Marketers Overshadow Geeks at SXSW
SXSW starts today and if yesterday was any indication, brands will have the biggest presence ever at the five day interactive conference in Austin. Historically, the gathering has always been for uber geeks and super techies but in the past few years brands have taken an increased interest in SXSW and what it has to offer. Which is a lot. From content, to connections to thousands of impressionable souls, the geekfest is, well, no longer a geekfest. Rather, it's become an full blown marketing event. And not just an industry event either. It's a chance for brands to get in front of actual consumers.
A stroll through the Austin Convention Center and surrounding areas made it clear, the conference is no longer a conclave for widget heads. Oh, they're all still here...and grumbling about the "invasion" of "marketing people" but they, perhaps for good, have been silenced by the deafening size and scope of an increasing number of brands who have decided to stake a claim here in Austin.
From Sony to Samnsung, to Chevrolet to Pepsi and many, many more, the ACC and surrounding areas have been plastered with some of the most elaborate brand statements we've ever seen. Yes. SXSW is no longer the geekfest it once was. And as we've said, it's been heading away from that cute little anachronism for some time now but this year, well, this year the brands have taken over every last square inch of Austin.
Some argue this is a bad thing. Let them. They are wrong. OK, well everyone has an opinion but SXSW is long past the point when a bunch of programmers would sit around and discuss the best method of coding. It's a full on marketing bonanza. Fueled with the proliferation of social media and its percolation into every aspect of marketing and advertising, SXSW - at least Interactive (there's Music and Film too) - is 100 percent branded, sponsored, underwritten and owned by brands.
As has always been the case in the past, major new technology will debut here at SXSW and the geeks, who, like the rest of us, have to make a living, will be happy about that too. Oh they'll complain about the branded nature of it all but they love a good app just like the rest of us. From group messaging products like GroupMe, Beluga, HeyTell, Kik, Yobongo to the social connection app PathCrosser to the current darling, Instagram, along with many others, SXSW has always been about giving technologies a major boost. It did it for Twitter. It did it for Foursquare. And it will for one of the aforementioned.
In the early stages, it's always about the technology but as we have seen with Twitter and Foursquare, it's clearly all about marketing, advertising and making as much money as possible. And it's exciting to see these technologies battle it out for dominance and a spot in the limelight alongside Twitter and Foursquare. We'd like to call the mood here at SXSW "rational exuberance."
For brands, SXSW is a chance to stay in front of a very quickly moving target: the future of marketing. In many instances, marketing, today, starts with technology and innovation more so than it does with the colloquial big creative idea as it once did. Advertising is no longer dominated by "the creative." Hasn't been for a long time and as the topic of one panel this week, Do Agencies Need to Think Like Software Companies, will address, it's not about pretty pictures that win CLIOs and Lions any more.
It's about developing or partnering with solutions, platforms and apps that make it easier for people to do what they already and will always continue to do: buy stuff. Foursquare can influence where a person goes to eat/shop/travel. LivingSocial and Groupon make it easy to find deals. Instagram helps brands showcase their products. And that's just the tip of where this space is going.
Though the geeks will hate us for saying it, if you are a brand or a marketer and you're not at SXSW, you are behind the curve and missing a golden opportunity to learn how to dramatically change your business model and, literally, stay in business. Because if you don't, your competition will and as they do they will laugh at you while racing past you on the road to marketing success.