For the third year in a row, Launch sent senior creative team members Richard Wezensky and Alex Slotkin down to Austin to attend one of the world’s premier interactive conferences: South by Southwest Interactive. It was five days of inspiration, information and borderline-overwhelming intensity (especially with conference attendance having swelled by more than 30% over last year).
Naturally, high-tech gadgetry was everywhere, from the brand-new iPad 2 to hot new group messaging apps, QR codes, tweets and location-based “check-ins.” At the same time, the conference covered an even broader swath of subjects, everything from Web coding and design to marketing, social media, gaming and the societal implications of technology.
Despite the plethora of seminars, panels, interviews, workshops, networking sessions and parties, a few recurring ideas seemed to come to the fore. First was the idea that brands are moving from the role of being traditional marketers to publishers. Some are creating original content, others aggregating content from third parties (and in some cases, a bit of both). By building a reputation as a go-to source for information on a specific topic of interest to consumers, brands can better establish themselves as trusted authorities and reach an increasingly marketing-averse audience.
The second big takeaway was the notion that advertising and marketing agencies need to start thinking more like software companies. They need to be less precious with their work, take less time to go from idea to market, and then make constant, iterative adjustments to their work in response to customer feedback. While selling this approach in to clients can be challenging, it helps if agencies start with smaller and less costly initiatives, and then try to grow them over time.
Finally, there was a lot of emphasis on the unique qualities and challenges of social media—specifically, how social engagement has to be an honest, one-to-one conversation with customers. Companies need to give their audience more of a say in the direction their brand will take, and work to create long-term relationships. Whether it’s through Twitter, Facebook or a company blog, brands need to provide more humanity and transparency. These days, being obviously promotional is the fastest path to becoming irrelevant.
There were plenty more nuggets of wisdom, chance celebrity encounters and other fascinating discoveries at SXSW, but those are best experienced in person. Of course, the next best thing is to peruse the sizable catalog of SXSWi 2011 podcasts, videos, notes and other materials, which you’ll find at sxsw.com/interactive. Also, don’t miss the full Launch SXSW photo set at www.flickr.com/photos/launchagency/sets/72157626249293558/, and the Launch Twitter feed, including live tweets from the event.