With my fifth SXSW safely tucked away, I’m now familiar enough with the pattern to know the learning hits in three stages: the stuff that hits you in the face while in Austin, the stuff that seeps out of your subconscious as the margaritas evaporate on the flight home, and the stuff that burns slowly over the next month or two. Time for a wrap up of the second stage!
Live streaming – it was kind of a thing previously, with uStream, LiveStream and more. It’s back, and this time it’s more personal. Mobile based streaming is going to accelerate quickly. Periscope got acquired by Twitter before even beginning to make the kind of noise they’re capable of, while Meerkat seems to convert from download to superfan in a matter of seconds (and promptly got it’s API access squished by Twitter!). A couple will go Instagram-huge, there will be thousands of imitators. The YouTube generation just got a little more serious about broadcasting life, not just skateboards and cats.
Devolved content production. In line with point one… news outlets are already putting more power in the hands of mobile staff to write, photograph, edit, publish, respond. It may take a while for consumer brands to get comfortable with this, but with more and more marketing focussed on the power of content, there’ll be an inexorable march in this direction. Lighter, faster, more relevant content. Delivered by brand advocates on the road with a strong hint of the real world, blended with the polished brand stories we’ve seen so much of over the past few years. In conjunction with this, I heard the phrase “brandividual”… please stop with that one, right now.
If you sponsor events for visibility, think strategically. A number of the major brands had changed their tack for SXSW this year. Getting involved with niche audience events and offering higher quality experience. I’ve previously seen startups burn significant amounts of cash on a SXSW launch – one of the most successful tactics I saw this year was from ConnectUp. They avoided official SXSW, instead picking up four small fringe events which could be sponsored for more reasonable amounts – and gain deep engagement with niche audiences which really met their aims. Smart people, also a cool app 😉
The Japanese stands in the trade hall were mind-blowing. Yes, they’re pioneering robotics and cybernetics, they’ve led the field for years. Two other things struck home this time. First, the sheer number of firms turning up in Austin to show what they were working on. I’ve heard it said Japanese innovation and work culture can be quite insular – not on the evidence of SXSW this year. There’s huge appetite to show what’s being done, what’s possible, and to find global partners. Second, a developing interest in wearables and measured self. Most of the news I see on these topics originates in the Bay area. Possibly the fault of my own filter bubble – but clear in the trade hall this isn’t an accurate reflection. From head to foot, this area is being attacked with vigour and creativity. The world’s first smart snowboard bindings caught my eye…. due to hit the market later this year!
The UK government are still desperate to be associated with the cool factor, and indeed the job creation and export possibilities. They also proved once again that they should be allowed NOWHERE NEAR IT. My first SXSW trip, UKTI supported a range of digital startups heading out, as a Digital Mission. Chinwag organised the thing, and got together c.20 startups and grouped them in a UK space in the trade hall. Wonderfully British in the branding, it caught the eyes of everyone, and many firms got serious results from the trip. This year, UKTI ran their own show. One of the biggest stands in the hall – and by far the dullest. Nothing about it yelled UK, or Startup, or Innovation, or Tech or…. anything, really. Passed it several times, not once was a conversation in progress. I can also quote from one of the businesses over from the UK with help from UKTI: “our own stand generated a ton of leads but the ministand in the UKTI generated nothing”. Compare with Japan, above – huge excitement, crowds, solid conversations everywhere. I’ve no idea the outcome obviously, but if business starts with a conversation, the Japanese delegation were a shining beacon of hope!
Finally, top tips if you’re planning a trip next year: Get your breakfast at the Pecan, your coffee at Houndstooth, your Bloody Mary at the Spredfast brunch. For everything else, roll with it – you’ll be rewarded.