5 SXSW Tech Trends That Are Reshaping Marketing

Zach Brooke
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Key Takeaways
What? South by Southwest is an annual set of film, interactive media and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas.

So what? Many of the presenters highlight industry developments that have the potential to fundamentally reshape the marketing landscape in the years to come.

Now what? Read up on the presentations currently dominating headlines at SXSW to see if any are a good fit for your brand. 

March 16, 2016

The implications of social robots, chatbots and dark social spark marketing conversations at South by Southwest 2016.    

For brands, staying top-of-mind is key to dominating the marketplace. This means keeping abreast of latest tech developments and brainstorming ways to make your brand mission critical to user experience before the latest gadgets are primed for mass-market takeover. This challenge can be daunting, to say the least. Thankfully, marketers can look to festivals like South by Southwest for insights into the trends that will reshape the consumer landscape. According to VentureBeat, this year's action is centered on the following trends:  

1. Virtual Reality

There’s been a lot of hype in recent years about the re-emergence of virtual reality and it’s potential to reshape the entertainment landscape. Already studios have partnered with VR developers to create branded content to promote movie trailors and shows like Games of Thrones

But VR ideation took a big step forward this year at SXSW with detailed plans to introduce and enhance VR sports, storytelling and even city planning applications. At least two big name consumer brandsSamsung and McDonald’sproved to be no slouch in the VR department, either. 

A reporter for The Verge gave the McDonald’s headset a go:

“The first thing I see when I put on the HTC Vive virtual reality headset is a McDonald’s Happy Meal. It’s floating by itself against a blank white backdrop, gesturing toward me with its unmoving smile and a dog-like eagerness.”

“…with the headset firmly over my eyes, the Happy Meal teleports me into an ambiguous three-dimensional landscape covered with white canvas. In one hand is a paint wheel and in the other a morphing paint brush that turns into a paint gun with the press of a trigger. I’m told to draw and make a mess, and that’s about it. All the while, McDonald’s logos flash at me from all sides and the elusive Happy Meal drifts about waiting for me to throw some color on it.”

Meanwhile, Samsung’s Gear headset is portable, untethered to walls and designed to bring the VR experience to users wherever are in actual reality. Samsung’s Gear VR is touted by VentureBeat as something, “marketers must pay attention to as it will quickly become one of the most accessible forms of VR for consumers.” 

2. Chatbots

The role of brands on social media is currently undergoing a major transformation. Vanishing are the days when a brand’s social media presence is defined by puns and specials offers. Instead, consumer behavior is pushing brands to engage users in a text-based conversations about the benefits of their products/services. Since marketers and customer services reps obviously can’t field all possible chat inquiries a huge brand would receive, the race is on to develop chatbots that will answer customer FAQs while be programmed to deliver personalized responses to users.

3. Social Robots

SXSW presenters also did much to convince conference-goers that the age of robot helpers is upon us. As engineers edge closer to self-driven cars for the average consumer, advances in artificial intelligence can lead to a number of household devices that may become equipped to “recognize, interpret, process, and simulate elements of human behavior,” according to MIT social roboticist Cynthia Breazeal

Breazeal debuted Jibo, one of these so-called emotive robots, which can simulate human-to-human interaction. Billed as “the world’s first family robot,” social robots like Jibo are designed to maximize users’ emotional response, creating a relationship far more personal than Siri, while functioning as a unique platform to collect behavioral data.  

4. Dark Social

Dark social is a term that refers to the amount of social sharing that can’t be tracked via analytics software because it occurs on platforms like instant messages, e-mails and disappearing social media services such as Snapchat. As you might imagine, this accounts for a vast amount of social sharing overall, 59% according to a recent Radium One study. (The same study found that 91% of Americans regularly share content via dark social). Since so much of sharing is simply a copy/paste job sent through texts and e-mail, it’s important to develop some tool to measure these actions if marketers are going to have any shot of reaching the users on the receiving side of the dark social sharing equation.  

5. Home Networks

Many exhibits and discussions centered on the growth of connected networks. Appliances and devices will cease truly being standalone anymore and instead be part of a household “smart” ecosystem that links up to an overarching control panel. 

This new era will require new tools, and Sony thinks it’s built the perfect one. The festival showcased “N ”, a hands-free headset wearable that includes voice recognition as a means of performing commands, which include photography and GPS sensors. Project partners include Strava, Yelp and Accuweather.   

The marketing implications around increased connectivity are obvious: Brands need to make their offerings seen as a key piece to consumers' existing Web of connectivity, and doing that means developing a convenient control manipulation or offering usage data in ways that will enhance a user’s quality of life.      

Author Bio:

Zach Brooke
Zach Brooke is a staff writer for the American Marketing Association. He can be reached at zbrooke@ama.org
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