SXSW 2019 Hiebing

Fresh From Austin: 8 Key Trends and Takeaways From SXSW 2019

Another year, another trip to our agency’s second city of Austin to hear the latest marketing trends and strategic thinking. Here are eight key trends and takeaways from 2019 SXSW: 

Transparency at the heart. Whether the challenge is building trust with your target consumers around data usage, understanding what goes into the black box of AI or tackling broad industry challenges such as ad fraud, the answer is transparency. We need to wield existing tools (standards and taxonomies) as well as new ones (blockchain) to make that answer a reality.

Diversity ≠ inclusion. We need to catch up to the demands of diverse marketplaces by meeting them with inclusive messaging, not pandering. The power of the Latinx market cannot be ignored as they’re not only the fastest growing and youngest community in the U.S., but also the most technologically advanced across all age groups. Thanks to streaming services, the numbers are revealing the demand for Spanish-language, bilingual and Latin-inspired content across all media, and we need to be ready to contribute in an authentic way.  

Purposeful technology. Up to this point, the majority of tech startups have catered solutions toward the affluent—pithy products solving first-world problems such as meals, parking and laundry on demand. This year, the voices of technologists who are building services and products that promise to fundamentally enhance our lives—particularly for those with physical or mental impairments—will definitely be heard. These heartening introductions included live transcription services for the deaf or hard of hearing, companies making voice recognition accessible to those with impaired language skills and more.

The truth movement. With the backdrop of the #fakenews crisis, authenticity matters more to consumers than ever before. Finding ways to connect the truth to the truth of the brand was a consistent theme at SXSW. We need thinkers (not regurgitators) on our teams to share out the truth of our brands and to communicate it in a compelling way to consumers.

The evolution of influencer marketing. Most brands are focused on securing influencers with celebrity-sized social followings to gain awareness. In reality, this isn’t the most effective and cost-savvy way. Micro-influencers often hold a deeper connection and sense of trust with their followers. As influencer marketing progresses, brands need to focus less on the numbers (e.g., follower count) and more on the influencer’s audience demographics and what their impact is outside of the social-sphere to create a full 360-degree influencer approach. 

The threat of 1:1 marketing. Digital media continues to push us to 1:1 marketing for efficiency and relevancy. Yet there is still a need for scale that is being lost in the seductive drive for “the measurable click.” Thought leaders at SXSW believe that mass brand advertising can survive if everyone can better understand its role and how to strike the right balance. 

Wake up to accessibility in design. It’s just the right thing to do. If that’s not motivating enough, maybe knowing there are 1 billion people worldwide with disabilities might be. That’s a lot of customers being neglected, which doesn’t even include people with temporary disabilities such as a broken arm or broken glasses. The key is to design for challenges, i.e., someone who has trouble reading—which could include blindness, dyslexia or illiteracy—not a specific disability. When you think like that, you realize accessible design is simply good design.

More empathy, please. In session after session, we were challenged to consider empathy more holistically than in the past. What is it, and where does it come from? Is it more than a buzzword? And how can we use real empathy to build digital products that are useful, delightful and inclusive? While the world may be experiencing a “compassion collapse,” the good news is that empathy is a skill which can be developed over time (and an important one, at that!)

We left SXSW feeling both proud of our collective drive to empathize with our clients’ targets and energized by new opportunities to deepen our understanding of them. What you’ve read above is just a taste of what’s top of mind from the dozens of sessions we attended. Consider signing up below to receive emails from us with more ideas.

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