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The Download on SXSW

SXSW Interactive was held last week, March 11-15th. I didn’t go down to Austin but was curious to hear the impressions of those that did. Here are some highlights, short & sweet:


Four themes in digital development:

  • Location-based apps – For example, Foursquare and AMEX launched a pilot program to reward cardholders when they checked in and made an AMEX purchase at participating merchants.
  • Context-based search (“Contextual discovery”) – Much like Shazam can identify the title and artist of a song, new apps will enable you to point your phone at virtually anything – a building or a bird – to get instant information. (Curious to know how Shazam works? Click here.)
  • Group messaging – New platforms like GroupMe make it easier to stay in touch with select groups of contacts, while Yobongo cues you in to nearby strangers you might want to be friends with
  • Gaming – SCVNGR’s founder and CEO Seth Priebatsch declares “This decade was the decade of social. The next decade is the decade for gaming.” Game dynamics will profoundly influence behavior in a way that transcends crowdsourcing

Are you picking up underlying idea here of marrying physical and digital experiences? Check out what Google’s Marissa Mayer has to say.

And if you want a crash course in what the interactive future holds, study the presentations from this year’s keynote speakers. All are on YouTube.

Missed Opportunities

According to one SXSW attendee, there’s still plenty of room for marketers to get their arms around QR codes and mobile marketing.

IKEA is using them in a sensible way: You can scan a QR code on a box of furniture to pull up assembly instructions on the web. So wouldn’t it be logical to have the same QR code send images and offers for items that go with that furniture to your mobile… so you could buy a whole room before leaving the store? To this attendee and me and other bookish direct marketers this makes more sense than a game (sale vs. engagement). Why aren’t we using QR codes like 800 numbers to track, for example, where the most qualified leads come from?

Fun Stuff & Favorite Moments

  • Those of us “in the business” sometimes forget how the rest of the world thinks about and uses social media. One attendee’s favorite SXSW memory was getting her clients on Foursquare. “There was never a better way to get clients to buy in to social than to have them use it at SXSW… to see what’s trending or where their friends are headed.”
  • “By far, the best moment occurred during a panel on web design called “No Excuse: Web Designers Who Can’t Code.”  One of the panelists made a joke about imagemaps, and the entire audience laughed. It made me realize that no matter how commercial or marketer-focused SXSW may have become in the past few years, the geek crowd is still alive and strong.”
  • Plus plenty of Ashton Kutcher sightings. Let’s pray that Charlie Sheen doesn’t eclipse his followers on Twitter.
  • Apps people were using to navigate SXSW.

Everyone I talked to late last week sounded sleep drunk or brain dead after five 18-hour days of cerebral and social gymnastics: Intense discussions, always-on networking. The majority of attendees mentioned there was an overload of speakers, panels and events, with too many interesting things going on at once. Content was sometimes less inspiring than taking part in official hashtag-based Twitter conversations. But there was still the sense of being part of a movement, even as the event has grown from hundreds to 40,000 registrants in its 17 years. Overall, all said this year was better organized than last and “worth it.”

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