As an Austin native, I’ve grown up with South By (what we call it). Back when I first attended in 1991, a $25 wrist band got you into multiple venues downtown on 6th street to see bands you’d never heard of. The narrow scope focused you. Now that South By is a culture-marketing-tech mashup, you have to focus yourself. The key is deciding ahead of time what larger inspiration and meaning you intend to bring back, and planning out content dives accordingly.
While you never know when you’ll run into the next @grumpycat - that’s the beauty of South By - you don’t want your entire experience to be happenstance, particularly if you have to justify the time and expense. Sure, it’s cool to “be there” when the next big thing pops. But our role and value as marketers isn’t to know everything new, it’s to find and work the connection points to elusive consumers. For example, being in the room when Twitter was announced in 2007 didn’t make me a smarter marketer. But many substantive marketing conversations have.
I have come to count on South By for ways that smart marketing can activate a wide audience without big broadcast media budgets. I’ve learned from event presentations and activations that people will engage when given a common platform, because everyone wants a voice - which is what motivated me to co-found Greatest Common Factory. Mashable tapped into partygoers by offering free iPhone screen filters (this was before Snapchat came along), and had hundreds of geeks waiting in line to get the filters and then tweet about the experience. Samsung promoted the hashtag #poweron, which would then get a bike messenger to pedal a phone charger to you. The lesson: We can, and must, get personal in a huge crowd.
For my time and money, South By 2017 is all about storytelling. Specifically, how to understand the way the brain works and how to use all the new technologies to marketing advantage. Because the more ways we can deliver a message to people, the more critical it is for that message to be a brand truth that’s carefully coordinated. The steak is the sizzle when it comes to brand technology.
So I’ll be sidestepping the free beer and zeroing in on the brands and marketing track, particularly talks that explore the science behind how content works. For example, Intimacy at Scale promises to talk about how we can connect with people on an authentic, human, one to one level and have that happen over and over in thousands and thousands of occurrences. And Being Human, Personal Stories Change the World explores how bearing witness to our modern age in a timely and authentic way, builds a following. These talks get to the heart of the marketing challenge in a tech-broadened world.
I’ll follow that up with 15,000-Year-Old Marketing Strategy: Why It Works and Next Generation Marketing with Neuroscience. This is the guts of what we do every day, explained in ways and by people we don’t routinely get access to. That’s real front-lines intelligence to inform everything we do as an agency.
Then I’m going to 20 Years of Data, the Hearbeat of the Internet, because it promises insight into how to make all of our new data relevant and useful. Yes, there may be some overlap here, but I’m counting on getting different perspectives and looking for the greatest common factors and win/wins.
For the same reason, I’m going to explore cause marketing. I care about stories that make brands the agents of a better world, and how/why some stories resonate broader than others. In particular, I’ll be going to Cause We Care- Creating Authentic Partnerships and Good is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn. All the while I’ll be listening for two things. First, can we really make this approach work for the mass brands out there? Second, is doing good as a brand tied exclusively to a cause, or is having a truly useful and delightful product good enough?
I will be going to one tech-based offering, Is VR/AR the New Storytelling or the Old 3D? I believe the answer will be decided by the content conveyed within. My answer: “it’s the new video game controller.” You may also see me in the Brandcast Design Lounge, where new methods of digital development are on display. At a time when change in information happens faster than we can organize around it, fluid storytelling often requires one person to do it all. The lounge is where I’m most likely to try out the next tool that can deliver messaging platforms faster and easier. These small lounges are always a great way to meet and talk with the makers.
There’s a world of difference between excitement and meaning. If you’re a marketer on business, do yourself a favor: Skip the futuristic tech, pass by the party booths, and join me at the panels with real utility. That’s where the great value – advances you can apply to your brands now – is concentrating at South By in ways you won’t find at the dozens of prototypical marketing conferences.
Karen Jacobs is co-founder of Austin-based agency Greatest Common Factory