This is a reprint of the content from the Ketchum SXSW 2012 Wrap Report, which can be downloaded as a 2-page, designed PDF here.
With crowds estimated at more than 50,000, this year’s South By Southwest conference, in Austin, Texas, was the largest ever – by far. For the second year running, SXSWi, the interactive portion, drew the lion’s share of attendees, nearly 25,000 – more than either music or film, the festival’s original areas of focus.
Ketchum and its sister agencies, Access Communications and the Zocalo Group, had about two dozen representatives from around the world at SXSWi 2012 to gather and share knowledge with clients, colleagues and others who were unable to make the trip. Here are five of the most significant takeaways for marketing and communications pros, based on our collective experiences and observations.
1. Gotta Go, SoLoMo!
The simultaneous proliferation of social media, smartphones (geo-aware pocket supercomputers) and high-speed mobile Internet access has resulted in a concentration of innovation in the realm of ambient technology (also known as “SoLoMo,” for social + local + mobile).
Now that Foursquare has demonstrated the stickiness of location-based social networking, Facebook and Google Plus have added their own check-in features, and a wide array of new startups, including Highlight, Glancee and Gauss, are seeking to ride the wave by connecting users based on different algorithms related to proximity and profile similarities. At this time, it’s unclear which of these ambient startups will survive or thrive; but if “South By” buzz is any measure, Highlight holds the most promise.
MARKETING Takeaway: Grandstand might be of greatest interest to brand marketers, as it engages crowds by tying their collective, real-world experience at events and attractions to onsite, in-the-moment offers.
2. The Longtail of Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook & Google
Remember the collective letdown last year when Apple announced the iPhone 4.1 amidst all the frothed up anticipation of a 5.0 model? In many ways, this is analogous to what enthusiasts experienced at SXSWi 2012. Going in, pundits engaged in the annual crystal ball gazing to predict which app would be the next Twitter or Foursquare, influencing consumer behavior and seeping into pop culture.
Instead, there was no hit; no step change. Rather, the apps that got most of the attention were those that continued to draft off the Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook and Google ecosystems, tapping and/or combining their APIs to offer users a new spin on existing data. Such apps include those mentioned above, plus Pixable (a much-buzzed app that aggregates and streams photos from your social networks), Roamz and Trover (both for sharing discoveries), and Womzit (for sharing experiences).
MARKETING Takeaway: The growing dominance of the incumbent platforms — Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook and Google — suggests that there remains plenty of opportunity to be mined from them. While we tend to recommend that our clients focus more on quality content and conversation, we can’t ignore the effectiveness of fishing where the fish are.
3. Startups & Food
Ever since Twitter and Foursquare famously experienced breakout moments at prior South Bys, startups have annually flocked to Austin like swallows to Capistrano looking for funding and the path to stardom. This year, food was a hot theme among the digital entrepreneurs (and judging by the lines at the food trucks, SXSW attendees agreed!).
The new Stamped app, for example, lets users “put their stamp” on food, restaurants and other things they like. Grubwithus bills itself as a “social dining network,” connecting awesome people over delicious food. One of the more standout, on-trend startups was AgLocal, a platform that seeks to disrupt the agriculture distribution chain by enabling consumers to purchase meats directly from nearby farmers and ranchers.
MARKETING Takeaway: In the food and nutrition space, AgLocal signals the growing trend of consumers taking a greater interest in the sources of their food and the distance from farm to fork.
4. Big Data & the Interest Graph
In recent years, marketers have focused much attention on the “social graph,” that is, what we think we can glean about users based on who they friend and what they like and do. At the same time, SXSWi attendees were in general agreement that we have not yet realized the full analytical potential of “big data.” Nevertheless, as we continue down the path towards numerical nirvana, we are starting to focus on a new stream of actionable intelligence: the “interest graph,” which is more of a reflection of people’s explicit interests and intentions.
With the explosive use and growth of services that allow users to declare their interests, desires and intended actions—consider recent startups Meeps (“the place to share interests”), Forecast, Want! and Recco, as well as the red-hot Pinterest, Google’s Schemer and Facebook’s Interests—we see new opportunities for brands to engage with consumers without the potential awkwardness of trying to be their friend and/or join their conversations. Interacting through users’ interest graphs can be more seamless and transactional.
MARKETING Takeaway: Marketers should take a closer look at what type of content their users are aggregating, what they are talking about and with whom. Are marketers capturing and responding to the interests expressed by consumers, or are they still talking to themselves?
5. Brand Invasion & Online/Offline Interaction
While the social startups were out in force, some of the most established, leading analog brands were skillfully adapting to the social web and proving that old dogs (and cats, see below) can, in fact, learn new tricks. They were also demonstrating the power that comes from combining real-world action with online engagement.
Nike showed off Fuel Band, a new device that captures human movement and enables users to competitively track their activities. Pepsi unveiled futuristic, interactive LED screens that will soon be integrated into its vending machines. FedEx (a Ketchum client) provided value to South By’s device-dependent digerati by dispatching mobile charging stations in the form of live FedEx employees (a.k.a. “power couriers”) wearing uniforms bedecked with USB ports for on-the-go recharging. And Friskies (a Ketchum client) launched You versus Cat, an air hockey style iPad game in which humans try to push a lump of cat food past their pets.
But the most pervasive brand invasion was pulled off by Amex, which seamlessly integrated its sales and vendor data with Twitter and Foursquare’s APIs to offer cardholders instant, on-location discounts automatically credited to their accounts. Amex completely closed the loop by offering a half hour of free wifi on Gogo-equipped American Airlines planes flying out of Austin, so departing digital jocks could re-live Jay-Z’s SXSW performance from the night before (sponsored by Amex, of course).
MARKETING Takeaway: Any brand can achieve relevance in the era of the social web by appropriately applying strategic creativity and technological innovations to provide value, engagement and entertainment.
Contact : Jonathan Kopp, Partner & Global Director, Ketchum Digital,
firstname.lastname@example.org / @jonathankopp / +1.646.935.3900