Two cents blog

SXSW First Impressions

by Paul Cornwell on 15 March 2016

After a late arrival (2am) in Austin, Texas we launched into our first ever SXSW.

BCM team @ SXSW_edited

Being a first timer in Austin I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Firstly, it’s about ten times larger than I’d imagined. Austin is swarming with thousands and thousands of people from all around the world keen to hear what the thought leaders have to say. The key venues are awash with displays, demos, food, interactive exhibits and, of course, the sessions with the speakers.

And whilst there are many, many sessions on concurrently, lining up is something you have to get used to. Often queuing up starts 30-40 minutes before the popular sessions.

We started with a fantastic session called ‘Connected Moments and The Future of Marketing‘.

This was presented by Brian Wong who is the Founder of Kiip.

Brian Wong_Kiip

He talked about our increasingly connected world and how we’re about to experience an explosion in connected devices. From cars, to smart phones, to wearable tech, to the kitchen, the treadmill at the gym and home appliances. All these devices and hundreds more will be seamlessly connected. And through these ‘events’ and the context, we will see a massive rise in daily connected moments. Then, through smart data we’ll be able to better understand consumer intent and, in turn, predict consumer behaviour and needs. By doing this, we can move from interruptive communications to genuinely adding value to a person’s day.

Imagine if an electric toothbrush, which is ‘connected’, reminded kids to brush their teeth and then rewarded them for brushing properly with a meaningful and relevant value-add that is a highly effective interaction with that brand? Parents would appreciate how your brand helped with that connected moment. And this isn’t a hypothetical example either. Oral B already has this product in the market and has sold over one million of them.

In short, the new model of connected moments, for the connected generation, will become moments-based CRM. Very exciting stuff. And there’s much more to this discussion which is too big to cover in a short blog post. So, stay tuned for a presentation on this when we’re back from SXSW.

For the next session, we heard from Chris Urmson who heads up Google’s self-driving car project. Google has a pretty lofty goal for this, ‘improving people’s lives by transforming transport’.

Google Self Drive Car

It was inspiring to hear about the incredible investment that Google has made to bring self-driving cars to the world.

Imagine how this technology will change our lives and make accidents and road fatalities a thing of the past. Additionally, think for a moment about how it will transform the lives of people living with disabilities.

He couldn’t answer the $64,000 question he gets asked everyday ‘When will self-driving cars be available to the public?’ except to say that it will be soon. I can’t wait.

Next up was a session with Frank Cooper who is the Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Creative Officer at BuzzFeed. The topic was ‘The Future of Media‘.

Frank Cooper Buzzfeed

He talked about how online media like BuzzFeed have driven a shift from creating ‘ideal’ content, i.e. traditional advertising, to authentic content that builds cultural currency.

Frank believes that media will increasingly connect to you, rather than you go looking for it, and went on to explain how it will connect to you on a personal level, connect you to your inner circle (family, friends, etc.) and connect you to sub-cultures that you are a part of.

So, for example, if you’re a foodie, then BuzzFeed’s online Tasty product shares all sorts of valuable content. Their ‘how to’ video for spinach and artichoke dip cracked 82 million views.

He believes that increasingly publishers will ‘go to you’ via what he described as a Distributed Media Network, and news and content will find you on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, or wherever you are.

It’s a whole new paradigm to think about, but it is certainly the future of media.

In another panel session discussing content, one panellist proffered that the work of an editor or content creator these days is to listen, then create. Rather than the old editorial model of ‘You’re going to like this because I said so’, we have, and are moving to, ‘You’re going to like this because you said so’.  The goal is to create reader reactive content.

I then attended a brilliant panel session entitled ‘Content Now! Stop Advertising, Start Publishing’.

The panellists were from Western Union, Gatorade and Mazda.

Take outs were …

Kenny Mitchell, the Senior Director of Consumer Engagement at Gatorade outlined their ‘rules’ for content:

1. Creative – it has to have a great idea and be clever and engaging.

2. Authentic – it must be real.

3. Strategic – it needs to have a sound strategic basis rather than being a one-off tactic.

4. Emotional – it must have an emotional connection of some kind.


Russell Wager, VP of Marketing from Mazda referred to finding ‘passion points’ as a way to connect with consumers. He reminded us that connecting is about effective storytelling and used this simple credo to guide us. ‘Tell me a fact and I’ll believe you. Tell me a story and I’ll remember you’.

He then explained how their ‘Mazda Ice Academy’ moved their brand from self-publishing about themselves, to Mazda customers, dealers and the media publishing for them.

Mazda Ice Academy2

And the list of inspirational sessions goes on:

Brand stories on Periscope and Meerkat.

Finding the world’s most interesting Instagram photo.

Bringing stories to life for the smaller screen.

A fascinating presentation from Henrik Werdelin who is the Founder of Bark & Co. He talked about four counterintuitive methods to build a big brand.

Yesterday I attended a brilliant session titled ‘Heads and Hearts: Consumer Engagement Where it Counts‘, with an expert panel consisting of Christina Binkley, the Fashion and News Editor at The Wall Street Journal, John Box Bricker, who is the Principal and Creative Director at Gensler, the world’s leading architectural and design firm, Melody Lee, who is the Director of Brand Strategy and Planning at Cadillac, and James Thompson who is a Neuroscientist and the Co-Founder of Evoke Neuroscience.

There is way too much valuable take out from this session to cover in a brief blog.

And the list goes on. Session after session of high quality, thought-provoking content.

Not to mention all the exhibits in addition to the SXSW sessions. Samsung VR, the Sony Lab, Mashable House etc., etc.. Sarah is going to cover this off in her own blog.

Stacks of new information, inspiration, new thinking, new angles, challenges and opportunities.

The best and the brightest from all around the world, all here in Austin.

It is an incredibly valuable experience and I’d recommend it to anyone in the agency, marketing, digital, content, comms, news, tech business.

Anyway, must go. Today’s sessions await me…


Paul Cornwell is a Managing Director at BCM.

- Jo Stone on March 15

Wow! Sounds absolutely inspirational Paul. Can't wait to hear all about it on your return. What a time to be in what was formerly known as the ad business.

- Gillian on March 15

Sounds very exciting. Looking forward to hearing more about it when you return.

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