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Avoiding the shit and finding the magic at SXSW17: Day 2

By Andrew Roberts |

Gravity Thinking


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March 13, 2017 | 7 min read

SXSW is always hugely busy and chaotic as 30,000 people descend on a city the size of Bristol while displaying the keenness of kids in a sweet shop.


Avoiding the shit and finding the magic. Wildcard: Casey Neistat

With thousands of conferences, networking events and parties it can be difficult to know which direction to venture off to, but over the past few years I have seen the benefit in rambling “off the beaten track” , to discover the gems of insight into the media world there are to offer.

Here is my round up of day two at SXSW17:

Brand and marketing: be authentic

Every year many brands invade Austin trying to borrow a piece of the tech.

Gatorade are using Austin to show they are far more than a sports drinks company.

Their approach uses the integration of technology in a purposeful manner with technology they have developed to help sports teams be their best.

One such piece of tech is a jump-plate which measures how high you jump and analyses your landing to highlight the risk of any potential injuries. VR is used to show manual dexterity and speed of response to various situations and body tracking helps predict injury and highlights different methods of exercise.

Overall, it is highly impressive and you can see how it is hugely additive to the sports teams that they work with and is a perfect brand fit. However like many projects that are demo'd at SXSW they appear to have missed a trick in that they didn't directly connect the brand to the purpose of the work i.e. they don't show how Gatorade can help fix the problems or help the opportunities they are highlighting. Arguably as per the point from Day 1 - the commodity the brands are seeking is attention and maybe this is the best method to achieve it, they just need to complete the circle.

Technology bot: the new app?

After VR and AR the next most popular subjects in tech appears to be the use of messaging bots. Messaging is on the rise hugely with over 2.6 billion people having a messaging app installed and bots being a natural extension of them.

It was for this reason that I broke one of my SXSW rules to attend a panel which featured Alison Swope from Facebook Messenger, Lauren Kunze from Pandorabots and Andrew Poon from Yahoo

Kunze's Pandorabots created the Mitsubishi chat bot Mitsuku which is widely thought to be one of the best in world for chat, indeed there is plenty of film footage on YouTube showing people interacting with it for hours it seems to have set the bar for all other bots.

Some principles that were discussed included the use of humour as a way to connect such as the Christian Gray chatbot, however the biggest discussion point was the use of bots to remove "friction" in dealings with customers whilst saving millions of pounds.

One of the key benefits of bots is the opportunity to not only engage via chat but also engage ongoing with targeted info and perhaps more importantly the chance for to use messaging for hand offs e.g. I need to send flowers- this does however demand links to email or other accounts, it seems the future is account linking and if this can be cracked then bots have the opportunity to be at the centre of all communications.

So what about the future? Poon reckons it only a matter of time before a company is set up that communicates only via messaging - this would be a substitute for websites, call centres and even physical spaces.

So the future looks bright - with 250 bot platforms now available for developers and a huge demand from consumers companies just need to overcome one of the biggest barriers- persuading the chief executive officer.

Culture: small world

One of the principles of SXSW is that everyone is a potential connection and everyone has a story so lose all inhibitions and talk to everyone. With this in mind we attended an independent agency drink organized by The Network One and hosted by an agency based in Austin called McGarrah Jessie. After various conversations with different agency folk I met the owners of the host agency and we happened to share a new client - connections made and future ongoing working relationships made over Texan cocktails. The lesson is a simple one - never stop looking to meet new people and always be curious - it should be the SXSW strap line.

Wild card: breaking the rules beautifully

"Learn the rules and break them beautifully" is one of the laws of Gravity featured on the walls of the agency. It is a principle that is well and truly lived by today's wild card Casey Neistat.

He jumped on stage straight off his skateboard in his Nike trousers and spoke eloquently for an hour about his concept of the Tarzan method. This is the idea that there is never a clear trajectory from A to B but rather that you use use vines that takes you forward but somewhere you might not imagine being , in essence grab whatever is in front of you.

He spoke of his progression from filmmaking to a TV series on HBO to DVD's to embracing YouTube and how his Bike Lane movie which he said he made as an act of complete stupidity, ended up reaching Michael Bloomberg the then Mayor of New York and the New York Times.

The next Vine took him to work with brands and become what he called reluctantly an "influencer". He talked of his work with Nike where Alex Lopez asked him to create five videos, he ran out of ideas by the third so decided to turn up at the airport an take the next flight and then do the same til he had completed a trip round the World - the result "Make it count" was arguably the most successful brand film ever , it currently has 25m views with over 10k comments.

As always with SXSW talks like this there is a fair amount of post rationalization however the principle that Casey follows is a very relevant one and that is about the principle of making stuff, he talked of starting with rusty lump of steel and creating a shiny excalibur sword. It is the way this is done that is key here, in the Make It Count film he uses the words of Martyn Monro.

"If I had followed all the rules I would never had gotten anywhere" In short, having no idea is not an ignorance it is a strategy.

So what was the learning? That entrepreneurs should think about building their businesses in the Tarzan method - push stuff out and if liked do more if not then stop. Just watch the Do what you can't video it says it all.

See my round up of day one here.

Andrew Roberts is managing partner at Gravity Thinking.

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