SXSW Interactive: 3 Key Takeaways

Anyone who attended this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival knows that information overload is a calculated side effect of the many meet-ups, demonstrations, and mind-blowing panels. To help you digest, here are three themes that echoed throughout the event served up fast and furious, just like the SXSW experience.

The evolution of content and media creation and distribution isn’t slowing down

In meetings with companies like NewsCred and Spredfast, you quickly realize that facilitating a brand’s content ecosystem isn’t simply an editorial bandwidth problem, but a workflow problem. Getting great, credible, relevant content that fits meaningfully into people’s hectic time-starved day is tough for any brand (or their agency) to do alone.

Additionally, formats and technologies continue to change. A hot new app called Meerkat lets you live-stream video from your phone and distribute it through Twitter. Another company,, helps brands write native content for emerging platforms like Medium, a new way of blogging with its own set of culturally acceptable content types and behaviors.

Overlapping roles

Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, talked about how their content teams are not only structured around editorial expertise (politics, business, lifestyle, etc.), but also the intended distribution platform. So when Mashable needs to get a piece of content into places like Pinterest, there is a Pinterest expert ready to design the content for the cultural nuances of the platform—same thing with Vine, Snapchat, Instagram, and a myriad of other channels. While these are probably enticing value-added services for a pure-play media agency, it may overlap with your digital or social AOR’s roles.

Another interesting company we met was Colaborator. They are the “first collaboration network providing filmmakers and content creators with tools to fund, produce, market, and screen their projects.” It was apropos that we met with the cofounders Kevin Jackson and Andres Faucher on “convergence day,” when the SXSW Interactive and Film Festivals collide with the Music Festival. Colaborator provides brands a very interesting potential alternative for countering high-priced ad agency production costs.

The final big impending overlap was in healthcare. In panels with people like Scanadu’s cofounder Sam De Brouwer and Qualcomm XPrize senior director, Grant Campany, it was clear that the role of primary care doctors is about to change significantly (even more than it already has). The winner of the $10M “Tricorder” XPrize will be announced in January 2016 (to align with Star Trek’s 50th anniversary), and will be able to diagnose 15 conditions you would normally have to go to the doctor to diagnose.

The need for speed

Velocity was a big theme at SXSW this year. Velocity is speed with purpose. Astro Teller, head of Google[x]’s Moonshot Factory, gave a fantastic keynote on the importance of failing fast: you learn more quickly and it’s cheaper. When asked if he was afraid of the pace of technological innovation, he replied that it wasn’t the speed of technology he was worried about but our inability to react to that change.

This was also clear in another great keynote by United Therapeutics founder and CEO Martine Rothblatt, who talked about the need for society to have the conversation around “mindclones”—digital manifestations of ourselves, complete with their own rights, values, and ability to disagree with us, and the need for government bodies to move faster to start making laws for such realities.

At our agency’s sponsored event, the Social Health Startup Bootcamp, Polina Hanin of StartUp Health said that she’s seeing more and more corporate-backed VC funds for sparking innovation in digital health outside the walls of the corporation. She says this is due to the need for speed, which often requires outsourced innovation.

For brands, marketing velocity can be tricky. Topical relevance is transient and erodes quickly. Content turnaround needs to be fast. But sometimes brands get too caught up in a specific trend and forget their overall purpose. Instead of creating a context for better decision-making, they end up “buzzwedging” into something trending (a new word I learned at SXSW that means jarringly inserting your brand into a trend despite it being off-brand).

BONUS TAKEAWAY: The convergence of biology and technology trumped “wearables”

If CES was focused on technology and gadgets, SXSW this year seemed more focused on the philosophical impact of the tech/gadgets. Several talks focused on the intersection between the natural world around us, and the technology with which we surround ourselves, and not just as part of the new MedTech track, either. In one brilliant session called “Next Nature: How Technology Becomes Nature,” Koert van Mensvoort spoke about how technology is so complex, omnipresent, and autonomous that we start to perceive it as nature of its own. As we embrace it over time, it eventually goes from “accepted” (think smartphones), to “vital” (think plumbing), to “invisible” (think clothing), to eventually “naturalized” (think fire for cooking your meat).

Martine Rothblatt talked about this convergence in her “AI, Immortality, and the Future of Selves” keynote. She posited that “there will be continued advances in software throughout our entire life. Eventually, these advances in software will rise to the level of consciousness.”

– Brendan Gallagher, EVP, Experience Strategy & Innovation