In Market

5 Marketing Takeaways from SXSW

by Patrick Weir

March 21, 2017

Get your business poised for success with the top marketing trends to come out of the famous interactive conference


Once again tens of thousands of brands, agencies, vendors and groups vying to be the next big tech start-up descended on Austin, Texas for the 2017 SXSW Interactive Festival last week.


Here’s a quick recap of a few of the highlights.


It was a year with an even broader diversity of communication tracks including topics in Marketing, Government, Health, Workplace, Intelligent Future and Social Impact, to name a few. There were some common trends that stood out across all of them, including diversity, empathy, authenticity and transparency. Interestingly enough, these are all global threads at this time.


While there were a lot of cool inspirational speakers at SXSW that push one’s creativity to the max, I will try and stick to a few marketing-based insights and examples:




Brands need to maintain their identities as they continue to embrace more real-time social media channels. Marketing happens in real time now due to the ubiquity of both digital devices and impactful social media offerings such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook Live. Live events offer brands the opportunity to connect with consumers while generating a positive return on investment. Still, brands must remain true to their core identity while showing transparency and authenticity. It was interesting to see how @pterrys Burger Stand deals with customer service in real time via text. Every incoming customer text is responded to and shared among the staff in real time. If your fries are cold, they know it and fix the problem—then tell you directly their action. That’s real-time customer service.





Wearables have been, and continued to be, a hot topic at SXSW, but this year it felt that Fashion Tech was taking off with a lot of the players in town, including big hitters like Giorgio Armani with its "Films of City Frames" experience. Levi’s also had a "Custom Shop" activation showing off their latest smart Commuter Jacket that was created in partnership with Google. The jacket comes to life through conductive fabric and a Bluetooth device that attaches to the garment and connects with your smartphone. This technology in turn would allow users to control things like music by just swiping their jacket sleeve. Look for it to hit stores in the fall. This will be a fun playground for a lot of brands in the near future.




Last year at SXSW we heard a lot about VR and how VR was going to be everywhere by the end of 2016. Well, some platforms like XBOX are still yet to release systems with VR. The virtual reality offering is already starting to evolve as it continues to gain momentum. This year, VR broke another dimension; it brought the physical aspect into play with installations like Marvel’s Spiderman rock-climbing wall and a Zero Gravity VR Experience for the new movie The Mummy, to name a few among a sea of them. Marketers need to embrace unique offline experiences just as much as online experiences to bring out-of-the-box thinking to the table. It’s these kinds of experiences that get shared and spread brand awareness.





Loyalty is highly correlated with the sense of community that brands build around themselves, so creating that sense both online and offline has become a priority to gain and retain customers. Brands like Under Armour shared how they brought this concept to life by doing things like helping get snow cleared from the sidewalks in Chicago so runners in the city could run safely in bad weather. The effort sent a targeted message to the brand’s customers that Under Armour continues to be an active contributor to their community.




There were a lot of sessions and talks about the hottest current buzzword, "content." How to to create it efficiently…how to optimize it? You name it, someone had an insight. At the end of the day, in an effort to maximize engagement, it is important to customize content for each different social media channel, as opposed to blasting the same piece of marketing material to every social media outlet. Remember that videos are not the future. They are the now. Also, a side note—live-streaming has come to emerge as a new form of video that holds significant potential.




A lot of consumers watch a lot of odd things, so don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something as long as it fits with your brand’s character and strategy. Did you know that 160K+ people follow an Instagrammer that just puts their face in a piece of bread each day? Now I do, too. That’s SXSW for ya.


Patrick Weir (@iampatrickweir) is the SVP creative and innovation for FUSE Marketing Group (@fusemg), a Toronto-based communications agency.


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