SXSW 2016: the full 9 yards.

Added 05.04.16

By Matt Butterworth, Director of Digital Strategy

Well well, another year and another SXSW. This year was the 25th anniversary of the event and it was opened by none other than Barack Obama.

There was plenty to talk about at the event and mixing with old colleagues & friends from as far away as Sydney and New York, kind of made me feel like I was at my own little digital Mecca, where everyone had shared values and interests. The sun was out in full force for the 5 days. I was there, and the spare ribs and pulled pork at the Iron works, (an old tinned house restaurant based on House of Cards’ famous Freddy Hayes) were a delight to behold.

In the town they call ‘the weird one’, Austin Texas hosted over 75,000 delegates from all over the world to discuss, share and explore how the future of technology and information is shaping the interactive, music and film industries. Like a tramp on a much needed bag of chips, I wasn’t going to miss out, and threw myself into the occasion like none before it.

In attending such a huge global technology and interactive event like this one, you can understandably become overawed by the vast number of speakers, group sessions, digital lounges, private parties, seminars, sponsored events and sessions that are taking place outside the various hotels and conference centre. Even McDonalds rocked up giving free beer, burgers and ice-cream in their futuristic VR lounge.

With this mass of digital and interactive technological buzz, it’s hard to know what’s best to see and what’s not. My strategy was simple: pick a goal for the week, write it down, visualise the goal and try and see it every day.

With that plan in mind, my very first session, ‘Invisible Influencer’, was presented by the author of ‘Contagious’, Jonah Berger.

In his session, Jonah talked about how as humans we have always used others as a signal of information, and that people want social proof and follow people without even knowing why, who or what they are trying to achieve. As a result, he suggested that people actually just love to join in to conform and that we use other people as a short-cut, because if someone else is more likely to take an action, then we are more likely to also take the same action.

He also discussed the fact that having too much choice can sometimes become a distraction, and that we often become dissatisfied with our choices, purely because there is so much choice available. We compare and see our lives as being worse, which inevitably leads to a fear of missing out, thus causing further anxiety.

Jonah suggests that Facebook is also a culprit of this phenomenon and actually makes us sadder and less satisfied as human beings. When we take photos or selfies for social media posts, science has shown that we don’t enjoy the experience as much. Why?? Because we are attempting to create a persona that isn’t really valid or real. It’s how we want others to see us, but not who we really are. This, in turn, creates a natural tension and unease.

Today, we need to be more present and the more present we are the more engaged we become. And if you want to be liked, well that’s simple - be like a chameleon and constantly change and evolve. Great advice to buck the trend of just following the masses!

Next up was the very enigmatic and funny Brian Wong.

Looking like a 15 year old secondary school student (he’s actually 27, which is still depressing), Wong discussed ‘Connected moments and the future of marketing’. He moved to dispel the myth of rewards being based purely upon transactional methods, such as purchase.

Instead, he believes in a greater world of rewards. He suggested creating greater brand rewards at peak moments in the lifecycle of a customer journey is critical to success, as it leads to hyper-engagement. These rewards should be embedded into experiences that users are already having. He talked about making the reward serendipitous, and that all moments should be rewarded in between transactions.

His formula was simple
event + context = moment.

He suggested that it was time for marketers to create KPI’s around specific consumer moments, adding further value to consumer moments of expectation. He then went on to discuss specific moments of intent and attempted to dissect what intent actually means in the context of consumer marketing.

He identified 6 key challenges for the future of marketing and advertising:

Every screen will be seamless; Customer experience will become complex but brilliant and connected. China has already demonstrated how you can create a seamless interconnected experience. Users are now able, via their phone, to buy tickets to the cinema, watch the film, comment on it during the film and then listen to the soundtrack on the way home in the car, creating a truly connective experience.

With this in mind, he discussed that in time, brands should begin to create moments of pre-intent, using connected devices adding to greater brand experience moments. By knowing the proximity of the device, we can even help to change daily habits.

OralB has already developed a connected toothbrush which rewards you and sends messages every time you clean your teeth! It’s the real world vs the digital world, all linked inexplicably to value and reward exchange. Now, parents of teenagers who struggle to get their lazy kids to clean their teeth daily, have something to work towards.

Predictive productivity will soon be upon us. In 3 years, you will simply be able to put a Yorkshire pudding in the oven, go off to your local pub for a beer, and not worry that it will be burned because you wanted that extra half. Why?? Because the oven recognises via food recognition what’s in the tin, it knows how to cook it to perfection, and when it is cooked it turns the oven right down, so it doesn’t burn. How’s that for connected cooking!?

We have now evolved into a generation where instant gratification is a given. We have become the instant generation and “Amazons Echo” only exacerbates the current mire of technology that it is out our disposal.

So, how do marketers address this? Well, if you cannot create instant gratification, then at least acknowledge them in the moment, look for new bite size forms of content; and develop an on-going recipe bank. At the end of the day, we are providing a service to consumers, not just advertising, and part of that service is delivering value. Value is ultimately delivered through relevant, personalised content.

And if that wasn’t enough, don’t underestimate the power of hyper-adoption. By 2020, there will be over 1000 connected devices around us at any given time.

The question is, “What moment will you add value in?”

Spotty teenagers

The next stop was a fantastic presentation by the very youthful and techno geek Adam Tyler, CIO of CSID, a company that powers identity protection.

In his address #PriceofPII I was shocked to see the hacker’s perceptive myth brought to its very knees. They are not as some would believe, Einstein-like physicists, unique animals living in a human world where their intelligence is bordering on autistic.

They are our sons and daughters - normal comprehensive school kids living in middle class families, playing around on Google and living in a world that produces over 1000 million malware hacks a day.

How much for a free Uber account for the rest of your life?
How much for 15,000 Avios points (enough to get you a trip to Greece)?
Or, how about a university hospitality degree that would land you an automatic job in some of Switzerland’s best hotels?

Now here comes the shock…


5 years ago, the dark web was run by professional crime gangs, using software to commit internet fraud, which would cost them over $20,000. Today, tools are freely available within 2 clicks on Google. Kids as young as 13 can access them and have some real fun. The internet has given power and visibility to huge online tools that cause massive damage.

So what!!?
If it’s visible, why is it illegal? And that’s the mind-set of today’s young generation, with little repercussion and a lot of fun being involved, it’s a growing problem and not even Obama knows what to do about it!!

Tyler showed us, within 2 clicks on Google, how to get as much credit card data as you could shake a stick at. A search for ‘credit card cloning’ produced over 272,000 results.
DDOS (A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is an attempt to make an online service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources) attacks have jumped 150% in six months and sites like Microsoft, National Crime Agency and Talk Talk were taken down, sometimes wiping millions off the stock value of the corporations they affected.

And it’s getting more and more sophisticated. A certain fluffy boot manufacturer was taken down for 48hrs last Christmas. Behind it, were Chinese gangs working hard on their SEO optimisation, to ensure that when the site did go down, profitability for their own site soared. In 2 days, sales went up a massive 7000% for the Chinese imitations.

Interestingly, it doesn’t end there. Online fraud is becoming commercialised, with actual banner advertising on crime sites and forums. All you have to do is register false details, click on the terms and conditions (every crime site has them) and then off you go. And if that’s not enough, within 1 click, you can search for drugs, firearms, illegal bonds and gold, search by region, country, buy the hack and then off you go. It took 34 seconds for him to complete this task.

Finally, if you weren’t scared enough of staying off the internet for ever, there is RansomWare, a piece of software available for $12, which allows you to shut down users’ computers and, only when the ransom is paid, can you be back up and running. 20% of the ransom goes to the perpetrator who supplied the file and, wait for it, if you are not too sure that he is credible before handing over to you your well-earned legal tender, then check him out by looking at reviews, comments and star ratings to see if his code is legitimate and above board.

How do we stop all this? You don’t, but there are some practices we can put in place to ensure that the hackers don’t get us:

1. Keep your passwords up to date and change them. Never use the same one for different devices or apps
2. Always keep your updates updated. There is a reason there are updates. To maintain security and stop those spotty little misfits from getting in and charging you a huge ransom you really don’t need.

Onto more friendly talks, one of the key highlights of the week was a group discussion on Heads and Hearts (consumer engagement where it counts). These presenters comprised a style columnist who tracks micro and macro trends in real time, a neuroscientist who can trace a marketing message to the hormones and neurochemicals it triggers in a consumer, and the brand director charged with making Cadillac cool again.

James Thompson, the Neuro scientist, explained that by releasing oxytocin into the brain, it creates a greater trust and bonding through human interaction. Even just watching can give you this release. They discussed how demographic data has started to become too predictable for its purpose, and actually we need to move towards a mindset that challenges with obtainable succession concepts. If it’s not obtainable, then consumers switch off. Why? Nobody likes to lose.

He discussed how emotional and rationale attributes live together and one cannot work without the other. He explored the realization that brand loyalty is a myth and that actually, we naturally prefer to follow people, the social effect and sensibility of tribes influencing and believing drives us to like what we do and follow others.

So, he concludes, more than ever it’s about building relevance for consumers, and you know what? It doesn’t really matter how big the brand, you still need to make it work in a way that creates a relevant valuable experience with some kind of pay off. And this doesn’t mean just product, product, product. You cannot get into the brain by pure rational values, because whatever you’re offering doesn’t become believable. The corial vortex works in a way where it needs conflict. It’s what you expect vs what you actually get that starts to shape the challenge of preconceived experiences and gets us to believe in brands.

The panel discussed the need to prepare the brain for pre experiences, and gave the example of ‘Merci’, a fashion retail store, in which scientists tested new scenarios of experience.

When entering the store, consumers were given two choices: walk through a very cold but cool environment, where an old classic VW gun metal grey beetle was on show. The other choice was a warm environment, an old bookstore where you could browse and look at literature past and present. Once through, you then entered the store. As a result, consumers who went through the bookstore experience bought on average 70% more than those who went through the classic VW experience. The Pre experience methodology is here to stay!!!

It concluded that when brands bring you into an immersive experience by simply easing them through and creating a non-confrontational approach, then it works better for consumers. A pre release in the cognitive system before actually experiencing the brand experience is critical, and can help to rationalize purchase decisions. Simply put, we will always create social defense mechanisms to justify an existence or choice. So the more we can help break down this process, the more our consumers will be receptive.

I then went to see a talk from Dr. Katherine Moore, who focused on the ability to multitask when within an experience. She discussed the limits of attention and the role of technology, the main conclusions being around when multitasking, we can train our minds to do more. The problem is, when making subtle changes to the task in hand, our brains cannot cope. They call it ‘Inattentional blindness’. Human habit is so focused on the task, that we don’t actually see other things around us, and whilst visual searches can be dynamic, once you find what you are looking for, you are far less likely to look for a second item. A test was carried out with airport surveillance, where they were trained to look for bottles of liquid through security checks. So focused on the bottles, operators had a 100% success rate, but only a 25% success rate when a knife or gun was also in the same suitcase. The lesson here is, when creating consumer experiences, try to let them multitask as much as possible, without overwhelming them at the same time

‘Creating meaningful dialogue through video’ discussion gave some healthy tips in creating better content, the rules they gave were simple…

Know your audience and how they spend their time. Make them feel something. Start a conversation. Stop worrying about product placement. Create something unique. And finally, apply the same storytelling approach to a 15sec film that you would to a 30min documentary.

Simple, but very effective tips!!!

One of my favourite talks this year was by Lee Moreau, Roaslind Picard, David Rose and Michael Shore, the topic was ‘Parenting without Pixels’

There were many topics discussed, but it started with the quote ‘When you give technology to a child, only we [the adults] see the limitations’, which is Oh so true in this mad, digitally-consumed world in which we live. Tactile, sensory based play will always have its place. However, with children already technologically native, the technology should be used to greater assistance with imagination, expression and creativity. There are many emotional benefits that can assist in play. Technology is part of a child’s oxygen, so make a home which is more like a workshop. Link story-telling to the physical world and connected homes. Real world furniture was a hot topic, which is starting to help shape children’s lives with the likes of Google Earth coffee tables and interactive cabinets.

Personalisation again cropped up: creating greater motivations around ‘personalised experiences’, making data friendly to remove parent anxiety, for example early warning alerts, when children are showing signs of mood states and depression within social sharing behavior and texting, use technology that is sensitive but keeps parents in the know.

My final highlight was a discussion around ‘Scent as a post digital medium in storytelling’, a compelling and rich piece by KJ Baysa. In the discussion, he discussed that in all film, we rely on the eyes and the ears as senses. However, by adding scent, a heightened sense of experience is created. As an example, creating an odour of fire imparts a greater experience of pain. On the contrary, by counteracting those odour receptors with tranquil, water-based odours, anxiety can be reduced.

A film was launched this year, in which certain smells helped to reveal story plots and points using a very mechanized system. Characters could be identified by the smell of pipe tobacco, or a cab driver’s scent, smelling of coffee and brandy, suggesting that all is as it should be with the character in question. Whilst watching the film, viewers were presented with a scented microphone, where odours were pushed out during the screening to enhance the experience.

Studies and research is ongoing with a new technique in hospitals for burn patients. VR and odour techniques are being used together to help in the assistance of dead skin removal, by adding certain smells and calming VR experiences, patients can become desensitized during the procedure, helping to promote a better recovery.

The technology is fairly new, but the panel believes that, within 5-8 years, we will see scent and storytelling appear more and more in our world.

President Obama’s Q&A Friday with Texas Tribune editor, Evan Smith, was really a two-fer talk. Obama’s exhortation to SXSW techies to lend their talents to help make government great again, made sense and had people chuckling. But his explanation about how smartphone encryption shouldn’t be an “absolutist” wall against law enforcement - unlike, say, the Fifth Amendment - protected contents of your mind, enraged many of them.
VR this year was really still mostly hype at this point, but almost every company at SXSW wanted to show how they are an early adopter, especially in retail, automotive, and real estate.
I found that soon, a digital layer will surround us like the air that we breathe. VR is fun and addictive and it opens entirely new worlds for connection, discovery, and productivity. I learned that in three years, we will spend most of our day with a headset on, just like we use a laptop or smartphone today. This needs to be on your radar because this will fundamentally change marketing forever.

Samsung’s new VR technology and IBM’s Cognitive Lab, was something of amazing brilliance - VR so realistic and diverse, I actually felt like I was falling off a cliff when I jumped from the grand canyon to escape an alien that looked like a giant octopus the size of a skyscraper! Another was completely serene riding my bike through the Rockies with the sun shining down and the wind blowing through my hair. All the experiences were so real, and the technology, holograms and visual interface has come on so much in one year, it is certainly the future.

I watched as one woman had her go, and ended up falling over and bringing the equipment around her crashing down with her. She explained that she had never been so frightened in her life as she fell off that cliff!

Virtual Reality was ‘kind of a big deal’ in 2016, with numerous displays of new VR tech. For my part, I tried one Korean start-up’s VR headset and did not enjoy the experience at all. This technology runs small amounts of electric current into your head to simulate movement. It felt as bad as it sounds. I was immediately disoriented and remained so for over an hour before it wore off. I wanted to ask them what they were thinking, but was too sick to do so. It seems that VR is going to be big, but it may be overblown in both media coverage and investment right now.

In summary SXSW is expensive, very crowded, and overwhelming. However, it may also be the world’s greatest gathering of hope, and everybody should experience that at least once.



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