Three Trends Marketers Should Glean from SXSW Interactive

Everyone comes to SXSW with an agenda. Newbies typically come for the content—namely the panels and keynotes. Veterans come to network at parties. In my case, I’m a marketing geek who knows her limitations for small talk so I attend both. It’s a stimulating mix that helps me see what’s coming.

Here are three things I saw at SXSW 2011 that will affect the future for marketers:

1. Will it be story or code? Agencies will either compete with software or storytelling.

Listening to bloggers Simon Salt and Joe Jaffe at Liz Strauss’ intimate SOBCon party I glimpsed the future of agencies. Marketing service agencies must clarify their value propositions: either be stellar at the technology or great at the human stuff. Joe and Simon are biz-tech bloggers who have pioneered the social media landscape. Each is a good storyteller. And as many sources would confirm throughout SXSW—good storytelling still wins.

Just down the street, was the Crowdtap party—a very different animal. Hosted by digital agency Mr Youth, it was a raucous pleasure bash replete with DJ, gushing chocolate fountain and 2,000+ guest list.

Crowdtap is a crowdsourcing platform for brands. MENG member Laura Levitan is Chief Evangelist at Mr Youth, which is the parent agency that built Crowdtap. By the look of things, it appears to be richly venture funded. It, along with P&G’s TREMOR and Unilever-backed BrainJuicer, points to a trend.

Big consumer conglomerates are building agencies with robust software platforms that will be profit centers, not cost centers, for the parent company. This topic was addressed head on during the panel titled, Do Agencies Need to Think Like Software Companies? Panelists included Allison Mooney (Google), Ben Malbon (Google), Matt Galligan (SimpleGEO), Rick Webb (Barbarian Group) and Rob Rasmussen (TribalDDB). The tension between technology and creative services is cresting. Simon Mainwaring’s advice is apt. Be very clear about what you are good at and compete there.

2. ROI Update—What to monetize and measure is coming clear.

Will we have to pay big bucks for high-speed Internet?

More rumblings about profitability of the Web shows us where the lines will be drawn between what stays free and what gets monetized. Comcast has its eye on Netflix—not to acquire it but to shut it down, says Senator Al Franken. His talk at SXSW urged geeks to rise up and, “Keep the Internet weird and free.”

Those words echoed in my ears as I took a spin on, a spanking new free publishing platform launched at SXSW. I was blown away as founder Mathieu Fivaz walked me through its many features. It has the power to turn bloggers and tweeters into multi-media producers with just a few clicks, but I couldn’t help wondering if it could survive in a pay-to-play Internet world.

Not Sure How to Measure Social Media? Look at Brand Health.

On the topic of social media metrics, few are better versed than Shiv Singh, head of Digital for PepsiCo. For Pepsi’s Refresh Everything Campaign, often described as the largest major cause-marketing campaign funded solely out of marketing dollars, measurement was a top priority. Not simply transactions, because those don’t reflect loyalty or good will, he explained. Instead, Pepsi tracked “brand health” with a metric system that accounts for how a brand is perceived socially.

To gauge “brand health” PepsiCo focused on four areas:

• better automated sentiment analysis
• manual analysis of conversations via sampling
• a sharper mechanism for applying influence weight-age
• a tighter formula to give additional weight-age to positive mentions

Want more detail? Visit Shiv’s blog for his recipe.

3. To be human is divine.

SXSW has a personality. It’s high-energy with an explosive imagination. The head rush it delivers springs from being among a tribe of people who thrive in the ethereal space of ideas. This is no small thing, and forms the connective tissue of the conference. For a few days a world pops up where everyone has an imagination and can appreciate the same in others.

I met a parade of mind-bending people at SXSW. How a person makes SXSW meaningful amidst the throngs of digerati is by making the human connection. It matters more than ever in the digital culture. And the most exciting new technologies I test-drove on the showroom floor amplify what is human to us all.

This article was also posted at MENG Online.