This year, I was fortunate enough to represent POSSIBLE Mobile at SXSW in Austin, Texas. I was ecstatic to experience the interactive portion of SXSW, explore the city of Austin, and spend time with my colleagues from other POSSIBLE offices.
It’s almost impossible to narrow down my SXSW experience to five key takeaways, as I felt like I was constantly learning and experiencing new things, but here it goes!
1. It’s easy to get lost in the activation vortex
A “quick” walk down Rainey St. could leave you there for hours, where you’ll find everything from immersive experiences to pop-up houses. The Pinterest House at Container Bar was one of the happening spots and featured a Taste Tuner installation. Attendees were invited to swipe through their favorite kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, and yards on an interactive Pinterest board. The end result was a printed Pinterest Taste Graph. Was the reward worth the work? In my opinion, not really—but I still see this as a future-thinking concept that could populate in the home design industry.
Sony rented out a big warehouse to show off their coming-to-market ideas and called it the “WOW Studio.” Did they wow me? I’d say so. There was everything from A(i)R Hockey to VR soccer to one of my favorite installations, the Acoustic Vessel Odyssey. The Odyssey was a space where attendees were able to really consume sound and light all at once, with 576 speakers and a light show along thousands of horizontal wires surrounding the room. It was a really cool experience that I can see music venues adopting in the near future.
The activations that left a big mark on me were the ones that had everyone at the conference talking. I don’t watch Westworld and I didn’t spend one of my few days at SXSW waiting to attend this experience, but just from all the buzz that the event created, I’ve been thinking of giving this show a chance. HBO hit the nail on the head by engaging their audience outside of the TV screen with a smart brand activation at SXSW.
2. Thanks to apps, the way we’re consuming content is changing
There was word that Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of internet software and services, was going to discuss the PGA TOUR AR app (built by POSSIBLE Mobile) during his session so naturally, I got in line for this event an hour and a half before it started.
During the panel, Cue was asked whether Apple has plans to acquire bigger media companies like Netflix or Disney. He explained that Apple believes the way people are consuming content is shifting and apps are a big reason for that, especially when it comes to sports. “If you’re a huge sports fan, you don’t care what channel your team is on, you just care about the game. If you’re looking to watch the Duke game, then a push notification letting you know when it’s starting will be most valuable,” said Cue.
The conversation then switched to augmented reality and Apple’s ARKit framework. As an example, Cue discussed the PGA TOUR AR app which launched in the App Store shortly before the panel. Cue stated that AR will start becoming more of a mainstream product that users will engage with on a daily basis, but “…phones aren’t going away anytime soon.”
3. There’s something for everyone at SXSW
As a marketer, I attended several sessions that would be relevant to my role at POSSIBLE Mobile. General Assembly hosted sessions like Intro to Digital Marketing and Creating Your Social Media Strategy. My biggest takeaways from these were to look at the data. See what’s working, what’s not, and then figure out how to realign your strategy. There’re also many platform options out there, but they might not all make sense for your target audience. Figure out which ones make sense and stick to growing your business with those.
In addition to marketing sessions, SXSW also covered food and health, diversity and inclusion, technology, film, music, and so much more. Being a foodie on the side, I wish I had made it to Changing the World Through Food. There are also free workout sessions offered to get rid of the previous night’s extracurricular activities. Additionally, the conference caters to those from outside the US; the GermanHaus and the Australia House were two of my favorite spots to attend—both had great food and live music.
4. Planning out a schedule may not work, as much as you want it to
In my few weeks leading up to the conference, I spent a few hours trying to search through all the sessions and figure out which ones I wanted to attend. Not only was this an incredibly overwhelming task given the number of sessions that come out of SXSW, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. SXSW is over-stimulation everywhere, and there’s so much I wanted to take in. Plus, once I turned on Twitter notifications for SXSW official and unofficial events, my schedule got all out of line, in a good way.
While making it to three to four sessions a day, I also allowed myself time to explore the activations on Rainey Street, attend parties, hear music, eat tacos, try to like BBQ, and last but not least, talk to people.
5. If your brand hasn’t started thinking about AR and voice, you may want to start
Predictably, AR and Voice were everywhere at this year’s SXSW. One of the unique examples I saw of AR was the Bose activation. When most people think of augmented reality they think of a visual experience, but Bose decided to challenge this assumption. At their activation, they showcased their prototype for AR glasses which let users wearing the glasses look at something they’d like to hear more information about, like a restaurant’s hours or menu items. The glasses had speakers on the side with a voice that would relay this information to the wearer.
In terms of voice, Google showcased an array of Assistant Phone Booths where users could step inside and have conversations with the Google Assistant. I am not convinced this pop-up was the right application to showcase the assistant since it’s supposed to help with “at-home” tasks like cooking or checking the weather before you leave for the day. Although, Google also had a “Fun House” that fully functioned like a smarthome powered by voice which displayed the purpose of this tech more accurately.
Voice is coming, whether we want it or not. In the Touch, Voice, and Gesture: What’s Next? session, speakers from Samsung NEXT, Gracenote, Dashbot.io, and CNET claimed that “one in five adults use a smart speaker like the Echo, which is pretty amazing when you consider these devices aren’t that old yet.” The bar is high for consumers on what they expect out of these devices, it’s all about context and convenience and if you can’t offer that, a user will give up quickly.
This was my first year at SXSW, and hopefully not my last. This conference truly provides so many opportunities to network, learn, and see what’s coming in the future of tech. I left SXSW feeling inspired, exhausted, and curious about what’s next in our industry.