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Nick Bennett

Strategy Director

SXSW Round-Up

So, another SXSW is in the bag and once again it proved its worth in major discussions (and some arguments) around digital marketing and advertising - in particular about how it impacts on the industry from a global perspective.

Here is the Rawnet guide to the must-knows.

Ad Blocking

The subject that refuses to go away, saw some very heated debates about the potential long lasting impact (and damage) that it is already causing. It simply boils down to the fact that consumers are simply not seeing adverts and if they do see them, there is no connection of genuine conversion.

In many ways, this has been a problem that we all saw coming a long time back, and for too long, many simply buried their head in the sand and hoped the problem would just go away.

To put it into context, in 2015, it was predicted that $22 billion in revenue was affected by Ad Blocking and this year, that number will rise to $41 billion. In the UK, nearly 21% of ALL internet users operate an Ad Blocker. More alarmingly, that number rises to nearly 50% when you look at the behaviour of 18-24 year olds.

Mobile Video is about to get touchy-feely

One of the amazing things aside from the talks at SXSW is the wide range of innovative companies that have present on the show floor. One company that stood out was 'Immersion' During a demo of watching a trailer for Mission Impossible 5, the phone vibrated in line with explosions and music and activated me to touch and participate in the viewing of the trailer. Adding the sense of touch to digital content will undoubtedly enhance experience and increase recall for advertisers.

Social Branding

During a session called Stay True to Your Craft and Online Brand, the conversation focused on the power of branding today. It’s more important than ever for brands to know who they are and what they stand for.

Over the past few years, too many brands have lost sight of what it is they are there to do and look at it as a system to just be pumping out content, rather than engage in meaningful and relevant conversation. With people listening less and less to traditional ads, brands need to be louder in social conversations and the ones with the strongest and most consistent POV in a positive direction will gain the most attention.

Who are you to tell me?

Quite simply - brand ambassadors are the best storytellers. The saturation of marketing and messaging has pushed consumer to wanting to hear from other people (that they identify with) and not from large companies.

At times what makes the internet such a great place of interconnectivity can be so easily forgotten. Many brands struggle to get people to care enough to talk positively at a high scale. Though there is no single answer to this conundrum, brands need to do more to engage with them. Applying that thinking to the real world - people are much more likely to begin talking if you get them in a room of like-minded people - so brands need to act as a facilitator of conversation and interact accordingly. Make your audience part of your culture.The best thing a brand can do is to create a community where people have a sense of belonging and pride.

Marketing is doing and not just showing

Kevin Plank, the CEO and Founder of Under Armor, participated in a hot ticket Q&A surrounding the amazing success story of building a company to over $4 billion in annual revenue and it is still growing.What makes that more impressive is that he has done that in a marketplace that had become quite stagnant and dominated by the likes of Nike and Adidas and so this level of disruption was never foreseen. In 2015, Under Armour invested over $700 million in app technology to help people track their health across the four areas of sleep, activity, fitness and nutrition. They now have 160 million users, growing at a rate of 130,000 downloads per day. Last year, users uploaded 8 billion food entries and 2 million workouts with the purpose of tracking, monitoring and optimising their health.

While the core goal behind the move was to help people improve their health, there is much more to it than that. Behind the scenes, it has enabled Under Armour to:

Generate intelligent data that they can use to create products that help people to become healthier, fitter and happier
& Connect to their audience via one of the most effective CRM channels ever built, giving them as a brand a direct link to potentially hundreds of millions of users who use the company’s technology daily to improve their most valuable asset: their health and well being. This is incredibly powerful and outlines the importance of data and audience.

Story Telling and Human Emotions

When consumers connect with a story, they listen and remember.

During what was probably the hottest panel of the conference, J.J. Abrams told a story about another director who once showed him a 6-minute action filled reel that was jam packed with many of the latest special effects technology. While the visuals were amazing, he said, “I couldn’t connect with it because it lacked a human element. Even though we now have access to amazing technology, it’s important not to lose sight of what makes us human”. In essence, movie markers need to tell stories that allow people to truly relate with the characters and feel a deep connection to them.

Brands are no different. Marketers need to tell better, more meaningful stories that are aimed at their audiences. Emotion is much more important than high-value production values and wizardry.

Virtual Reality is exploding - Don't wait any longer

VR is clearly at its tipping point and had major presence all over at SXSW - and in many innovative forms. For example, NASA has created a VR experience for its upcoming trips to Mars in 2018 and 2023, whilst The University of Texas at Austin created a VR driving game on texting while driving, which always comes to an abrupt ending with a head on collision with a Truck. Brands such as Gillette and Discovery created VR stories on skateboarding and slack lining.

Our viewpoint is that if you are not doing VR, you need to start exploring a way to do it to now before your competitors. There's a huge consumer appetite for it and your efforts will get attention and ROI. While the distribution of Oculus and Google Cardboard is low, Facebook 360 is clearly getting some nice distribution to reach millions of consumers and Playstation expect to have their VR headset into over 300,000 consumer homes before the end of the year.

User Generated Storytelling via KnowMe

During J.J. Abrams and Andrew Jarecki’s session, Jarecki showcased his new App, KnowMe, which allows users to quickly and easily create stories by stringing many videos together and adding a voiceover narrative. The app just launched and my guess is that it's going to explode quickly as there is nothing out there quite like it.

In conclusion, SXSW has showed once again that marketing and advertising are changing faster than we can keep up with. The alarming rate that innovation is growing at is something that needs to be embraced as marketers take more calculated and educated risks to embrace new technology that gives them a true identity and not fall into the habit of being followers and that of being pioneers.