March 13th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

[On behalf on everyone here at CRM: We are deeply saddened by the tragic event that took place at the SXSW festival in Austin last night. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families. -M.M.]

A massive gathering of over 30,000 participants, SXSW Interactive is just one-third of the SXSW festival extravaganza (music and film make up the other two thirds) that takes place in Austin every year. A mecca not only for start-ups and techies but also well-established companies looking to tout their latest gadgets or solutions, SXSW Interactive 2014 didn’t disappoint. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the year’s biggest tech fest.

1. Privacy Matters More Than Ever

“The words privacy and security came up repeatedly at SXSW this year. The stage was set with speakers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, and even panels devoted to the topic, and it was also being spoken about in sessions discussing traditional media and social media. As Todd Davis of LifeLock stated when speaking on a panel about online privacy, ‘We’ve seen it over and over, people are willing to trade privacy for convenience.’ For example, people will share very sensitive information for the sake of having their financial data easily accessible. But we also share a great amount of personal information in through digital media without really thinking about potential outcomes. Journalists tap this information to verify stories, criminals use it to target individuals, and brands use it for target marketing. In the next few years we’ll see people dialing back on what they are willing to share or demanding legislation that better protects digital data.”

- Victoria Harres, vice president of audience development and social media for PR Newswire

2. Marketing Isn’t About Selling, Its About Building Personal Brand Experiences

“SXSW is a unique environment because big brands and small startups are side-by-side making their brand statements.  I saw a lot of out-of-the-box thinking by brands looking to create an experience to embody their brand, as opposed to just selling product. One of my favorites is what Samsung did to launch Milk Music; they had an immersive interactive experience customized to my specific music tastes that left me wanting to be a part of this new service.”

- Jim Gustke, VP of marketing at Ooma, a consumer telecommunications company  

3. Bad Brand Experiences Can Be Saved

“In our booth at SXSW, we created an imaginary airline, Provenair, and gave participants boarding passes, only to inform them that their flight was heavily delayed. We invited them to use our iPads to tweet about the problem and share their complaints, and then demonstrated how these customer complaints can lead to a prompt response from the airline with either an apology and a coupon for a free drink at the lounge, or an even more personalized form of outreach, such as a phone call.”

- Jeff Nicholson, VP of marketing at Provenir, a company that helps brands deliver personalized experiences 

4. Silos Are So Yesterday

“The conversation remained the same [at SXSW] – integrating siloed marketing and product/channel teams is a struggle. Senior executives are still shocked at mobile participation, but as progressive companies ESPN and PBS have recommended just think of all devices as screens. Most people use the largest screen available to them at the time, so [it’s important] to make sure content is accessible and appropriate for each channel and make sure that it is seamless, and most importantly, easy. It’s about reaching your total audience across channels – not social vs. web vs. mobile vs. broadcast.”

- Jen Gray, VP of creative services for digital marketing technology firm HelloWorld

5. Crowdfunding is Growing

“Crowdfunding has been a hot topic, and it’s set to grow by several orders of magnitude when Title iii of the Jobs Act, which allows participation in equity crowdfunding by non-accredited investors, eventually goes into effect.   A game changer by anyone’s standards, Title iii will allow entrepreneurs to raise up to $1MM via general solicitation unaccredited investors.  Is this truly the democratization of investing, enabling everyman to have the same shot at investing on the ground level that VCs and angel investors currently enjoy?  Or will a new insider’s game emerge, despite the fact that the SEC and FINRA will be regulating this marketplace?  It’s Kickstarter meets the Nasdaq, and it’s going to be interesting.”

- Sarah Skerik, vice president of content marketing at PR Newswire/MultiVu

6. Employees and Customers Are Becoming Key Brand Advocates

“As a marketer in 2014 it’s getting harder to be sure your message, product, and/or services are getting in front of the right people, at the right time, and in the right place. Often times we’re left wondering if we connected with the right target audience and if the message resonated. Enter advocate marketing – marketing that’s focused on getting your biggest fans to tell your story for you. Brands are evolving in their efforts to engage and activate these two groups in order to leverage social media, gamification, word of mouth and much more. Additionally, tools are sprouting up to enable brand to be more efficient and effective at advocate marketing. We’re going to see a massive shift and focus on this type of marketing as a core competency within brands large and small in the coming years as well as a whole new segment of tools to support the work.”  

- Frank Barry, director of digital marketing at Blackbaud, a fundraising and website management company

7. Marketing is Making

“The maker movement has hit its stride and was a main focus at this year’s SXSW, complete with plenty of 3D-printed Oreos and candy. The Millennial generation’s adoption of the making philosophy, where there is inherent expectation of ownership and personalization of any brand or good, is impacting how brands approach their marketing efforts. Continually evolving products, based on the crowd’s making efforts, will be the new standard, as making in essence becomes the marketing.”

- Matt Witt, executive vice president and director of digital integration at TRIS3CT, an advertising agency

8. Despite its Potential, Some Brands Worry About User Generated Content 

“What I found at SXSW is brands are dying to take advantage of user generated content (UGC), but are scared off by the possible legal risk. Marketers are looking for a solution that will give them peace of mind about UGC so they can start prominently featuring the awesome content created by their fans.”

- Vince Broady, CEO of Thismoment, a marketing company 

9. Contagious Marketing is a Tough Skill to Master

“Marketers have to start really thinking about how to create things that people can’t help but share vs. doing mass advertising and tricking people into seeing their stuff, but it’s hard work. Everyone wants their warez to go viral – a million views on YouTube, hundreds of thousands of likes on Facebook, billions of ReTweets, etc. It’s like the holly-grail of marketing, yet not many ever achieve these types of results. Not every piece of marketing material will go viral, but understanding why things get shared can have a significant impact on our overall efforts. Enter Contagious Marketing – marketing that strategically inserts elements that motivate people to share. From creating a Trojan horse to deliver your message in a creative yet compelling way to understanding how triggers remind people to act, marketing in 2014 is shifting. Effective marketing in 2014 and beyond will have a big focus on understanding the phycology of sharing, word of mouth and virility – pushing us even further beyond mass marketing into targeted and effective marketing.”  

- Frank Barry, director of digital marketing at Blackbaud, a fundraising and website management company

10. All Brands Are Services

“Brands acting as a service proved to be another trend at SXSW 2014. They are migrating away from the mechanics of selling products through traditional push marketing and instead focusing their efforts on conveying their brand purpose which often extends beyond the attributes of the actual product. A great example is Nike’s FuelBand; while a $5 pedometer serves a basic need, Nike has taken the consumer’s physical activity and turned the data the FuelBand collects into a value-added service complete with sharable social content. By deploying social content that supports consumer needs, the brand reinforces its service as much as its product.”

- Matt Witt, executive vice president and director of digital integration at TRIS3CT, an advertising agency

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