Key themes from SXSW 2017

AnalogFolk strategy partner Ben Hourahine
By AnalogFolk strategy partner Ben Hourahine | 14 March 2017
AnalogFolk strategy partner Ben Hourahine

The difference between SXSW and other industry events is the vision it can give us into the next 12 months - Cannes for example is more a celebration of the last 12. This year I’ve been here with the rest of the AnalogFolk global leadership team and wanted to share five key themes that have emerged. This list won’t represent everyone’s perspective and it isn’t exhaustive, but hopefully it will be useful to those of you who couldn’t make it over. They should provide some signals for what could shape 2017 for the creative, digital, media and marketing communities.

The Empathy Issue

Empathy is a huge theme here this year. America is in the middle of an empathy crisis and there are lots of arguments that technology is complicit in creating this distance. The call here is to build empathy back in and as social brand builders we should all take the time to explore how we can build more genuine connections and develop deeper human understanding. Everything suggests that empathy could be the most important topic of the year so far.

The Humanoid Dilemma

There is a whole swathe of new innovations being presented here, but the central question has frequently been the same. How do we bring human nature into the machine paradigm? VR & human behaviour, AI & human cognition, BOTS & human emotion - while the sessions go on and on - the integration of ‘HI’ (human intelligence) has been the central question in pretty much all of them. We absolutely have to develop more human like interactions in this space if we are to make them truly consumer friendly.

Big Enough to Care

Going direct to the consumer is nothing new for the start-up community but it has never been that straight forward for bigger household brands. With retailers squeezing prices and shelf space the demand for more personalised connection is only going to get stronger. The barrier has always been the platforms, logistics and scale required for direct selling and relationship building. 2017 could be the tipping point year, however, as more enablers (like Amazon) make direct personalised consumer sales feasible at scale - allowing brands to become part of the transformation rather than doing all the heavy lifting themselves.

Data-Set Earth 

How big does big data get? Satellites, ubiquitous GPS and wearable watches are now providing streams of data that can create complete global views for the first time. Data has already emerged as a new asset class over recent years in most corporations, but we have only just scratched the surface of its seismic potential to study, shape and even change the planet we live on. The next phase is about overlaying social insight into these models with a goal to influence global change. It is a very exciting data development area so…watch this space…from space I guess.

The Age of Diversity

Diversity is not just on the agenda this year, it is arguably the agenda at SXSW. Some of the best sessions this year have been on what we can actually do to fix the diversity problem across industries, as opposed to just ruminating on the problems. From fixing the leadership pathways for women, to liberating third world entrepreneurs to compete on a level playing field with western start-ups, the theme is one of effective action. Mentorship, flexibility and financial support to mend ‘broken pipelines’ is at the forefront of the proposed solutions and it is something we should all be getting behind. More than that - the call is pretty simple - it is time for everyone to act.

By AnalogFolk strategy partner Ben Hourahine

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