My Behind-the-Scenes Observations at SXSW

I have finally been able to catch my breath from the SXSW trip enough to reflect on everything I observed and share it here.  First of all, my perspective of SXSW is different than any other conference I’ve attended, just from the standpoint of how much work I was doing to make things happen for our client.  It was, by far, the most intense, condensed (if that makes sense) working situation that I’ve been in with an agency.  I liken it to my time working on films – in many respects it felt like film production.  Late nights, early mornings, always on the run (and I emphasize run), going from one thing to the other so quickly that you’re just reacting.  I like that kind of work, that kind of pace, that kind of “doing,” but it’s not something I could sustain at this time in my life.  Short periods? Sure.  Every day?  No way.  Anyway, my involvement at that level “behind the scenes” prohibited me from experiencing the conference in a way that I am accustom to.  I didn’t go to any panels, I didn’t go to any parties, I didn’t spend time networking at length with people.  It really was strictly business on behalf of FH & Chevy, not Mike or The 11th Screen.  That said, I was involved enough in what was going on, specifically around the convention center, to come away with some good, pretty fair observations.

1.  Value, value, value – it really does work.  Brands can accomplish a lot and shift perceptions by providing value to people.  To me, this is all about relevance.  How are you, as a brand, communicating & engaging with your audience(s)?  Are you engaging in a meaningful way?  Is it mutually beneficial?  Does it provide value?

2.  Don’t talk to, talk with – it’s all about 2-way communication.  Listen first.  Then, talk.  It’s so simple.  It’s what we do in our normal, everyday, real-world lives.  At least what we should be doing.  Effective communication and engagement is not about talking to people, it’s about talking with people.  Try this with your spouse, with your kids, with your co-workers, family members, friends – just talk with them.  It’s a dialogue.  A give and take.  When you do this, you can both have productive, fulfilling conversations.  Brands who do this, particularly in the social space, create advocates and build trust.  Advocacy and trust are sustainable and those types of relationships don’t go away easy.

3.  It’s not what you know, it’s who you know – people are smart.  And people have connections.  In an ideal situation, the best people to know are smart and connected.  I say this because if you talk to the right people (smart + connected) in the right way (2-way communication), they will talk about you.  You as a person and/or you as a brand.  And when they talk, many people listen.  I could rephrase this observation to “it’s not how many people you know, it’s how many right people you know.”

4.  QR codes & LBS are a ways away from mass adoption – I think SXSW majorly failed at their attempt to introduce QR codes to the masses.  They had a prime audience, one who could actually warm to the use of them, yet they failed to educate and create an easy experience with them.  Their codes virtually went unused.  By the time attendees came to our booth, no one knew what QR code reader to load on their phone and/or exactly what to expect from them.  I think QR codes, specifically SXSW’s use of them, was the most overrated technological story that came out of the conference.  Again, this is from my limited point of view.  (I heard that Twitter’s announcement of their @Anywhere feature was less than stellar.)  I just had such high hopes for the QR code story.  But QR codes aren’t the only emerging technology that is still immature over here.  LBS, like Gowalla and/or FourSquare, are used consistently by such a small segment of people.  But there is a huge group who have no idea what “LBS” stands for in this context, much less how to use them on their phone.  There was a vast difference between the interactive attendee usage of Gowalla and the music attendee usage of Gowalla.  I think a lot of this is attributed to the penetration (or lack thereof) of smart phones still in the US.  The opportunity here is to continue to push these types of technologies – because I believe that they still have a life – and experiment with them in various ways.  We’ve really only scratched the surface in how we can use them in relevant, meaningful ways on behalf of brands.

5.  Last but certainly not least, I work with some amazing people.  We were a relatively small team, but we are like family.  Matt, Valerie, Cindy, Jodi, Marc, Herb, Rob, Miker, Jessica, Penny, Sarah B., Sarah F., Lane, Chris, Chrissie, Brad, Warren, Christian, designer Jessica, Matt W – you guys rock.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on SXSW.  Shout back.

2 thoughts on “My Behind-the-Scenes Observations at SXSW

  1. Marc

    Agreed about the QR codes. I hope they start to take off. It will be interesting to see how much LBS change as smartphones get adopted and data plan prices go down.

    Thanks for the shout out! It was great working with you too!

  2. Chris Wilson

    Nice recap Mike. It would be interesting to see what percentage of SXSW attendees were active users of location-based services during SXSW. I’m sure that the percentages were much higher than the percentage that interacted with QR codes, but it would be a nice comparison, considering that LBS has been in the news more often.

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