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SxSW 2012: Roundup

By Mark W McClennan, APR, Sr VP, Schwartz MSL & Laura Chavoen, digital practice director at MSLGROUP Chicago

South by Southwest Interactive Conference or SxSW 2012, is an annual event in USA that boasts an unique mix of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies. SxSW 2012 is currently underway and will end on March 18, 2012.


MSLGROUP’s Laura Chavoen and Mark McClennan attended the fest and returned with a lot of thoughts, new ideas and stories. Here we present to you a roundup of their opinions and insights from SxSW on a variety of topics, from brand authenticity, mobile payments, convergence and social activation to corporate culture, higher education, data visualization and local marketing. Also a must read is the ‘Top Quotable Observations At SxSW’.


On Brand Authenticity: Thinking about the full customer experience is critical — being authentic ONLY in social doesn’t work. Social is a tool and can help define, refine, and extend the experience and voice, but the voice must be authentic and consistent across all touch-points and channels.

One of the panelists on Saturday’s session at SxSWi made an outstanding point as well — a campaign isn’t authentic if you can just replace the brand with a different one. Specifically referencing the Old Spice campaign that went viral and garnered so much attention, he asked if that same concept would have worked for Mennen. Or Taco Bell. And if the answer was yes, successful or not, it isn’t authentic. That is the difference between a campaign and a brand experience.


SxSW TAG CLOUD: The only tech brand to break into the top discussion word cloud is Nokia, thanks to its Foursquare badge.


Convergence: Every presenter on Sunday, in their own way, was talking about convergence. Take mobile payment – if all you think about is taking a contactless card and putting it on a smart phone, you are missing the bigger opportunity and the market won’t grow. Isis is taking it a step further and realizing that for mobile to succeed it needs to be better, faster and cheaper. They are betting on loyalty, security and a better shopping experience to be the growth drivers.

The retailers on the FutureShop panel were nowhere near as optimistic about NFC as the payments players in other sessions. But they saw an even bigger picture. The speakers gave examples of Scvngr that had a scavenger hunt-like game that lead people through the store to daily specials. These retailers see the iPhone turning into the helpful sales clerk of years gone by.

It is only by putting the wallet vision of ISIS together with the bricks and mortar innovations of Future Shop and some of Scvngr’s futuristic ideas that we truly can see the shape of the future of mobile payments come together. Without all three perspectives, without the gestalt of the different perspectives the success will not be complete. Google and Coke did just that with (along with other brands).

Social Activation In The Real World: The panel at SxSWi identified several different pathways for translating social media activity into real world actions, proving that key PR activities around influencer identification and engagement are more relevant than ever in today’s multi-channel cross-media world. PR gets relationships, has been creating stories and content for centuries, and remains the discipline that can and does conduct the orchestra of digital, marketing, communication, advertising, media, employee engagement, and sales. And when all of these are working in concert, it becomes the gorgeous symphony of an authentic brand, playing the music relevant to each audience.


Corporate Culture: Some of the best advice from IBM at SxSW 2012 was to understand what your corporate culture is like and what tools employees use to work and to communicate, and enhance those existing tools rather than make everyone conform to new tools. If you try to force people to do something they do not want to do, you will end up with an empty wiki, upset employees and wasted budget.

Audience Segmentation In Higher Education: An institutional voice may only be one of several voices necessary for messaging to be relevant to a wide variety of audiences. Some specific strategies were discussed for involving administrators from across the organization into the marketing effort and integrating their ideas and support. There was also a great discussion around highlighting and harnessing student voices in a way that offers dimensions and perspectives critical for longevity.
Know Who You Are – If you have a niche, carve it out. Just do not let others put you in that niche. Isis in the digital wallet space seems to clearly know this. They understand that in order to convince people to move away from contactless cards and Mag Stripe they need to offer more to retailers and merchants. My most popular tweet of the day was “NFC being positioned as the Borg. Do not resist. You will be assimilated.”

“More Smart, Less Stupid”: This panel underscored how critical it is for the communicator to have a seat at the table in making business decisions, with examples of public relations missteps and successes, including Susan G. Komen, American Airlines, Zappos, and Netflix. A key takeaway was that if you’re going to be bipartisan, decide in advance and plan out the scenarios — don’t react in-market.


Visualizing Data: One panel focused on integrating data into the narrative, exploring ways to turn statistics into thought leadership tools that people can use and apply rather than just read and file. The idea extends beyond simple quantitative data. Visual transformation of information can imbue it with new power and expose it to new audiences. Another session explored new ways that data is informing the editorial process beyond the impression and the click.

Local Marketing: A key takeaway underscored the value of targeted social content, and how critical it is to ensure that your Google Places pages are correct, since many mobile apps pull business information from those pages. Keeping local sites in your reputation-management strategy is also critical given the power of online reviews.

Social Media Volume At SxSW:

  • There were >140,000 tweets and blog posts about SxSW
  • 98% of them were tweets
  • Far exceeded that of the recent Mobile World Congress or RSA:


Top Quotable Observations At SxSW:

  • Before you make a critical business decision, ask yourself – what would John Stewart say about it?
  • Great ideas are not always great and not always well received.
  • Bloggers have more influence over purchasing decisions than traditional celebrity endorsers do
  • 48% of B2B CEOs say social media helped generate qualified leads
  • Voice of customer research is not for validation, it is for discovery
  • Pharma is not bad. Pharma is probably going to save your life
  • Security is not a selling point for consumers. Criminals will find ways, and consumers think the phone is less secure even if it is more secure.
  • We are on the precipice of shopper 3.0 – The combination of Wed, brick & mortar, and mobile.
  • Tools today are an extension of our mental, not physical self. The shape of technology tools has changed dramatically over time, this is not the case with many physical tools.
  • If you want to drive consumer engagement, get people to look forward, not back.
  • Google Places account for 33% of visits to local business websites.
  • 88% of people who search for local information on a smartphone take action within one day.
  • 67% of consumers would NOT purchase a product/service after reading one to three negative reviews.



Laura Chavoen is a senior vice president and digital practice director at MSL Chicago, with 20 years of digital communications expertise in food and nutrition, publishing, financial services and associations. Follow her on Twitter at @chavoen.

Mark W McClennan, APR is a Senior Vice President at Schwartz MSL Boston where he heads the consumer technology, financial services and research group. Follow him on Twitter at @McClennan


Further reading – On SxSw 2011: Mobile Payments: Coming to the US Sooner, or Later

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