2017 SXSW

SXSW Interactive 2017: Artificial Intelligence, Humanity, and Starting With Story

April 2, 2017by Hiebing

Sleep never comes easy during or following SXSW—there’s too much to consider, reimagine, implement and test.

Since attending SXSW Interactive in our agency’s second city of Austin, we’ve been ruminating on how the latest trends and new thinking around the tried and true apply to our clients and their industries. Here are a few things having a ripple effect on our team and our approach to great work.


The Impact of Artificial Intelligence

AI is finally more about the intelligence than the artificial. AI’s ability to learn is resulting in knowledge that’s becoming relevant and beneficial to humans. Front-runners and successes in the category include Alexa and Google, and now more and more brands are launching bots that acquire information and build upon it.

Even so, these technologies are still blossoming. So, if you’re a brand or working with one, now’s the time to consider how your purpose could translate into these conversational spaces in ways that are meaningful for your customers.

Use Your Inside Voice

“Alexa, play [fill in favorite Disney movie song here.]”

Voice may be the only user interface a child born today may ever need to learn. This point was made loud and clear at SXSW. And to think it was only yesterday that toddlers swiping the TV like it was a touchscreen was blowing our minds.

Finding the Balance

Humans are best for some things, while machines are best for others. But humans and machines together will beat out a human or a machine every time. Lest we forget, all technology is intended for humans to be able to make a greater impact on the world. Yet it’s our ability to better understand our humanity that ends up being the difference-maker when it comes to the most effective uses of tech.


The Most Important (Multimedia) Marketing Element 

Storytelling remained a key narrative at SXSW, perhaps not so surprising given how tech continues to build new dimensions into the storytelling process. Today’s marketers have more options than ever for turning up the volume on a brand story—creatively combining imagery, words, audio and video to increase appeal and reach among their audiences.

Multimedia storytelling is winning for several reasons: it’s fresh and tangible; it’s engaging and allows the target to enter the narrative on their medium of choice; and it caters to today’s shorter attention spans.

All that said, while we have the option to tell a story across mediums, we mustn’t let the “how” get in the way of the discussion of “what.” From UX design to data from website flow to Facebook posts to 360-videos, a quality, compelling narrative is truly where everything begins and ends—and there’s nothing technology can do to save it.

Another way of thinking about it? If your brand story doesn’t float and can’t swim, there’s nothing a sexy technology swimsuit can do to keep it from sinking.

Your Brain on Story

Neuroscience methods are measuring granular, moment-by-moment responses in people’s brains that point to the many ways storytelling is the best thing a brand can do to create a real connection with its audience.

That’s because stories activate parts of the brain associated with emotions and memory—and emotions reinforce memories, creating a kicker effect on the effectiveness of communication.

Engaging stories cause the brain to release dopamine (reward) and oxytocin (bonding). And when people truly bond with your brand, it not only shows up in their brains—it shows up in their behavior.


This Skippable Ad Era

Everyone loves the “skip ad” button on digital ads—so much so that companies like Google and Facebook are moving away from the non-skip ad. (Side Note: skippable digital ad revenue surpassed non-skippable ad revenue for the first time in 2015 and is projected to dominate the industry by 2021.)

But if everyone can choose to skip your ad, how do you ensure you’re still getting value out of it?

First, the industry is being forced to rethink how it measures the value of a skippable ad. When consumers can skip ads, the value proposition becomes all about watch time. Publishers like the Economist, the Financial Times and even Facebook are already experimenting with selling ads based on watch time rather than number of impressions.

What does this mean for us? In a world where time is the new currency, the value of creative skyrockets. If ads that suck get skipped, we marketers not only need to woo our audiences in under 5 seconds—but also compel them to keep watching beyond the so-called opt-out fork in the road. Those who manage to capture the audience’s attention and capitalize on their time might just stand a chance at capturing some money as well.

Time as a Design Element

Speaking of the impact of time, SXSW reinforced the value of something we’ve been doing in our work lately—that is, putting time in the driver’s seat when it comes to digital design.

Given that brands have a visual language, it makes sense to consider the language of time with rhythms and patterns that provide meaning (a la Google material design). Examples of that include our ability to take creative control of time with apps like Boomerang and Hyperlapse.

In light of the fact that time is a premium in our busy world, this means the best UX design isn’t static—it has flow, which is experienced through (and outside of) time.

And now we know why the slow-mo video booth at our holiday party was such a hit.


Behavioral Targeting

As behavioral targeting gets more precise, companies are struggling to walk the fine line between what feels personalized and what feels creepy.

Four tips to keep your brand balanced, influential and successful (and far from the creepy zone): 1) Be transparent about data collection; 2) create targeting with the goal of adding value and netting meaningful impressions; 3) let the lifestyle of the purchasing decision drive the frequency and length of media flights; and 4) reinforce the self-perceptions held by consumers, which can inform future behavior (for the brand win).

Majoring in Micro Influencers

If there was a theme ripe for discussion during SXSW, it was influencers—and the rise of the micro-influencer. This has been an ongoing topic of conversation among our agency team for a couple months now, so we were delighted to be part of yet another discussion. The takeaway from the SXSW (and Hiebing) conversations is that influencers with audiences of 100,000+ still have their place, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power of those with a smaller following—many of their listeners, readers and viewing audiences are passionate, loyal, engaged and absolutely worth reaching.

And with that, we’re off to put these learnings to work … and, if we’re lucky, catch up on some sleep.


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