5 Digital Marketing Trends from SXSW Interactive 2016

SXSW Interactive 2016

South by Southwest is a modern day World’s Fair. What started as a showcase for musicians has expanded to include SXSW Interactive, a creative gathering of technologists, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, brands and business types. And that means it’s an excellent place to gather valuable insights into digital marketing.

Here are 5 of the hottest tips I gathered this year:

Compelling Content Reduces Customer Acquisition Costs

Kevin O’Leary, one of the sharks on Shark Tank, the popular television show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to investors, described how he decided to test the “Shark Tank Effect,” the phenomenon of massive interest companies experience by appearing on the show. During his panel Why Everyone Wants to Be an Entrepreneur, he told the audience he made a relatively small investment in a cupcake company to see what would happen.

It turned out to be one of the biggest wins in Shark Tank history.

Shark Tank

The television show provides a huge advantage for any company appearing on it (whether they get a deal or not): zero acquisition costs. O’Leary saw the effectiveness of telling a compelling story, and decided to put more effort towards content marketing. “We have 12 TB of content for our 33 companies,” O’Leary said. “We pump this stuff out … every day to reduce our customer acquisition costs, that’s the whole game.”

Stop Stealing People’s Time

How annoying is it when you try to read an article and a full-page popup prevents you from doing so? Or when you’re playing a game and forced to watch an ad before starting over? Or when you try to Rickroll a friend only to have the joke ruined by a pre-roll ad on YouTube? In each of these examples the marketing got in the way of the user experience.

Gary Vaynerchuk

“The people who create the least amount of friction while still promoting their product win,” entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk told the crowd at his #AskGaryVee session. “That’s why I think product placement in movies and television is going to be a much bigger business over the next 20 or 30 years. It is a good way to integrate without stopping you from watching what you want or stealing your time.”

Read what Gary Vaynerchuk had to say about the importance of empathy.

Don’t Overengineer for the Influencers

Influencer marketing (using individuals who have a passionate social media following), is becoming popular because it speaks to the previous notion of not stealing people’s time. And the place this is gaining traction is in short-form videos from influencers.

The Short-Form Filmmaking: Stars of Social Media panel featured a group of talented filmmakers who have produced top viral video content. While it focused largely on the creative process, they also talked briefly about brand integrations. Two of the stars had some great advice: don’t over-engineer the creative process.

filmmaking montage

“Brands have to give us the creativity…if you write our script, it will fail.” Rather than trying to micromanage the creative process, companies should provide the feelings, emotions or qualities they want to emphasize and then get out of the way.

Did it Meet the Brief?

The most humorous session of SXSW was Comic Sans Exists for a Reason. Graham Lee, CCO of the T1 Agency, took the audience on a rollicking presentation about the much-reviled font. But the fascinating point Lee kept returning to was, “Did it meet the brief?” I.e., when you need to communicate a stern message like “Please stop leaving your dirty dishes in the sink” the friendliness of Comic Sans helps to offset you laying down the law. It is this reason that Comic Sans often “meets the brief.”

Comic Sans

The lesson of this panel was not lost on me as a digital marketer. While I may want the best copy, imagery and video production, I may sometimes need to take a step back and see if a lower quality run-and-gun video will do the trick and communicate the right message to the audience. “Did it meet the brief?” is a question that will stick with me.

Live Streaming Is Changing Social

I had largely dismissed live streaming until I attended Mario Armstrong’s panel, Can Periscope Equal Profit? My reluctance stemmed from the fact that I am (1) uncomfortable about the notion of projecting live video out into the world, and, (2) apprehensive that the quality of a live stream would be acceptable for a large company.

But there’s a sea change happening in social and it’s time to pay attention.


Consumers like the authenticity of live video with its implicit unpredictability. Armstrong said the amount of time a user spends on socially shared live streaming content now dwarfs that of produced content. And on top of that, Facebook has tweaked its algorithm to serve up live video more than three times that of other kinds of posts.


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