SXSW Interactive through the eyes of a Brand Marketer

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Ever since I worked for Aware Records during college, I have meant to make the pilgrimage to Austin, Texas for the annual South by Southwest Conference.  Ironically, I always thought it would be for SXSW Music but this year I found myself in Austin for SXSW Interactive instead.  It is a probably a sign of my inner geek, but I think I had a better time at SXSWi than I would have at SXSW Music.

You see, SXSW Interactive has grown up over the past few years.  Once a fringe part of SXSW Music, the Interactive portion of the conference has really come of its own lately.  Along the way, it has become the launching pad for some of today’s hottest start-ups including Twitter, Foursquare and countless others.

This growth hasn’t gone unnoticed by the branding and advertising world.  During my time in Austin, I had the pleasure to spend time with progressive colleagues at brands such as PepsiCo, General Mills, Coca-Cola and Nationwide….just to name a few.  But in the same token, I also had the chance to have some great conversations with both amazing entrepreneurs and wicked smart investors.

Takeaway #1 – Appreciate the value of diversity

And that is what I loved the most about SXSWi and why I came back claiming it was the best conference I have ever attended.  As David Armano wrote:

You go there because It’s still the only event where you’ll be able to connect with literally thousands of your peers in a location that’s just as wonderful and weird as our industry.

As a Brand Marketer, SXSWi was an amazing event because of the diversity.  Almost all of our industry events (ie Advertising Week in NYC) are really limited in attendees.  Mostly you just see agencies and brands, along with vendors trying to get business from both.  You rarely see a start-up, VC or an entrepreneur.  And the conversation is always muted since the presentations are following corporate message tracks and your competition is listening intently to every word you say.    SXSWi is the opposite and I had some amazing conversations and debates with some amazingly smart people.

Takeaway #2 – Take time to learn

On the note of conversations, SXSWi really reinforced the importance of taking time to learn.  The four days that I was in Austin flew by.  I had planned a few meetings in advance, but it seemed as if any free time I had was quickly filled once I got into town.  This cut down on the number of panels that I attended, but it didn’t cut down on the learning.  Each and every person I talked with had something remarkable to share.  My favorite question throughout the weekend became “what is catching your eye right now?”  That single question turned into some remarkable learning opportunities.  I also got a ton out of the panels that I did attend, especially the Future of Influence panel that I had the honor of taking part in on Saturday.  The intellect level of my fellow panelists was very humbling and my head was spinning with ideas for hours afterwards.  Special thanks to the team at ShareThis for inviting me to be involved.

Takeaway #3 – People don’t like when the band gets popular

As a final side note / rant, one thing that really made me laugh were the comments from “hipsters” such as Jolie O’Dell who wrote that “non-technical people aren’t here to learn [at SXSW]; they’re here for self-congratulation.”   I’ll resist the urge to comment on the absurdity of this and leave the response to @armano (yes my second time referencing him), who had this to say:

In other words, SXSW is the band that got popular. Now we are forced to see it in a Stadium. Like the Stones.

People always complain when the band “they discovered” hits the mainstream.  But great music is meant to be shared with as many people as possible.  The same goes for the experience that is South by Southwest.  I look forward to being back next year for sure.


  1. says

    "Each and every person I talked with had something remarkable to share. My favorite question throughout the weekend became “what is catching your eye right now?” "

    That right there is where the value lies. That one question boasts opportunity for young companies, great marketing stunts, and ideafreaking on what's happening NOW. Every person there was looking forward. A sea full of doers.

    All this talk about the letdown is shortsighted and potentially coming from people who aren't ready for what the interactive festival has become, as opposed to what it was.

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