Every year, SXSW turns Austin, Texas into a hub of new thinking, featuring the latest emerging technologies and discussions of the shifts in media and marketing, as well as audience engagement strategies designed to propel a multitude of brands. This year, SXSW has so far followed in these same footsteps, but has also taken some very welcome steps off the beaten path.
Three major themes stood out for me at this year’s #SXSW: the extreme value of experiential marketing; deeper, more candid discussions about of diversity and inclusion in marketing and media; and the push to recruit and hire creative and technically adept talent.
User Experience times 10 (UXx10)
As a branding and marketing professional, experiential marketing has always been my go-to strategy for bolstering audience engagement. This year at SXSW, there was a more in-depth analysis of experiential marketing activations and their significance in digital and multimedia marketing.
Using the Westworld activation as an example, HBO created an immersive experience where visitors became a part of the “real life” of Sweetwater, the fictional town that serves as the main location for the HBO show. What’s mind-blowing about this activation is that, from the moment of reserving your stay at the Westworld-themed park to gaining access to Sweetwater, every visitor becomes a part of the brand. They interact with the set, characters, stunts, food, clothing and more. The Westworld brand literally comes to life and creates a user experience unparalleled by any brand activation I’ve heard of.
Learning about the type of in-depth innovation necessary to pull off an experiential marketing strategy such as this one not only served as motivation to push the experiential envelope, it’s setting new standards for what experiential marketing can and should look like.
A Seat at the Table
It’s more than obvious that the media and marketing industries have been missing out on the untapped power of multicultural audiences. And just in case there was some doubt about the influence of Blacks in media, tech and marketing, SXSW shined its light on this demographic. Panels with seats held by HBCU@SXSW, Black Girls Code, and Geeks Of Color addressed the value in securing Blacks a seat at the table when developing their marketing mix.
Conversations were forthright, optimistic and urgent—calling out the media industry to make swift and intentional changes to their organizational hiring, casting, advertising storylines, characters and engagement. SXSW presented an alternative perspective this year by going beyond showcasing diverse music entertainers for their performances and spotlighting high-yield melanated keynote speakers. This year, they had the conversation that needs to be had bringing together diverse audiences, influencers and major brands.
SXSW attracts tons of talent to Austin during it’s 10-day run. This year, SXSW included programs on hiring “unicorns”—the creative and technical people who can also innovate, perform and inspire within an organization. The fast-paced media and marketing world is always looking for the “next big thing.” Unfortunately, big promise doesn’t always yield big results. With that in mind, recruiting and hiring unicorns could be a company’s best bet to stay ahead of the curve while keeping up with the trends and building upon pragmatic know-how. Panelists and attendees discussed uncommon approaches to finding the right people — those capable of not only shifting the output of their organizations but shifting the entire industry
SXSW is a convergence point for revolutionary thinkers, brands and talent. There is no “usual,” and that’s what makes the conference a standout. This year’s agenda spoke to the interactive, media and music programming that we’ve come to expect from SXSW, while also giving a platform to those looking to shift the media and marketing paradigms and move the whole industry forward.
Aniesia Williams, director of content at Barkley in Kansas City, MO