Saturday 30 August 2014

Conference Trends: Edelman Digital at SXSW Interactive 2012

Edelman Digital sent multiple team members to South by Southwest Interactive with the goal of identifying new trends, understanding our competition and looking for key learnings for brands. Throughout the weeklong conference, team members went to panel discussions, industry events and attended the SXSW trade show, which featured the latest in up-and-coming applications and tech.  The following is an overview of key learnings from this year’s conference.

Conference Trends

Context Matters: Big Data and What to Do With It

Data and measurement panels and events were popular and packed. Throughout the conference, the dialogue was lively and the challenges faced by the audience were universal – proving success is difficult to define. For instance, panelists shared that there is no single success metric for reach; success is only in context of the objective. A core theme from the panels was that content performance guides content creation and engagement.

Across the board, panelists expressed that data shouldn’t be used simply for proving success, it should be used to learn more about audiences, to plan and implement better tactics and then to create the best content. Then the data can be used to challenge what’s not working and prompt teams to capitalize on what is working. Panelists shared that data is all about what you do with it and how you understand it. From magazines to blogs to corporate partners, all panelists and presenters reiterated that sometimes innovation requires thinking beyond measurability.

  • Implications: Don’t be afraid of the data from websites and social engagement – it should be used as guardrails, not for definitive decision making. Panelists noted that a program isn’t a failure due to metrics, nor is it successful. The context of those numbers is what matters. If something is innovative, it might not be measureable, but that doesn’t mean clients shouldn’t do it. Innovation requires challenging the status quo and learning from the execution.

Recruiting at SXSW: A Digital Talent Land-Grab

Edelman’s recruiting team as well as other agencies were in attendance, hosting events and seeking the best talent in the industry. Some agencies, such as Saatchi Saatchi LA posted stickers all around light poles, to catch the eye of those seeking the tech and music information usually posted there. Within the trade show portion of SXSW, entire countries had booths set up to represent the diversified and quality talent emerging from their countries.

  • Implications: Digital talent is suffering from an abundance of demand and a lack of supply, and companies of all types are taking notice of the amount of talent converging on Austin once a year. More noise coming from digital recruiters means that the conference will continue to gain relevancy for those focusing on the marketing and social media aspect, but may turn off those interested in more of the tech side of SXSW.

Social Business: Still Not a Topic

Operationalizing social within organizations is still not a widespread topic of discussion in panels, but corresponding Austin events, such as the Dachis Group’s Social Business Summit, allowed the “social business professionals” that were in Austin for SXSW to have content specifically catered for their needs. The team attended a SXSW Social Business meetup, and were mostly met with vendors looking to sell their measurement tools to prove social ROI.

  • Implications: We expect that social business will grow as a topic of interest at SXSW, but it may take a few years to really take hold. It is still a difficult concept to grasp for most conference goers, who are still more concerned with executing social at the marketing level. It may eventually become a track of panels for those specifically concerned with enterprise-level social integration.

Apps at SXSW: Location, Location and You

As always, new apps and services were out in droves at SXSWi – many of them incorporating crowd-sourced data, context for your location, and connection to your connections. From music to training, apps are also providing access to and tracking of your daily activities. Here are a few highlights:.

  • Apps continued to be about location based activation, but with a deeper social layer that connects serendipitously to those around you.  Applications such as Highlight, ban.jo and Glancee let you know when your friends or people with similar interests are nearby. They were flagged by mainstream media outlets early on as creepy and cool, with writers getting excited about their implications around connecting online life with offline life. However, these apps struggled with relevancy at the conference due to the masses of people around at any given time.

  • Social music was everywhere at the trade show, with competition to established services Spotify and Turntable.fm growing. Desktop applications with fun designs were present and all had elements of the fun personalization for music lovers.

  • The gamificiation of everyday actions is a growing trend, and Nike had one of the most obvious examples launching at SXSW: their FuelBand and corresponding app. Nike emphasized FuelBand with extensive experiential marketing pushes at the conference, including a full basketball court and skate park. Throughout the festival, Nike-clad athletic youth were promoting events and team sports activities all with the message, “Make it #count.”

  • Rain Changes Everything

    The weather was a core conversation driver in the first few days of SXSWi, as rain kept many conference goers indoors instead of moving between conference activities. The brands that succeeded despite the rain embraced the weather and did something to make SXSW attendees have a better experience. For example, Kraft Foods handed out umbrellas and asked to tweet photos of people using them. Spredfast overnighted hundreds of orange ponchos and hand-placed stickers on them, giving them instant recognition throughout the conference.

    • Implications: When creating event-oriented executions, our teams need to have contingency plans in place for unexpected problems, and see them as opportunities to stand out from competitors. The weather proved that brands must roll with the punches and evolve to succeed – especially in an already crowded marketplace like SXSW.

    On top of the rain, there was the battle for transportation and never ending conversations with digital thinkers. It was a whirlwind week, but we had a blast learning and engaging. Did you make it down to SXSWi? What was your favorite brand execution?




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