SXSW 2017: A Roller Coaster You Don't Want To Get Off

SXSW Austin Convention Centre

So what does SXSW 2017, a 10 day conference embracing the best of interactive, film and music have to do with a roller coaster? Well quite a lot in fact! There was the anticipation of the event, just like the lift hill at the start of every roller coaster. Then just like a roller coaster throws you around at its mercy, SXSW has you darting between hotels and panels trying to catch the 30-50 different sessions on at any given time. And when the ride that is your day comes to an end at first you feel a little uneasy from all the adrenaline, however within seconds you want to relive it all again which is why for me, SXSW 2017 is exactly like a roller coaster you never want to get off. But what exactly is SXSW? And why do I feel like it is a must attend event for anyone serious about all things interactive? Let me break it down for you...

1: Sessions, Panels, Presentations, Talks...

Call them what you want, but SXSW is full of them. So full in fact that on numerous occasions there will be more than one thing you want to see, which makes proper planning crucial to get the most out of the experience. A great thing about the speakers at SXSW is that they come from some of the biggest companies in the world. Who better to talk about augmented reality than the CEO of Niantic, creators of Pokemon Go? Or when it comes to the hottest trends on Instagram, like the soon to be released shopping functionality, hearing from Instagram themself gives you an all too rare insight for Australian's who rarely have speakers of this calibre on our shore.

Instagram Shopping Ads

Another great thing about SXSW is that all presentations have time for questions, which allows you to ask these massive brands specific questions to dig deeper into their thinking and apply it to your own business.

While I'll be writing more in depth blogs on the hottest trends to watch out for in 2017, when it comes to digital marketing, the topics you need to be across are: the rise of messaging apps, AI and how it will effect search and marketing, as well as the impact of voice and personal assistants on our lives, and also on search engine marketing (SEM) and optimisation (SEO).

2: Brand Houses

If 30-50 different sessions every hour from 10am-5pm aren't enough for you, there are always the "brand houses" to check out. Some of the most well known technology brands in the world such as Sony, Intel, IBM and Panasonic to name a few have taken over parking lots and built temporary structures to house their demos. That alone should give you an idea of the magnitude of SXSW... brands literally take over empty spaces and build an entire house just for a few days. In fact we saw one building, that was initially white, suddenly get painted red within a day and a YouTube sign put on top!

If that isn't crazy enough the content inside these houses is amazing. The Sony house in particular was showcasing the latest virtual reality technology including their Rez Infinite Synesthesia Suit for gamers allowing them to feel every piece of the action creating a truly immersive experience.

Sony Rev Infinite Synesthesia Suit at SXSW

The great thing about these houses is they allow you to try the technology for yourself which gives you a greater understanding of the content you are learning from the sessions throughout the day. In the IBM house we were introduced to Watson, a cognitive system enabling a new partnership between people and computers, who will be making an appearance in the new Klyp Brisbane office in the not too distant future.

Speaking of AI where in the world can you see two robots argue about who is a better singer: Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga? At SXSW 2017 of course...

AI Discussion Between Robots at SXSW

According to the robots, who were having a totally unscripted discussion, Taylor Swift is a better song writer as she "has more songs accredited to her as a writer" and Lady Gaga is a better singer. The more you know....

3: Trade Show

So when you're not in sessions listening to the likes of Mark Cuban (yes, we were lucky enough to see the multi billionaire share his thoughts on digital disruption), or in the brand houses interacting with some of the coolest technology in 2017, there is a massive trade show going on with a number of providers showcasing their products and services. With over 250 providers taking up the entire Austin Convention Centre you might be starting to realise now that SXSW, like a roller coaster, isn't for the faint hearted.

Like with the brand houses, the SXSW trade show allows you to get hands on and try some of the most amazing innovations in technology. From a marketing perspective I was really intrigued by two products in particular: a digital billboard that could track and follow users looking at it and a similar product that using facial recognition could analyse the demographics of a crowd and show relevant ads based on the audience.

Digital Billboards at SXSW

This level of personalisation is what traditional billboards are missing and could help boost retail sales. Still on the marketing front I loved what Sprinklr are doing with data analytics to encourage companies to look at their data more by presenting it in a more engaging fashion.

4: "Cool sh17"

Did you know there is an car capable of 0-124mph (200kmh) in 7 seconds? Did you know that same car is electric? Assuming you knew those things then you also know that it's a sexy looking piece of machinery that any car enthusiast would want in their garage.

World's Fastest Electric Car at SXSW

See, I didn't know anything about this car, however I was lucky enough to walk past an inconspicuous white building, the one that ended up getting painted red for YouTube a few days later, only to have someone say, "free beer and car showcase." This was early in my SXSW adventure so hadn't learnt to expect the unexpected so on the promise of free beer I decided to check it out. Sure enough there was free beer however there was also the amazing vehicle pictured above.

SXSW really is like a roller coaster, as who knows what surprise will be around the next bend, like this artist painting in virtual reality at the Google house.

VR Painting at SXSW

At first I thought she was playing a game, however quickly realised that she was in fact creating a masterpiece in an entirely virtual world. She was in her painting, a part of it, making it come to life. This really shifted my perspective on the scope of VR from more than just a tool to consume, to one of freedom and creation too.

5: Freebies EVERYWHERE.

With ~150k paid attendees at SXSW and another ~150k "free loaders" coming to Austin each year to take part in this amazing experience, brands are VERY keen to get a piece of that exposure. For companies like Monster Energy Drinks which I had never tried before experiencing SXSW, product is cheap. REALLY cheap! And what better way to get me to try their product than to give me a can or two or ten for free? This seems to be the mantra for a number of companies like M&M, Snickers and Twix that were more than happy to give you samples to get you through the long and tiring days.

While free food and drink was abundant, Mazda took it to the next level. Uber is huge in the US, however in Austin it is banned due to some legislative issues. So what did Mazda do? Setup their own ride sharing service of course. Offering free rides to attendees who registered with them ticks sooo many boxes from a marketing level and bridges a gap that is usually difficult for luxury purchases like this, getting the customer to actually get off their couch/computer and experience it.

SXSW Freebies

As you can see it wasn't just food companies and Mazda offering freebies. In fact I almost needed a second case just to cart my new sunnies, tote bags, t-shirts and other random nick nacks home. Fortunately I was able to apply years of Tetris training from my childhood to the small case I had, squeezing everything in and returning to the office bearing "gifts" for everyone.

You know what the craziest thing about my SXSW trip was? I didn't even get to experience the film and music tracks, as I was so focused on the interactive component. I'm not worried but, as I'll definitely be returning next year given just how inspirational the week was and how much value it gave me that I can apply to my own life, but also incorporate into the campaigns we bring to life at Klyp. If you'd like to learn more about my experience at SXSW, or just fancy a beer sometime, feel free to email me.

Liam Crowe Liam Crowe

About the author:
Liam is the Marketing Lead at Klyp and has over eight years experience working both client and agency side, giving him a great understanding of the challenges faced by both parties. Follow his updates on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn