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25 Mar, 2009 – 3 comments

5 themes from sxsw

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SxSW Interactive ended a week ago and I’m still recovering. It was great being back in Austin and it was especially awesome meeting people IRL I only knew from the internet. My panel, on location based mobile advertising, went well. Sam from Loopt is incredibly knowledgeable about the space, and aside from my ‘brands have to relearn how to earn customers’ shtick, I think the attendees got a great dose of knowledge from him. A special thanks to Shari Doherty (of Loopt) for asking me to join the panel, and to Hugh Forrest (of SxSW) for running such a smooth and efficient conference.

In truth, there are two conferences at work at SxSW Interactive – the one with the panels, and the one with the parties. I attended the panels. I’d like to share a few common themes I heard while I was there…

1) Brands court communities, they do not create them. I caught the Henry Jenkins double feature and was toting his eight part series on Spreadable Media during the conference, and this was a powerful message. Even highly successful media properties draw their viewership from an amalgamation of clustered communities. If you really want to be successful, you’ll recognize this and mine those communities to better understand how they operate and the culture that ties them together. While at SxSW, Henry did a quick podcast that’s worth your time.

2) The journey is the thing that matters. Jim Coudal moderated a great panel on how to involve people in your process, not just the end product. (I’m a Coudal superfan – I was taking notes in a Field Notes prototype book I got at their SEED conference) Filmmaker Gary Hustwit of Helvetica fame talked a good deal about opening up the experience of making his films, and telling the story of its creation, to his audience. For example, Gary sells posters for his films before he even begins making them. He sells the idea first and in turn generates the capital to make it. People like to dream about stuff that doesn’t exist yet; and the idea of it is usually the sexiest part.

3) Help people use their brains. Brendan Dawes sat on Coudal’s panel too, and showed off DoodleBuzz, a news powered experience he built. The interface intentionally leaves you hanging until you gather the courage to try something different, in this case doodle. Gary Hustwit also talked about how his editor tries to ensure his films are 15 seconds ahead of the audience. Lost does this. Apple is really good at this, too. Ultimately, you have to juggle the risk for reward; the payoff for participation is critical.

4) Long is the untapped market. Every conversation about advertising and marketing (good or bad) revolved around flashes in the pan. Maybe being the douchebags we are, that’s all we pay close attention to, but it seems like there’s an awesome opportunity for a brand to make waves by being committed to long term, always-on, engagement.

5) Location awareness is in. A day or so before my panel, this post about 4 new or updated location aware mobile apps dropped. Pepsi (a client) built their Zeitgeist twitter visualization with a keen understanding that most people at SxSW use Twitter to broadcast location as much as their actions or feelings. Uwe Hook, the moderator of our panel maybe put it best, (I’m approximating) “it used to be ‘what are you doing?’ now it’s ‘where are doing what?’” All in all, it was a great build for our panel, I heard there was a line out the door, and the super spectacular folks that joined us were engaged and asked some phenomenal questions. (anyone that attended, you are the wind beneath my wings)