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SXSW 2023: a Snapshot for Marketers

South by Southwest (SXSW) festival once again presented a smorgasbord of emerging technology, trends and thinking last month. Consolidating the hundreds of sessions into useful themes for marketing is not the easiest task but, thankfully, the IPA did that bit for us and held a wrap up session to outline a couple of the key lessons learned; AI vs human connection and viral trends vs effectiveness for brands.

In a World of AI, Don’t Forget Humans

Unfortunately, ChatGPT isn’t up-to-date enough to write this piece for me, but it won’t come as any surprise to you that it, and AI technology more broadly, was the self-aware heartbeat of the festival. However, rather than focus on how it will take over the world, the most interesting theme for marketers arose from discussions about what it can’t offer; the human reconnections that many of us are craving. Across talks from doctors, artists, and charity workers – a fundamental part of the festival was discussing how we can remain in a world that prioritises our basic social necessities.

For marketers, this is a really important point to remember. Technological advances can only support advertising efforts if used properly. Yet, if we’re to ensure that brands are still delivering that emotional connection which has been proven to lead to longer-term effectiveness and growth, we cannot forget what it means to be human and must consider what that may mean for communications.

Jumping on Viral Trends

Whilst there wasn’t a branded NFT to be seen this year, the second key takeout for marketers from SXSW was the finite balance between jumping on social trends and not forgetting the basics of long-term effectiveness. Brands seeking visibility around the latest viral trend is hardly new, although whether they should is the bigger question. One of the most viral tweets that came out of Will Smith/Chris Rock #slapgate said, ‘Dear brands, you don’t need to post a Will Smith meme. It doesn’t fit your brand strategy.’ Unknowingly, this tweet summed up a number of key talks at SXSW a year before they happened.

Tentpole moments in brand social strategies are important, but they should be used only when they align to your long-term content strategy. They may allow you to rise above the noise barrier, but consumers will stick with you for your consistency. For example, if you’re a running shoe brand you should be delivering consistent content that works for runners. This is the path of long-term effectiveness. Sprinkled in between you can pounce on the tentpole moment of the UK-wide alarm being scheduled for the London Marathon – because it’s a viral moment in time that aligns to your content strategy. Remembering the latter is what separates the good from the cringe on social.

Two useful themes from SXSW for marketers were not forgetting the importance of human connection in a world powered by AI and utilising ‘viral’ moments on social only when they work for your brand strategy. However, if neither of those piqued your interest, you could seek out the many talks around the benefits of hallucinogens to spark creativity. At least, I think I saw those actually happen..!