Every year, the SXSW conference brims with insights from creative minds, innovative entrepreneurs and forward-thinking leaders from around the world who dig into topics and trends relative to the rapidly evolving global landscape. This year’s presenters inspired, informed and entertained a handful of Hiebingites. Whether you’re a seasoned SXSW veteran or a curious newcomer — we’ve gathered a little bit of everything from the conference. Here they are, our 2023 SXSW takeaways.
- Purpose persists: People are longing for purpose within their own personal lives, in their work and with the brands that they interact with. The lack of purpose that people are feeling is evident through culture shakeups like the Great Resignation — with 50 million people deciding to quit their jobs. New employment statistics state that over 71% of employees are not engaged in their jobs and 68% of employees feel that they are not fulfilling their life’s work. So, how can we help people feel more fulfilled overall? Accountability, clear communication and obsessive passion infused into your brand were a few of the recurring themes powering solutions to the purpose problem.
- The internet as we know it is gone: And the volume of artificial intelligence (AI) sessions at SXSW signals it. As we’ve seen recently with the sudden and fast adoption of ChatGPT, AI is emerging as an assistant for all knowledge workers. Web3 and the metaverse will change how we interact with brands and each other. Data privacy laws will change how marketers learn about their target. According to industry experts speaking at SXSW, there are steps brands should take to partnerwith AI, stay people-first in the metaverse and create data capture strategies to deftly manage this new frontier.
- Connection is key: There is a loneliness epidemic in America, and people are seeking human connection and belonging more than ever before. In fact, 79% of the Gen Z cohort were already feeling socially disconnected and isolated beforethe pandemic occurred. Brands are rising to the moment by tapping into experiential marketing “IRL” experiences such as Nike’s Run Club or Culver’s From Wisconsin with Love food truck tour. Creating memories in an increasingly isolated world is taking higher priority for consumers over material things, so brands should lean into memorable experiences that are inclusive and keep fans connected to each other and the brand itself.
- Deeper engagement with online communities: Consumers are longing for more connection in online communities where they can engage with like-minded people. They are looking for meaningful social shifts, rooted in human nature and the things that they actually care about. Brands can deepen online engagement with the “O-SNAP” model:
- O / Ownership – Let your community have a say and listen to them
- S / Status – Enthusiasts want something to put by their name
- N / Networking – Give your community the ability to talk to each other on the sub-topics they care most about
- A / Access – Provide access to your internal teams
- P / Perks – This is least important, because if you prioritize perks too much, you attract the wrong kind of people. Look to provide education versus freebies and discounts
More authenticity: A big topic at this year’s SXSW was the power of authentic content — from partnering with influencers to leveraging more user-generated content. The most successful influencer partnerships give creators a seat at the table to be their true selves, let their passions shine and have creative freedom. Many brands also have an opportunity to activate and repurpose more user-generated content at scale throughout the customer journey to better connect with their targets. It’s only when people can truly be creative and share part of themselves that they will inspire others. And that inspiration is what leads to influence.
- Knowing when to speak up: These days brands feel an obligation to speak up quickly on social issues but often struggle with the right words and actions. A theme among SXSW panels was that companies can’t take everything on — it’s performative if they try. Instead, brands should speak up and take meaningful action when their values connect to the causes. Just expressing support and throwing money at an issue isn’t enough. People know the difference between companies checking a box and those taking to heart the change they want to see. Brands have a big opportunity in the years ahead to identify and prioritize what’s important to them, what resonates with their stakeholders and target, and what fits with their long-term strategy.
- Quantum is the next major wave in computing: We’ve reached the limits of processing power in classical computing. By harnessing the principals of quantum mechanics we’ll be able to process much more complicated computations that just are currently not possible. Classical computing will not go away, but quantum computing will lend itself especially well to natural sciences, solving complex math exponentially faster. The race is on.
- Making the middle simple: Just like the two hemispheres of a brain, organizations can unintentionally create divisions between people and culture. The brand team may focus on creative ideas while the operations team focuses on performance metrics. However, when these teams don’t communicate effectively, it can lead to a disjointed company. To avoid this, aim to bring everyone to the middle, creating a cohesive system that fosters collaboration and communication. By doing so, businesses can avoid a “complexity tax” and create customer experiences that prioritize simplicity over chaos. These experiences can stand out in a world filled with complicated daily routines and create a lasting impression with customers. In short, making the middle simple can lead to a stronger, more successful brand.
- Inclusive design: 95% of the decisions our brain makes are below the threshold of consciousness. Because of this, our brain is constantly making decisions based on our past experiences. As creators and strategists, this is a dangerous trap where our own biases too often inform what we create. It’s critical that we workshop our ideas, ask inclusive questions that bring everyone to the table for discussion, and include (and listen to!) social, ethnic and economic groups of all kinds in our creation processes.
- Staying human-led, not tech-led: Technologies such as AI, Web3, the metaverse and quantum computing will eventually infiltrate everything that we create and interact with. But as we look to the future, leaders across industries have a common message: These technologies should augment humanity, not replace it. We need to be good stewards of tech and realize that these tools are only as good as the data going in. Humans are still accountable for creating inclusive experiences and building trust through transparency and ethical data practices.
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