Why SXSWi is chicken soup for the marketer’s soul
Marketing isn't all about spreadsheets or copywriting or data analysis. Contributor Sheldon Monteiro describes 3 key takeaways from SXSW Interactive and argues that world-changing big-picture ideas should be a regular part of every marketer's diet.
Why chicken soup, you ask? Well, during the buffet of SXSW Interactive, we witnessed an array of tasty items on the menu, hundreds of individual events covering everything from voter technology to data-driven farming to weight loss to digital parenting.
Attendees feasted on a smorgasbord of non-stop inspiration: sessions from an amazingly diverse selection of thought leaders and networking opportunities with tens of thousands of digital innovators and creatives from all over the world, not to mention happy hours, expos and parties hosted by dozens of brands and all that Austin nightlife has to offer. Now it’s time to let all of these goodies digest and look toward what interactive marketing trends will be on the menu in 2016 and beyond.
Although you might think the aftermath of such an extravaganza would be a hangover and upset stomach, I call it chicken soup because SXSWi actually nourishes attendees. It’s different from any other festival — SXSWi isn’t focused on creativity, technology, or even innovation. It’s about all those things, but mostly, it’s a movement of passionate people — marketers included — with a thirst to change the world.
The triumph of beneficence over maleficence
In Disney’s movie, “Maleficent,” Angelina Jolie plays an iconic villain who is betrayed, turns vengeful, casts an evil spell, yet ultimately capitulates and becomes a powerful force for good. The movie takes us on a journey through “maleficence” to “beneficence” — from evilness to goodness and actions that benefit others.
Max Levchin, the former CTO of PayPal, referred to beneficence as one of his “Unstoppable Trends That Are Changing the World.” His assertion: Companies that are building businesses on a foundation of “active kindness” will disrupt their industries and thrive by looking after their customers and the world first.
For example, maleficent banks, which make 40 percent of their revenues from late fees and overdrafts, are being disrupted by new beneficent entrants like Levchin’s Affirm, a brand seeking to reinvent the financial industry with fair fees and radical transparency.
While Levchin was the only SXSWi speaker to co-opt the term “beneficence,” it is a word that captures the gestalt of what SXSWi — the festival as a whole — is all about. It encourages us as marketers and human beings to strive for greatness as we imagine the futures of our businesses and the world we live in.
The truth is, as business leaders and marketers, we need to find new, sustainable sources of growth. We’ve streamlined, realigned and squeezed every dollar of profit from existing business. We’ve been operating in a long-term, low-growth environment where investments in innovation have been starved, Cap Ex & Op Ex is under pressure, and capital returns have been maximized by returning money to shareholders via stock repurchase or dividends.
As a nation, nearly two-thirds of Americans, a full 61 percent, say they are sometimes or frequently anxious about what’s going on in their lives — despite a multi-year economic expansion, six consecutive years of job growth and the lowest unemployment levels since 2008. We need a new formula for business and social success; we need to transform our businesses and our world, and SXSWi provided plenty of brain food to inspire us. I’ll share three of my favorite session takeaways.
President Barack Obama at SXSWi
For the first time in its 23-year history, a sitting president and first lady participated at SXSWi, with President Obama kicking off the festival with a keynote dialogue.
“The reason I’m here really is to recruit all of you,” Obama said. “We can start coming up with new platforms, new ideas across disciplines and across skill sets to solve some of the big problems we’re facing today. If the brainpower and talent that’s on display here today and throughout this conference takes up that baton, then I’m gonna be really confident about the future of this country.”
Is President Obama’s confidence in the SXSW community based on well-founded optimism? Regardless of how you answer, there is no mistaking the degree to which technology, marketing and social good have converged. Too often, we wonder why somebody didn’t do something about “that.” Our president reminded me once again that I am somebody.
Moments of value in the I0T
“Moments are the units we should be thinking about with brands in the Internet of Things,” Brian Wong, CEO of KIIP, suggests.
With the Internet of Things set to inject itself into every part of our lives, Wong shared a real concern about it becoming an “advertising cesspool.” His response: We need to break down people’s lives into units beyond the transaction and provide real service and value in these moments, rather than simply inject messages.
The traditional advertising models are dying. Service, human experience and real value exchange is what’s going to win. As I reflected on Wong’s session in the context of all the buzz around Virtual Reality (VR) that pervaded Austin during the festival, I realized that his advice is spot on.
Immersive, virtual experiences will bring unique challenges to marketers, not the least of which will be the ethics of what constitutes responsible marketing in a fully immersive medium — VR and IoT included. It’s worth noting that Wong is a 24-year-old CEO who has already raised $30 million in capital. I was inspired.
AI and the future
Kevin Kelly, author and founding executive editor of “Wired,” was at SXSWi to lift the lid on “12 inevitable tech forces that will shape our future.”
He proposed a new verb, “cognify,” meaning to take something and add Artificial Intelligence (or vice versa). What AI won’t do is become self-aware and decide to terminate humankind. But AI will provide “artificial smartness,” which is narrow in focus and free of consciousness. Think of it as “IQ as a service,” which will flow from a grid like electricity to wherever you want it.
It’s exciting to consider the near future of AI as “many kinds of minds and many kinds of thinking.” With Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s Siri and Google Now, AI is already pretty pervasive around us, but we have only gotten started.
For me, SXSWi was full of so much more to reflect deeply on — smarter, humanlike robots, health and medtech, advances, conversational UIs, sensors and data, ethical algorithms, startups, diversity and exceptional career advice.
Among other sources of inspiration, I’ll take Levchin’s advice and help my clients realize a better future for their business, by creating transformative experiences and business models that improve their customers’ lives. And yes, I’ll be back in Austin next year for another helping of chicken soup for my soul.