A Newbie’s View of SXSWI

This was my first time attending the South by Southwest Interactive event, but it won’t be my last! It was a very stimulating creative environment.

In case you don’t know, South by Southwest (SXSW) is a huge 2 week gathering of folks that are, or are hoping to be, on the cutting edge of entertainment and technology. There are three overarching tracks: interactive, film, and music – and there are some interesting content overlaps that surface because of the mix of those 3. I attended only the interactive portion (SXSWI) along with an estimated 19,000 others. The folks attending, or at least the ones I met, tended to be in one of three categories: agency and client folks (often digital marketing and innovation specialists), entrepreneurs and technology developers (particularly gaming and social media folks, and the venture capitalists supporting them), and creative folks (writers and designers who are helping the other 2 groups think about content). An even thought I hadn’t signed up for the Film or Music tracks, I ended up running into musicians, producers, filmmakers, and lots of other interesting folks. It was a terrific opportunity for me to feed the creative side of my brain!

As CNN put it in a recent article, SXSWI is about big ideas in technology: where are we going, why, and how will we get there? The content and schedule for the conference  is determined in a unique way: months before the conference begins, people who want to share information submit their proposal for a session, and the community votes. Because of this process, the sessions reflect the zeitgeist of the community: what folks are thinking about, working on, wanting to learn. In the interactive world, this means that the ideas that are discussed at SXSWI are often the concepts, technologies and platforms that will become commonplace in the future.  Twitter was the breakout hit of SXSW in 2007, and Foursquare was launched at SXSW in 2009.

As with most conferences, at least half of the value of attending comes from the conversations that happen before and after the scheduled sessions. On the shuttle buses, at food trucks that are everywhere around town, at the power-charging stations that are set up all over the 10(!) conference campuses, at the parties each evening, I had fascinating conversations with all sorts of folks. Everyone attending was there to think about the future, and this results in a “delicious stew” of thoughts, ideas, concepts.  

As a brand marketer, I was interested in how brands and companies leveraged the conference to get their message across to the people attending. CNN re-branded a local restaurant into the CNN Grill for the week, Chevy was providing rides to and from conference locations, AT&T provided a charging station lounge in the conference center, Maccallan scotch and SoBe beverages provided free trials to registrants – just to name a few. Brands (both well established ones and startups) were everywhere, clearly seeking to make a positive impression on the all-important “influencers” – those who will use their own networks to spread the word about the things that catch their attention.

Lots of folks have written articles that provide a view to the main themes emerging from the conference, since they can be indicators of  the direction that digital marketing will take in the next few years. Mashable created some infographics to depict the “battles” among various technologies.  The major themes I observed were:

A. Real-time marketing: strategies and structures to support marketing in the moment

B. Trans-media: storytelling / content that is expressed across platforms (sites, advertising, games, social, video, e-books, blogs, podcasts, downloads)

C. Location-based ideas: use of GPS, NFC (near field communication) and RFID (radio frequency identification) to provide context for communications

D. Group social communication tools: group texting such as GroupMe or Beluga

E. Gaming ideas being incorporated into everything: rewarding people for actions, providing surprises and fun

Here are some a few other articles about the conference from other attendees:





And a link to the conference site: http://sxsw.com/

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