Top 4 Themes, Ideas, and Trends I Saw at SXSW

SXSW can feel a little bit like being in a super condensed academic setting.  You rush from session to session, doing your best to take it all in.  After having about a week to think about all the things I learned–here are my key takeaways.


It’s important for us as marketers to meet consumers where they are.  And where they are is on their mobile devices all. the. freaking. time.  Not only should you be thinking about this in terms of apps (so social media – Twitter, IG, Facebook, etc) your design strategy should revolve a mobile first mind set.  You can’t just reuse ad assets that were made for something else, whether its a TV spot, print, or email campaign.  Think about how it look son mobile first, then make it sure it looks beautiful on desktop as well.  Also, think about how your consumers are going to interact with your brand beyond just viewing your ad.  Don’t operate in a closed circuit.  One company on a panel I sat in on talked about how they tied mobile receipts to consumers, so they could later serve them ads knowing that  previous transaction had already occurred.  That’s brilliant!

Imagery is King – but video is God

Consumers are becoming more and more visual in nature.  As marketers compete in an increasingly cluttered landscape, they have to find a way to stand out.  “Thumb stopping power” is something we as marketers hear over and over again.  It’s directly related to the visual experience that consumer have.  As they are scrolling through their newsfeeds, they have to see something that makes their thumbs stop, so that they click or investigate further.  We’ve been told in meetings at Facebook that their internal studies have shown that the absolute first thing that users look at is the image — not the copy you put.  So that’s incredibly important to keep in mind as we create ads.  What is the most visually compelling image you can use?

Going one step further, videos are where the ads of the future are going.  Let me correct myself –video is where the digital content of the future is going.  Over and over at SXSW, panelists talked about the importance of video.  On one panel Facebook’s Global Marketing Solutions Director said, “Videos are the fastest growing segment of our ads.”  Marketers who aren’t thinking about how to add video in their matrix will soon find themselves left behind.  One solution we have at my agency for some of our more cost sensitive clients is to create gifs — either via animation or through photo shoots.

Authenticity in marketing

I saw the theme of authenticity in marketing come up in a few distinct ways.  1.  The rise of the influencer  2. Increase of importance in diversity and 3. ads as more than ads.

I firmly believe that there is a significant ROI to be found when it comes to influencer marketing.  As Amber Venz Box said on her panel, she finds influencer marketing to be the cheapest kind of marketing available to advertisers.  She kept referring to influencers as “our peers” which, while I find to be a bit of a stretch is also understandable in context.  Brands our not our friends (at least not typically) we don’t look up to them for advice, we don’t crave the intimate details of their OOTD or their latest vacation trip.  But when it comes to influencers not only do consumers want to consume that content, they seem to have an insatiable appetite for it.

Diversity was another frequently plugged solution for bringing more authenticity to the marketing space.  There were so many panels that focused specifically on women.  As marketers, to forget about the powerful segment that is women is just plain stupid.  But beyond that, beauty and fashion panels talked a lot about increasing the kind of women we are seeing in marketing.  We need to see an increased range of shapes, sizes, colors, ethnicities, etc.  Consumers are no longer being endeared by models who not only look nothing like them – but feel inauthentic and inaccessible.

Because consumers are becoming more and more sensitive to the authenticity in advertising, or as one panelist put it “consumers have a bullshit detector.”  There was a lot of discussion about how to elevate the content of our ads.  Steve Patrizi of Imgur described their attitude of one where they try to give more than they take.  This doesn’t necessarily mean giving away free things or discounts.  It could mean entertainment or content.  As marketers we can’t just think about the business objective, we also have to keep our consumers front and center.  How can we make their interaction with our ads more enjoyable?  We need to inject, storytelling, content, and emotions to connect with them on a more authentic level.

The explosion of VR

Mark my words, before we know it, everyone sitting on transportation will be looking into a VR headset instead of looking down at our phones.  While this may mean wonderful things for our collective postures, what does this mean for marketers?  I see this as the logical next step from the rise of video.  Consumers want an immersive…honestly, almost magical experience.  They want to be transported, tantalized, and transformed from where and who they are.  I had the opportunity to try out Facebook’s Oculus at the Virtual Reality Hall at SXSW and I could have stayed there for a whole day!  By 2025, VR will be pervasive.

Did you attend SXSW?  If so, I’d love to hear what your takeaways were!


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