SXSW 2016

SXSW Interactive 2016: Content, Cognitive Computing and Connectedness

March 19, 2016by Hiebing

All the latest in tech, insights and innovations from this year’s SXSW Interactive conference gets the mind racing. From cognitive computing to a frictionless society and everything in between, we as marketers imagine the possibilities and ask ourselves: What’s next?

Our team set out to our second home in Austin, Texas to uncover what matters most to our industry and the implications new technology and trends have on our clients and their brands.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Virtual reality is here, and everyone is talking about it. The truth is, it’s still in its infancy and will be for the time being. When used right it can be brilliant for a brand. But, the resolution is still low, and quality is an issue. And most viewers still can’t fully replicate the human eye’s complete field of view. Also, it’s not (yet) socially acceptable to sit alone in a corner with a headset on for a long time. Until VR becomes mainstream for consumers, the great majority of viewing will remain on personal flat screens.

If we hear the word Millennials one more time…. It’s time to stop using the word to describe a “generation.” It’s not a generation, it’s a mindset with three simple characteristics: Individuality, purpose and global connectedness. The first two aren’t new and don’t belong to any generation. It just happens that they—along with global connectedness—are just made more ubiquitous with technology and the Internet.

Content and Connectedness

It’s the year of conversational commerce. Person-to-person (Facebook Messenger, SnapChat, WeChat) or machine-to-person (Amazon Echo, Quartz, Lark, Slack, Soundhound) interaction via text and voice is growing. We are moving away from thrashing away at keywords and toward a new realm where you don’t have to bend to an interface to complete your action or request. Brands must seek out ways to have two-way interactions with customers.

Livestreaming is the next wave of content. Meerkat and Periscope were the talk of SXSW Interactive 2015—and a year later, one has flourished and the other is down and out. Livestreaming is mainstream, accessible to everyone and is the next phase in human connection.

Platforms like You Now and Twitch are thriving, and influencers are finding ways to earn their livings on these platforms. Both brands and influencers can deliver a meaningful message and connect with their audiences in the most intimate way yet, with few to no production costs. Livestreaming is raw, it’s real and it humanizes. And while videos share a story where we already know the ending, livestreaming allows everyone to create the story together.

360 degree video is set to become a new genre of cinema, the way IMAX is to movies. It’s immersive, giving viewers more context and intimacy with the story—an ideal format for events such as sports, news and performing arts. While the production flow is similar to traditional 2D filmmaking, 360-degree video presents new technological challenges in sound and lighting that are being honed as we speak.

Data Informed or Data Driven?

We have the data—how do we use it? The great thing about data, when applied correctly, is that it makes it harder to ignore a problem and easier to solve it. While quantitative data is so rightfully talked about in the grand scheme of “big data,” qualitative is just as important. Real-life conversations reveal critical elements of the story and offer context for quantifiable data—and they can provide vital indicators of what progress looks like, how to measure it and how to achieve it efficiently and effectively.

Influencing the user experience. As with face-to-face interactions, UX should thoughtfully combine verbal, nonverbal and social cues. We must also bear in mind that the user will always co-opt the process, product or experience for his or her own purpose. All types of media involve real-life behaviors and have real-life consequences. We need to constantly be asking how we expect the interaction to go.

Storytelling is always en vogue. While technology, platforms and influencers may change; they are all just vehicles for telling a great story to create brand devotion. And as data continues to take the lead for much of what we do, storytelling must still be data-informed, but not data driven. The audience is still made up of people, and there’s a qualitative component to discovering what story they will connect with.

Cognitive Computing and the Physical Web

We are at Day 1 of technology. It’s the beginning of the beginning. We are moving into a world of cognitive dependence where every decision we make as humans will be supported by technology. Artificial intelligence will become a commodity available anywhere, with the ability to be infused with anything. Computational algorithms are starting to be stacked on each other (e.g., Google teaching Google, a billion times accelerating its own improvement with the ability to access the physical world). We think we know how to use the Internet, but we haven’t even cracked the surface.

Bridging the digital and the physical gap. New technologies will allow users to make changes to the physical world within a digital interface. MIT is at the forefront exploring a Reality Editor and making this idea come alive on an open source platform to create fluid interfaces and modify existing physical elements. The world will become the new user interface. Any object will be able to be accessed via WebSocket, distributed to any user and available anytime. This creates a vision not only for designers and developers but also opens the door for the next generation of technology.

Fostering nimbleness from methodology. Terms and processes you hear so frequently—create, distribute, learn, adapt • listen, learn, adapt, repeat • test, analyze, adjust—vary little, and the takeaway is the same. By following those steps regularly, you uncover inconsistencies, which leads to fresh ideas. Creating a culture of continuous improvement will help brands and companies adapt to the ever-changing needs of consumers.

Imagine a world completely free of friction, where all your needs are easily met through technology. It sounds ideal, but many new companies are sprouting up to remove the unwanted friction and maintain the part of the experience that is enjoyable to the consumer. Companies like HelloFresh will mail you all the fresh ingredients to your favorite dinners, where the prep—the part that is often therapeutic—is the friction worth maintaining. In this frictionless, on-demand world we are achieving, we risk losing self-awareness, decision-making abilities, adaptability and acceptance.

Year after year, great minds gather at SXSW to talk about the past, present and future of technology—and our continuous mission is to sift through the swaths of innovation to uncover what matters most to our industry and the implications that most impact our clients’ brands and their consumers.

As 2016 progresses, many of the takeaways will come to light and others may fade away. We’re excited to see what smart ideas we can infuse into plans for this year and years to come.

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