Geo Stewart – VP, Creative Director

Geo Stewart – VP, Creative Director

5 days.
30 events.
2 exhausted attendees.

MW took on SXSW last week – we primarily focused on attending Interactive panels and experiences, but caught some film and food “convergence” events as well. Over the last 30 years, SXSW has evolved from a music and media conference to a nearly two-week festival that sprawls across Austin. Between the convention center, adjacent hotel conference rooms and, yes, a few food trucks, we put in 35-plus miles of steps in search of inspiration. Here’s what we found:

Authenticity isn’t just a thing, it’s THE thing.

Variants on that theme popped up in nearly every panel, from Scandal’s Kerry Washington managing her social media presence to represent her “real” self, to the cast/creators of USA Network’s Mr. Robot learning to actually type code to hack (on-screen at least). Even Anthony Bourdain talked about striving to present his adventures as they are, warts and all, to make an artificial process more authentic. Several agencies added their voices as well, defining authenticity as a shared purpose between brands and social influencers, as well as urging companies to trust their customers to do the research – appealing to them on a real, emotional level instead.

Empathy is the first step… and every other step

Multiple discussions touched on the fact that we need to truly understand the people we’re marketing to – and that’s just the start. Facebook IQ demonstrated how social moments can spark a real conversation, from connecting with people transitioning into nesting using the 18 million cooking/baking moments posted daily, to how your brand can be the “good Samaritan” that’s often mentioned in 51 million “lost phone moments” that happen every month. Airbnb, showcased its success understanding that to design for others, we must feel like we’re literally living their lives. And Buzzfeed demonstrated how it speaks to what connects with an individual rather than letting popular culture “waterfall” information to people.

Inspiration leads to iteration

SXSW is fertile ground for creative companies, and one overarching lesson was to embrace evolution in ideation. Agencies promoted the idea that after you put a thought in market, give consumers the power to grow it organically – then follow the story the audience is telling. Buzzfeed touted an adaptive style that “moves at the speed of culture” that struck us as similar to our Insight into Experience™ process. Even J.J. Abrams said he’s always open to a better idea, warning us not to be afraid of iteration.

And in slightly less business-relevant news, we learned that shared plates are still a thing, ramen burgers are totally worth the calories and Austin may just be the best barbecue city in the country. Cheers to SXSW’s first 30 years – see you next year to kick off the next chapter!



David Rothkopf