CMO’s Notebook: SXSW Interactive Uncovers What’s Now And Next

For those, like me, who were fortunate enough to have been in the swirl of this eclectic mix, it can take a few days for the experience to sink in and figure out how to apply the learnings. My intent now is to share what I collected and curated to inspire your own discovery of the now and next.

CMO’s Notebook: SXSW Interactive Uncovers What’s Now And Next

“It’s not enough to focus on the cool, next big thing. It’s harnessing the cool, next big thing to help people in this country.”

So said a chief—though not a chief marketer. Rather, it was the commander in chief of the United States, President Obama, who, at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) Festival (the first president to attend), called on the audience, and the tech industry at large, to work with the government to help solve the nation’s biggest problems.

The 30th SXSW—and 23rd SXSWi Festival, my area of focus—concluded a few days ago. To give you an idea of scope: SXSWi featured roughly 900 sessions and 2,000 speakers, with dozens of sessions happening simultaneously. Producers of the Austin-based event estimated that more than 35,000 people from 80-plus countries were at the interactive events. They included professionals from every business model and industry you can imagine.

So little wonder why SXSWi director Hugh Forrest told Stephanie Agresta, CEO of a growth consultancy for emerging tech startups, during the “What’s Buzzing at SXSWi” Q&A session: “The real meat of the event is the interaction you have with speakers and people in the rooms, and other attendees in the hallways, and networking. It’s neat to have a breakout app like Meerkat was in 2015. It helped with a ton of buzz, but those are the anomalies. Really what happens at South by Southwest is you make small connections, follow up on those connections, and those can lead to big, big things.”

For those, like me, who were fortunate enough to have been in the swirl of this eclectic mix, it can take a few days for the experience to sink in and figure out how to apply the learnings. My intent now is to share what I collected and curated to inspire your own discovery of the now and next.

Award Winners

One of the ways the SXSWi funnel gets fed is through the SXSW Accelerator and Startup Village, both of which were founded and produced by Chris Valentine, CEO and founder of Adeo InterActive. These two programs showcase some of the global startup ecosystem’s most innovative and cutting-edge tech. They have a highly respectable track record, with 65% (198 out of 305) of the companies that have participated in the Accelerator program receiving more than $2.6 billion in funding from 2009 to 2015. In addition, 13% have been acquired by the likes of Google, British Telecom, Huffington Post, Apple, Live Nation, OpenTable, Constant Contact, and Harmon.

So clearly it’s no small feat to be named an Accelerator Award winner. For 2016, there were 470 applications, with 48 finalists selected in six categories. If you are looking for future unicorns to join, invest in, or acquire, start by looking at this year’s winners.

Also of note, 13 companies won SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards. They were selected from a field of 65 finalists, representing the digital industry’s best and latest advancements for platforms, software, apps, and devices.

Top 10 Comments

According to social media analytics company Sysomos, the buzziest SXSWi tech topics bandied about on Twitter were virtual reality (VR), with 102.4 million tweets; mobile apps, 32.6 million; robots/robotics, 30 million; 3D, 8.8 million; and artificial intelligence (AI), 3.8 million.

But whether you listen in the virtual or real world at SXSWi, you’re sure to be inspired. These are the top 10 comments I heard that I thought were worth repeating.

• Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.

• At the beginning of any journey, you dream and leap. That is where leaders excel.

• Innovators need to optimize for learning, not for revenue.

• Homogeneous teams do not lead to innovation.

• We trust Spotify with our music tastes, Waze with our locations, and Nest inside our homes. Consumers give up data for value. Privacy is fluid; it depends on each person’s preferences.

• VR and AR will change branded entertainment forever.

• People interactions are now table stakes, not a differentiator.

• Love your customers first before they love you. Love them more, and you will win.

• The most popular gadget at SXSWi was a pencil.

• According to KPCB, 60% of the top 25 U.S. public tech companies ranked by market cap were founded or co-founded by first- or second generation immigrant Americans, resulting in 1.2 million employees in 2013.

Peeps On The SXSWi Streets

Echoing Forrest’s earlier remarks, one of my favorite parts about SXSWi is meeting interesting new people with different perspectives from around the world and learning what they are passionate about. It opens your aperture. Here’s what they told me about their most inspired moment at the festival.

• “My inspired moment was having the realization that we must be conscious about becoming too disconnected in an increasingly connected world. This means staying connected with others, and not just others that look like us. The best ideas come from exploration outside our comfort zones and bringing diverse talent together.” —Zachary Anderson, Senior Account Executive, Porter Novelli

• “My inspired moment was a panel by Kendra Scott, founder/CEO of Kendra Scott Jewelry, whose business model is built on the idea of #YouDoGood. Purpose is powerful.” —Heather Brinckerhoff, Senior Digital Client Executive, Voce Communications

• “My inspired moment happened in the “SCREW EMAIL: Why The Clever Communications Are Handmade” session, where I learned that in a digital age, hand-addressed materials have a much higher open rate, averaging 98%. People respond to effort. It’s time for handmade ‘you from me’ communications.” —Liz Palmer, Care Digital Project Manager, Purina PetCare

• “My inspired moment was seeing the practical commercial use of VR with the example Bret Bielema, head football coach at the University of Arkansas, shared, discussing how he uses virtual 360 footage to help the development of his athletes to get more training time in without the physical limitations of running a play over and over again on the field.” —Simeon Moses, VR 360 Producer, Wormhole VR

• “My inspired moment was when President Obama stated, ‘I’m trying to solve every problem.’ He went on to state that private companies aren’t required to focus on the hardest issues—that they don’t have to figure out how to educate the poorest kids, or how to stop a terrorist cell. To him, the ‘toughest problems are government problems.’ Seeing so many private tech ventures who don’t have to solve the big problems, but are choosing to tackle them in so many exciting and disruptive ways, inspired me.” —Chantielle MacFarlane, Lead Content Strategist, Hyperwallet

• “My inspiration comes from the convergence of thinking at SXSWi. This was truly the case at the SouthBites panel “Standing for Equal Rights: In & Out of the Kitchen,” where celebrity chefs talked about their personal responsibility to use their voice on topics of inclusion—race, gender, sexuality. Given their celebrity, they can make a difference standing up for issues inside and beyond their restaurant walls. This inspired me and others to also take up the cause for inclusion.” —Meghan Lewis, Account Supervisor, Porter Novelli

• “My inspired moment at SXSW is every moment because it is about realizing your passion and sharing it with new and long-time friends. It’s a small world that we share in March of each year in Austin, but I wouldn’t miss it because I might miss out on a vital new connection or friendship. It’s not the event itself; it’s the people that attend it and experiences we take away from it.” —Mike Dickinson, Founder, Chicken Ranch Records

From Around The Web

SXSWi has been covered by the best tech thinkers and doers around. These are my top picks. (Also, be sure to read “CMO’s Notebook: SXSW Interactive Speakers Talk Marketing ROI, Media Disruption,” my own coverage of an invitation-only event that highlights a chat between Scott Kauffman, chairman and CEO of MDC Partners, and Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia.)

South by Southwest Director on Building the World’s Buzziest Business Event (Skift)

SXSW 2016: First Predictions, First Thoughts (Perfomics)

From Virtual Reality To Robots, Here Are SXSW’s Buzziest Topics So Far (VR Events)

It’s a wrap: So long SXSW, see you next year (Engadget)

SXSW Interactive 2016: News, Panels, Speeches, and Brand Antics (The Verge)

5 Marketing Trends Surfacing At SXSW 2016 (VentureBeat)

Unstoppable Trends that are Changing the World (Max Levchin)

Tech Trends VCs Are Talking About At SXSW (CNBC)

How Snapchat Won This Year’s SXSW (CNBC)

Humanizing Tech: Empathy Trending at SXSW Interactive (Rackspace)

Why American Greetings Disrupted SXSW’s Digital Spirit With An Analog Activation (Adweek)