Statesman Media advertising colleagues enjoyed a panel discussion about Austin’s infamous annual event, SXSW. Moderated by Patrick Acton, digital sales director, panelists Kaolhi Ly, Kim Harrington, Jihan Kuri, Austin Chilton, and Avi Schaeffer shared what they learned during the week-long sessions and festivals.
Patrick: SXSW is a whirlwind. Where did you focus your efforts and which event, if any, inspired you the most?
Avi: Everyone approaches SXSW differently. I mostly attended panels and sessions on branding, However, I think we’re all there to move the needle forward. I got the vibe, immediately, that some of the smartest people in world are there. They’re all so forward thinking. The main theme this year for me was ‘authenticity,’ and re-positioning a brand’s consumers as communities.
Kim: I averaged about five panel discussions a day, so around 20-25 total. I attended a panel titled, “Purpose-Driven Brand by Design,” where Always discussed their “Think Like a Girl Campaign,” which in part gave people the chance to do just that but also sent the message that brands have to move beyond just being companies to being responsible in some ways to provide emotional support. In addition to the big keynotes speeches, which were incredible, I also found that SXSW has a strong second tier of networking opportunities.
Jihan: I attended a session that involved “This American Life” podcast, which talked about how to interview people to get better stories. We can all use stories to sell products. In fact, good stories can boost sales up to 20 percent. I also attended a session called, “The Science of Perfect Timing,” which taught us that our mood changes throughout the day and how we can optimize our days around these mood changes.
Austin: I think I spent half my time in lines. I attended the Bernie Sanders panel, which was interesting. Before Bernie, a woman from France talked about “Techfugees,” and how everything is going mobile and that we’re all connected. VR was also a big part of SXSW, but overall it really highlighted the need for continued collaboration. Social, SEM and Studio need to work together to make things like experiential work.
Kaolhi: I attended some great panels. Many of them concerned the digital space and where it’s going and how to build content around it. There was also an interesting panel that had brands freaking out about how the U.S. men’s soccer team not qualifying for the World Cup affects ratings and, ultimately, the effectiveness of advertising during it.
Patrick: Any takeaways during SXSW for the Austin American-Statesman and the news industry in general?
Austin: The Bernie Sanders panel addressed “Fake news.” Sanders respects the media. He didn’t want to talk about buzz words or fake news but about what people really want to hear.
Avi: Journalism needs to be real and seen as a viable source of information. For us, aligning with that is important.
Kaolhi: There was a lot being said about supporting local newspapers.
Patrick: Business is only half of SXSW. What’s the most fun you had at this year’s SXSW?
Austin: Kaolhi created a spreadsheet listing all of the free parties. I think she even had bathroom breaks scheduled out.
Kim: “Westworld” overshadowed everything. It was weird but very well executed. You applied online and during checkout they asked a bunch of strange questions, like, “Do you believe in destiny?” and “Can you swim?” We found out later that the questions we’re meant to identify if you were a bad guy or a good guy. When you arrived, you had a white cowboy hat or a black one. I think I was the only one here with a white hat. At the experience, they had a very “meta” gun fight, where at the end people in hazmat-like suits came out and carried the dead away. It really made you think about your reaction to it all.
Austin: Westworld was my second favorite event. I’m a huge Spielberg fan, so getting to see the premiere of “Ready Player One” was amazing, even after the three-and-a-half hour wait to get in. While we were waiting in line, hired actors interacted with the crowd.
Jihan: Older people still want to have fun. How do we make things fun that aren’t necessarily seen as fun, such as driving the speed limit or picking up trash? It’s all about putting the consumer in the center of fun, memorable experiences and telling a story.
Avi: I was at an experiential marketing panel where they talked about the missing piece to experiential being ROI. There are five keys to making experiential work, which I can share later, but one of them was determining what the client wants from the experience. Westworld was a great experiential event, but what it came down to was a post-event email sent asking you to sign up for HBO. That’s what it was all about.
Patrick: Any business predictions from SXSW?
Avi: The word “Advertisting” is kryptonite. We need to replace it with “Branding,” which is simply the way a consumer sees your company. Also, demographic data is old; behavioral data is where it’s at. People are so transient nowadays and 60-year-old women are acting like 30-year-old women. Focusing on behaviors, and not necessarily where they live, seems to make sense.
Jihan: We need to continue to target specific groups of people, define our mission, and most importantly, stand for something.
Austin: Again, collaboration is key. We need to cross-pollinate teams to create ideas that bring people together.
Patrick: Many startups launched at SXSW, including Twitter and Four Square. Did you see any new products or companies launch at SXSW this year?
Kim: Sushi teleportation! A company called “Open Meals” uses robots to re-create 8-bit sushi from scanning the work done by a sushi chef.
Jihan: “CherryPicks” is a Rotten Tomatoes version that features women-only movie reviews.
Austin: “Dinder,” which is the dinner version of Tinder. It’s basically a local restaurant app that matches singles who have the same interests in food.
Patrick: I heard about Wisconsin Cheese’s “World’s Largest Cheese Board.” Did any of you experience that?
Kaolhi: Lindsay (Omaits) and I went.
Kim: Their giveaway was tiny little backpacks with an opening in the front for ice and an opening in the back with a wedge of cheese.
Patrick: Any parting thoughts?
Jihan: Brands today need to be asking not just, “Can we do that?” but “Should we do that?”
Austin: Collaboration and Dinder. That was SXSW.
NOTE: Photo above (from left to right): Statesman Media employees Kaolhi Ly, Kim Harrington, Jihan Kuri, Austin Chilton, and Avi Schaeffer. (Not pictured, Lindsay Omaits, Patrick Acton.)