South by Southwest Interactive Recap

The Stories of Four Tired and Inspired Fahlgren Mortine Associates

Four Fahlgren Mortine associates headed to Austin, Texas last week for SXSW Interactive, and returned invigorated, inspired, and exhausted.  There were so many amazing sessions over the five-day festival that we each wanted to share our varying experiences and perspectives.

Sean Cowan, Senior Vice President, Digital Experience Director

Having attended the last five SXSW Interactive conferences, I consider myself a veteran. What keeps bringing me back is the fact that the conference topics change every year as much as the technology that we as marketers leverage on a daily basis. To that point, I saw two very noticeable evolutions taking place that make me very excited for the future of digital marketing.

I spent a lot of time in sessions whose topics dealt with leveraging real-time data and metrics to refine content delivery. Our industry has matured to the point where after years of collecting all sorts of data available in the digital channel, we are now finding very effective ways to use it to drive ROI. I saw multiple product managers and technology teams describing in detail how continuous testing, measurement and rapid deployment is keeping products, services and content meaningful and relevant to marketers, and ultimately, end users.

The other evolution I was very excited to see was the number of very affordable tools coming to market for creating and managing digital content. The big players, like Adobe, are making some bold moves by introducing a slew of new and specialized tools for content creation. At the same time, tiny startups, such as Macaw, are releasing revolutionary products that will change how the designer and developer collaboration takes place. I cannot express how excited I am to get my hands on some of these new tools. This is going to be a big year of improved efficiency for creative and technical professionals alike. I’m amazed at how fast our world is changing and how well SXSW is able to capture and share these big ideas year after year. I can only imagine what will be covered at SXSW 2015.

Emilie DeLong, Associate Vice President, Digital Media Connections

As a SXSW rookie with a type “A” personality, I did a lot of research prior to heading to SXSW. I read anything I could get my hands on, asked a ton of questions and starred every session that I thought might be the least bit interesting, but nothing could truly prepare me for this experience. If I had to choose one word to describe it, it would be overwhelming. I was overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge available at any given moment. I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of talent that was swarming around me at all times. And, I was overwhelmed by the amount of shared passion that people have for topics that I deal with on a daily basis.

Being the analytics nerd that I am, a lot of the sessions that I attended were focused around big data and how we should use it. This topic inevitably leads to the conversation that although consumers want privacy, they also want customization, so do consumers really know what they want? And, if they are going to put that data out there and have the ability to use free sites for their own entertainment, shouldn’t we, as marketers, be allowed to extract that anonymous data so that we can serve them up the customized information that they are seeking? These are hot topics right now in the industry and no one seems to have the answers; in fact, these topics just seem to be getting more complicated. In one of the sessions I attended about Google Glass, the question was asked, how do you protect the privacy of the person who is on the other side of the glass? At this point, this type of wearable technology is so new that no one knows the answer to that question or if it is even possible. For now, my big takeaway is to continue to turn big data into small, personalized data (while respecting the consumer’s privacy) and serve consumers relevant content at the moment they are seeking it.

Chrystie Reep, Senior Vice President, Media Connections Director

SXSW 2014 marked my second year attending the conference.  I was eager to head back to Austin after my experience last year and I wasn’t disappointed.  I focused my time primarily on content and social media.  I had exposure to the content and social media teams from brands like McDonald’s, Whole Foods, Oreo, Shutterfly, TripAdvisor and Dell, and media teams from BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan, Hearst Corporation, Mashable, A&E Networks and the Culturalist.  Just having the opportunity to listen to their approaches and processes reaffirmed many of the things we’re doing at Fahlgren Mortine and gave me new ideas and approaches that we can incorporate right away.

The constant thread that came through in my sessions was the importance of providing valuable content to your audience.  No matter the tactic – Twitter, banner ads, white papers, a television spot – it is critical to not just engage your audience, but provide them something they find valuable. With content being so democratized today, there’s so much available and little time so if you are providing a value, your customers will continue to participate in a relationship with you.  What “value” means is going to be different for every audience, brand and tactic that you are executing.

The emphasis on strategy was also something that stood out to me.  Progressive brands are not creating a detailed plan for engagement; instead they are creating a strategy and platform that allows them to take advantage of opportunities and trends as they happen.  Those trends are the tactics (ex. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat). New tools will always arise but if you have a solid strategy in place, the tool doesn’t matter, and you can engage in relevant ways given the audience and space you are in. Consumers are smart and will be able to tell if you haven’t put thoughtful strategy into place before jumping to execution.  Strategic intent is critical.

Aaron Reiser, Vice President, Creative Director

Wow, what a whirlwind of inspiration. It has been a couple of days since I got back from SXSW and I am already applying ideas and concepts to my project work. I primarily focused on UX design. This is the process of evaluating all aspects of a user’s interaction with an object, product or service and then designing around those needs in order to create the most usable end product.

From mobile devices to connected cars to wearable technology, UX can take on many forms. Our challenge as marketers and innovators is to evolve these new mediums in a way that seamlessly integrates into peoples’ lives. Mobile technology is booming, but it is often criticized as being distracting and even addictive. We live within our devices and not within our lives. As designers, this is our fault. We design little buttons on little screens that require focus and attention. As we acquire more and more devices, we are required to give up even more of our attention. The problem is we only have so much attention to give.

Design for the background, not the foreground. What if we designed everyday objects to have the ability to communicate simple messages in very unobtrusive ways? An object that sits in your house, such as a lamp, might brighten or dim to indicate something. This requires no focus, additional attention or device. This is the opposite approach to Google Glass, which is in your field of vision at all times.

Personalization within digital experiences is going to be huge, and we are already starting to see examples of it being created. Big data was the buzzword in this category. The challenge is to leverage all of the many data services available to us as marketers, designers and users. How do we start to tie together separate feeds in a way that tells a story and increases function for the user. A small example of this would be not showing or suggesting a product to a user that has already purchased that product. Imagine a situation where a site or app could tell you that your girlfriend’s birthday is coming up, she is a size small and she liked this dress on Facebook or Pinterest. Then it tells you that the dress she wants will be delivered in time with free shipping, or it is also available at the store just two miles away and then gives you directions.

Tired and inspired. SXSW2014.

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