SXSW 2015: What's hot and what's around the corner

James Keeler, The White Agency
By James Keeler, The White Agency | 24 March 2015

It's been an amazing experience at SXSW, and for me the best work conference I've ever attended. So many good sessions… so many great speakers… so many inspiring people.
It’s hard to know where to begin as my head is still spinning but here are some of my key takeaways, which I’ve split-up as follows:
- What everyone should be doing now
- What is just around the corner
- What surprised me most, and
- My favourite sessions

What's hot right now?

It's all about customer experience - The businesses that are really succeeding in digital are the ones that have used digital technology to improve consumer experiences. They have not come at it from the point of view of 'what can the technology do for us?', but rather 'what are the consumer pain points, and how can we create a better experience for them?' The technology is the enabler rather than the driver. They focus on the consumer and create products and services that will make the experience better and more convenient for them.

Data as a feeder for customer experience - I was amazed by how well such a wide range of companies are using data as a real driver for their business. Data is driving experience creation, product development, personalisation, and continual optimisation of experiences. Early start-ups have teams of 20 data scientists, and the chief analytics/data officer is a rapidly growing role. While we do use data in Australia, I think the majority of companies are well behind the US.

Mobile and video - These both continue to grow exponentially. Peter Cashmore from Mashable said 'In three to five years the majority of media organisations will produce the majority of their content using video, because it's so easy to consume on a mobile'. Almost everything produced in digital should be from a mobile first perspective, and with video as a major consideration.

Always on content - This can't all be planned. Planning is definitely important but context is vital, so you need to be able to react in the moment. Interaction is vital for engagement and this can't be planned. The social media manager/community manager must be trusted to produce content on behalf of the company without the need for approval of posts. It is a more senior role than most organisations currently believe, and plays a huge role in the delivery of your brand.

Learn from China - There is another whole digital ecosystem operating out of China, with some commonalities but some major differences. Things the west can learn from China include: a mobile first mentality; voice controlled apps/sites; integrated payments; same day delivery for ecommerce with exact tracking of delivery; vertically integrated and diversified apps; mobile micropayments accessible to people without credit cards.

Storytelling - There should be two types of stories: those that let the medium drive how the story is told (e.g. a news article should be different if delivered on a website vs. Twitter vs. Snapchat); and those that let the story determine the medium (e.g. a story of a person, a place or even a new product). The best stories engage the reader/viewer using emotion, and should involve meaningful interactions - meaning the reader/viewer needs to be able to easily see the impact of their interaction.

What's coming next?

Virtual reality (VR) - VR is coming fast and has made huge progress in the last three months. Mass adoption is still a while off yet, but now is the time to start learning the technology and use it to create experiences designed for virtual reality. It will have major impacts on sports, concerts and education.

Wearables and the internet of things - It's not about new tech, it's about what you do with it. Wearables and interactive things (the internet of things) will take off in some form, but not until there are useful apps/services to support them. People won't engage consistently until there are useful uses for them.

Storytelling in a connected world - In a connected world, any location becomes a theme park. Everyday objects can be used to create interactive stories by acting as a trigger for the next part of the story. Stories will be personalised and customised to the participant. 3D printers will enable you to create your own characters who can be a part of the story.

I was surprised by

Lack of financial services - In many ways financial services organisations were the early leaders in digital technology, and I hoped to learn more about the latest developments, however they were almost entirely absent from SXSW.

My personal favourites

Most exciting session: Storytelling on the New Screens
Most inspiring session: VR Building Healthier Social Brains
Most eye-opening session: China and the World’s Two Internets
Funniest session: Charles Barkley on ‘How to Remain Relevant in the Digital Age’

James Keeler

Strategy director

The White Agency

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