year, conversations around SXSW Interactive have been dominated by mobile apps, virtual reality, 3D printing, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and security. We’ve chosen to focus on 3 areas that we believe will have the most profound effect on customer experience:

1. Artificial Intelligence

Fear of a robofuture was prevalent at SXSW, with apprehensions about how humanoid machines, artificial intelligence and deep learning will impact our future. John Havens, founder of The H(app)athon Project, went as far as to run a session called “The Dispensables”, pointing to Gartner research predicting that 1/3 of all Americans will be out of jobs by 2025 due to automation. Dr Ishiguro suggested that both the home computer and ubiquity of smartphones have paved the way for more futuristic applications, including personal robots and digital retail assistants that can help customers with their clothes shopping. As Max Levchin, Affirm CEO, noted, Human Assisted AI is already gaining traction as a mega-trend, as proven by recent announcements about Facebook M and Google AI’s venture in to the world of healthcare. Nonetheless, whilst certain professions such as journalism may be under threat, we don’t think that marketers who keep up to speed with change will struggle to remain relevant. Human intuition is always going to have its place in a creative industry, and, at a broader customer experience perspective, humans will continue to drive the development of smart digital services that connect across different touch points to meet consumers’ needs.

2. Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) stole the show at SXSW Interactive this year, with the likes of Samsung, Google, McDonald's and The New York Times showing off their VR efforts. By immersing viewers in a rich, artificial world, VR can reach an audience in more direct and fundamental ways than other media and can significantly increase the power of brand storytelling. There was tangible excitement that mainstream adoption is not too far off the horizon - last week, Sony’s new PlayStation 4 option sold out in less than 10 minutes on Amazon. With affordable headsets from Google Cardboard to HTC Vive, the value of virtual reality to brands is becoming more real by the day. Even Facebook has now introduced social VR features, which is one of the many reasons why David Shing urged marketers to begin experimenting with VR now, to ensure that they are ready for when it takes off with consumers.

3. “Connected everything”

Finally, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the concept of “connected everything” was another key theme, with Sony showcasing some of its Futurelab wearables. Unsurprisingly, fitness and healthcare industries led the discussions with keynote speeches from Under Armour’s Kevin Plank and a MedTech Stage attracting over 5,000 attendees. Plank discussed Under Armour’s Connected Fitness division that now claims 164 million in its digital community, and the value of the data that their interactions can drive. “Data is the new oil,” he said. “The companies that do well are the companies that use math.” The focus on health also raises interesting discussions that almost takes us beyond IoT to a place where technology can begin to act like a 6th human sense. Connected smart devices and real-time analytics are starting to combine to deliver a new layer of connected intelligence that will revolutionise the ability of brands to offer interesting and useful digital services to consumers. This means that the purveyors of products can become suppliers of service. With their ability to deliver regular information to a customer, wearables can enable a brand to take on a much wider role in a customer’s life. It’s clear that personalisation and purpose are going to be key for brands to win consumer affection in this digital age.

Whilst all these areas were being discussed at SXSW last year, it’s the velocity at which these technologies seem to have entered the mainstream world of marketing over the last year that has caught our eye. The increased affordability and accessibility of these technologies is already leading to mass adoption and it’s encouraging to see so many established brands embracing this change and creating some genuinely exciting and immersive brand experiences.

What does this mean for organisations?

For a start, we should probably forget the concept of “digital marketing”. Since our digital and physical worlds have merged, it would be more helpful to be thinking about “marketing in an increasingly digital world”. Secondly, from the customer experience point of view, it’s time to forget the notion of Marketing being the one and only champion of the customer. Digital is blurring the lines of Marketing, Sales, Customer Services, and many other functions, so wiring customer centricity into the entire business (at the same time as breaking down internal silos) is now even more important than ever.

At Brand Learning, we work with clients on creating a joined-up purpose, strategy, culture, structure and ways of working centred on the consumer experience If you would like to find out more about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisations capabilities, please do get in touch.


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[1] http://www.sxsw.com/interactive/about