SXSW 2017 Takeaways

South by Southwest Interactive festival director Hugh Forrest opened SXSW 2017 by stating, “SXSW is the intersection of art, technology, inspiration and surprise.” This year was no exception, with Innovation focusing on forming a bond between technology and human behavior. Below, we discuss some key takeaways:

First, the obvious: Virtual reality was everywhere

From astronaut Buzz Aldrin presenting his vision of humans going to Mars to walking to your slaughter as a pig to shopping for luxury goods in the English countryside, which was debuted as a soft launch (check back later for the big reveal), VR took center stage at this year’s festival, including an influx of marketing efforts by brands in the trade show, most notably Visit Philly’s recent interactive VR experience (full disclosure: created by YouVisit).

Bridget Burns, in her talk “Ending the Hunger Games of Higher Ed,” said that “the product was not the innovation.” Instead, the innovation is what we choose to do with it–how we utilize tech, how we share stories, and how we form the bond between technology and human behavior to form communities

With more brands entering the fray, VR is moving toward a more robust existence outside of gaming. Flying in VR is awesome, but will it stick with every demographic for an extended period of time? Will it deliver ROI? Will it gather the data to prove it? Most VR panels set AR and VR up to be the next big thing. Newsflash: if you think VR still has a few years to “take off,” outside of games, you’re checking out the wrong VR.

sxsw tweet1Above: “Ending the Hunger Games of Higher Ed”

Like the Tin Man, tech needs a heart to succeed

Technology can no longer sustain on smarts alone; the average consumer now has a yearning for it to possess a heart as well.

ssxsw four walls presentationAbove: “Four Walls: Using VR to Drive Social Action”

YouVisit’s panel with the International Rescue Committee, “Four Walls: Using VR to Drive Social Action,” focused on the importance of a story and a purpose (bonus: it also covered tangible results, such as conversions and social reach).

Gordon Meyer, YouVisit’s director of marketing, kicked off the panel by asking who had recently marched. With nearly 95 percent of audience hands in the air, the message was clear: people are in search for meaning, not just convenience. It’s not enough to have a great product if the brand doesn’t stand for something bigger than itself. Consumers want to know that the brands they patronize are doing something to make the world a better place to live–or at least aren’t making it worse.

sxsw tweetAbove: An enthusiastic tweet from entertainer and VR enthusiast Taryn Southern

Storytelling is still marketing’s strongest tool

Famed musician Donny Osmond, in his Interactive panel, said storytelling is a 15,000 year marketing strategy that still works. While the medium has obviously changed, having a story to tell and communicating it in a compelling way are still the most important pieces. Without a powerful narrative cultivated for the medium, it won’t matter much if the audience is captive in a headset, in the case of VR. They’ll get bored as soon as the novelty wears off and move on.

sxsw carrie hunter tweetAbove: This Is Your Brain On Story: Neuroscience+The Moth

Our appetites grew to the size of Texas

sxsw recap beersxsw recap tacosAbove: tacos galore at El Chilito; two Yellow Rose pints from Lone Pint to end a full day of panels.

Austin serves up some of the best food. Breakfast tacos, BBQ platters, micheladas and more … our stomachs didn’t see one vegetable that wasn’t sitting next to a gooey bowl of queso. Next year’s SXSW resolution: break out of the tried and true Tex-Mex mold and try out Austin’s be-seen spot Justine’s, along with East Side King’s at Liberty Bar.

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