The Drum arrives a few minutes late due to Austin traffic to meet with Sapient pair, Daz McColl, chief brand strategy officer and Michael Monello, chief creative officer of Sapient Campfire, as they sit relaxed among the hussle and bustle of the very busy Driskill Hotel bar on Sixth Street in the centre of the city.
SXSW Interactive has not long begun and both have talks to lead in the days ahead as part of the event that the Publicis-owned digital group is usually out in force for.
We are here to discuss how they see the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the continuance of digital convergence affecting creativity and brand storytelling.
Monello highlights begins to explain that he sees more sophistication to how the industry approaches people and creative work when asked what he is seeing develop from this year's festival content so far. He cites a panel featuring Nick Parish, editorial director for Americas from Contagious, which was future gazing but also laid out a vision that he felt was relevant for today as it was 'people-centred'. Meanwhile McColl cites a panel about Millennials and how start-ups create approaches to adapt to work with that generation as a session he has enjoyed.
Conversation quickly turns to one of the main trends of the last year, the IoT. McColl states that clients are looking for answers when asked what they are looking for from using such technology.
"They want to know what the future looks like and they want to know what they will be getting for their money in the future," he explains. "The theory that you can count everything and measure everything and inform things. They call it predictive modelling for a reason - it's still predictive," he says, claiming that it isn't a perfect model.
"Very little innovation comes out of the blue sky. It comes from a need. So when you have an existing client, you have a baseline for the needs that exist and we are trying to build tools and systems internally that help us to get the right focus to enable us to be more effective in that space."
Monello adds: "Creativity has always responded to some form of stimulus and data can be helpful but it's not the sole form of stimulus and if you only look at that for your point of reference, you're going to miss a whole lot of what it takes to do great work or be creative. Watching a movie and learning a new story can be a powerful influence over an idea as identifying a marketing opportunity and if you forget some of the many other forms of stimulus you're not going to necessarily get it right."
He continued to say that his view was that "story trumps data 100 per cent of the time. That is why as humans we believe things that are just blatantly wrong and have been proven as false because the story makes more sense to us than the data as evidence and that is human nature and that is not going to change. You can have all the data in the world, but if you are facing off against a great story teller, you're in trouble unless you shape that data into a compelling story."
Monello added that as a marketer he was most interested in what people were doing and where they were and telling stories with the most influential tools without being obtrusive.
"For me the IoT is in the 'keep an eye on it phase'" he continues but he doesn't believe the technology is yet ready for mass adoption.
Meanwhile, McColl cites Google as being one technology platform that is able to bring knowledge and people together as a service close a gap between them.
Monello makes the statement that most stories that are celebrated in the ad tech industry are not 'Net native' stories and claims that the Internet is simply being used as a distribution model with data being used in an attempt to target and spread the story further.
"The lens to look at things through as storytellers should be performance, like a stand up comedian does on stage. That comedian is constantly modulating their performance based on the feedback that he/she is receiving from the room. That's a performer using data to make the most of those moments on stage. You would be frustrated if you saw a performer who gave the same performance each time,tone for tone. The Internet is the same way. When you go to something online, you don't expect it to be the same as what you saw before and you expect it to have changed and react to the preference of whatever it is I am doing."
The disruption of the internet has helped connect stories with audience and saw content scales as big as media, and through word of mouth content can 'blow up' in minutes, continues Monello. "The reason we are looking at all of this stuff and the reason it's going to become more important is because of that. Now a connected audience is a force to be reckoned with, unlike before in the age of mass media."
Asked what excites them about the IoT, McColl says that it is the endless possibilities that it could offer and that the state of change means no longer having to abide by "that industrial construct" of traditional media which he describes as "formulaic." He adds that the ability of consumers to create their own content and distribute it has meant a "powerful shift" in terms of marketing which sees brands partner with consumers in creation rather than broadcast to them.
"The freedom to fail now is a lot better because things have become so disposable and tested. You can do things quicker in certain spaces than ever before, which means if you fail you will fail small, not big, which means you can be more bold," McColl states matter of factly.
This is a sentiment that Monello agrees with having trained in film making, and says he now uses those skills that he developed in film when working online but he continues to add that he loves the constant change that is being seen through the fast pace of technological innovation.
The IoT holds a great many opportunities for marketers that isn't just data-delivery and insight driven. With the world becoming more and more connected, the pair from Sapient are seeing an insight driven movement of collaboration that they may had only dreamed about a few years before.