Our Top 10: Day 3 at SXSW

March 11, 2018


Day 3 of SXSW is in the books and we’ve been connecting the dots between sessions. Yesterday we touched on the influence of tech leaders and disrupters over brands at this year’s festival. Today, we have more on the soft side of things. The intangibles.

“Culture” has been thrown around in a lot of different contexts this year. We heard that employees are more satisfied at companies that foster a culture of transparency and openness. Cultural and political polarization in the U.S. is a driving factor in the fake news phenomenon. Millennials, Gen Z, and technology have democratized the very definition of culture. A diverse culture (of equality) is one to be celebrated. And the list goes on.

So check below for more on culture and the other things that caught our attention today.

Branding = Entertaining

It’s a cluttered time for brands, both at SXSW and in attempting to penetrate consumers’ daily lives. The way to break through? To entertain. It’s the only way to hold our audience’s attention, and they’re demanding it. Brands are even creating their own documentaries and films. Countless panels devoted to teaching marketers how to develop entertaining content echo this. Nowadays, if you’re a brand, you’re also an entertainment company. And the way to entertain people is to start the brief with what the audience wants to see, not with your product.

The Message is Changing

If we’re truly aiming to entertain, it’s the audience and the story that we need to focus on to create compelling content. Get inspired by the brand message we want to convey, but focus on the storytelling and what we want our consumers to feel. What does this mean? You might not get that brand slogan or full cast of key messages into your content. And that’s okay.

What is Normal, Anyways? 

A quote that stuck with us came from Lena Dunham: “We’ve got to stop portraying that normal.com exists, because it doesn’t.” Her empowering session on Authenticity and the Media hammered home that we need to provide platforms that allow women to tell their stories. Too many times do we see portrayals or experiences of women based on what society has said that role should be vs. what it actually entails. A big reason she created the HBO series Girls was because she was “sold a bill of goods on sexuality” that was nothing like what she was seeing or experiencing in her own life. It’s a sentiment that expands beyond women, too. As publishers, we need to continue to diversify the stories we tell.

Defining Culture

Culture is no longer about high versus low, or culture versus entertainment; its about relevance or irrelevance.  Culture is really anything that transforms perspectives, builds community, educates the public or fosters empathy. And speaking of empathy…

Our Empathetic Future 

We already touched on ethics and morals in AI, but the concept of empathy found its way into discussions across panels and topics. What do empathetic AR/VR experiences look like? How will AI and “the machines” understand and act with empathy? Consumers look to culture to foster empathy by bringing people of many different interests and backgrounds together. We all have so much going on; the weight of the daily grind and our uncertain world can be a lot. Look for “empathy” to be a big part of the conversation moving forward.

The #girlboss Vibes Are Real

On the heels of International Women’s Day and a year of progress, this SXSW is charged with a notion of female-empowerment. From panels specifically designed to cover the topic as it relates to film, sports and more, to strong female figures leading major keynotes. Facebook IQ experts even confirmed that last year’s most talked-about topic in status updates from around the world was #IWD. The red thread throughout is that we need to have these conversations so we can stop having these conversations. A hope reiterated across several sessions is that at some point soon, these female-focused panels won’t be necessary.

Gen Z is Totally ‘LIT’

Or was it ‘FIRE’? Or are we totally ‘SHOOK’? Too many abbreviations to keep track of but one thing we know for sure is that Gen Z wants what they want, when they want it (aka immediately and as free as possible). They are a major decision maker on purchases without the ability to actually purchase. So how do you reach them? On mobile. By tapping into their psychological drivers. And making cool content.

The Channels Are Changing

Social networks like Instagram and Twitter were once the hot topic of SX, and don’t get us wrong, social still very much is. But the channel taking over SX? Podcasts. The aesthetics of podcasts match the aesthetics of the Internet and social media today – chatty, jokey, capable of feeling and snarkiness – bringing real people together to talk about themselves. Brands are advertising on podcasts, pitching executives to speak on podcasts, and even creating their own podcasts. We’ve known podcasting was meant to make a splash up for a while, but this SXSW (and the line for the Ira Glass panel) proved it’s a channel that’s not just having a moment — it’s now outgrown the scale of television.

Brand Love

Cult brands like SoulCycle, Milk Bar and Madewell say partnering with other brands is not selling out, it’s just a different way to reach a new audience. You have to find those moments that consumers don’t naturally think about wanting the product and show them that they do. For example, Milk Bar partnered with SoulCycle and collaborated to create “SoulFuel”, a protein packed power cookie showing the cycling community that in fact, cookies can mix with fitness. But what’s the fundamental key to the right partnership? Like minded companies. Both companies have to have the same core values for it to be successful. This is not a sponsorship or a pure revenue generator, it’s two brands coming together in something they both believe in.

The Loyalty Revolution 

For decades, brands built loyalty programs on perks and access, but as culture changes, new drivers of loyalty are emerging. According to a new Culture Track study, the most common reasons audiences said they would be motivated to join a loyalty program had nothing to do with discounts, perks or convenience; it was trust, quality and customer service.