The Human Potential Conference: SXSWi 2013
Heading down to SXSWi for the first time, I was pretty skeptical that the conference could meet my expectations. So much hype has been built up over the years—it had me doubting that I’d return to Minneapolis digitally enlightened. In fact, I didn’t.
So much of the SXSWi experience is uninspiring. The long lines, the overabundance of choice, the panels that are simply boring. When I got past the harsh realities, however, I experienced what makes heading to Austin special.
Everyone who attends SXSWi is there to push the potential of what people can do. And it’s much bigger than talking technology. I was surprised by how most of my favorite talks barely touched on the notion of interactive as we typically understand it. Rather, the best speakers simply shared their ideas on how they’re improving the lives of people. It reminded me why interactive is not just a medium. It’s everything. Interactive has the power to affect everyone who roams this great Earth in the most meaningful ways. It's what we, as an agency, strive for with interactive.
I hope, in the years to come, to attend SXSWi. Or as I call it, The Human Potential Conference.
SXSW: It’s All About ME
While everyone else in our industry attended SXSW as a developer, advertiser, designer, or what have you. I actually attended SXSW as your consumer. And what I learned is that your entire industry is slowly getting in on my little secret:
It’s all about ME.
Yup, you used to think that you could bucket me with a bunch of other people who have similar HHIs, genital parts and ages. You were essentially saying that Marilyn Manson, Bobby Brown and Tim McGraw were the same person and had the same values. Turns out that we all want to be spoken to individually and that technology and the digital space are enabling that. Not only do we want to be spoken to individually, we want it on our terms and on our own schedule. I don’t want to wait for episodes of my favorite show; I want the entire season and I want it now on any device (see: Netflix’s “House of Cards.”)
And I want to be the star of the show. At SXSW I got to sit on the throne from HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones.” I got my picture taken and of course I put it on Facebook so all my friends could see ME. The New York Times made a profile of my face out of words, but then I learned that the words weren’t about ME—not cool. I visited the GE Brilliant Brew truck for a free latte and got my face drawn into the foam. I could have gotten a free latte with a GE light bulb drawn in the foam and only waited a few seconds, but instead I waited 45 minutes to get ME in the foam. It ended up looking like a mash-up of Abe Lincoln and Mr. Clean. But it was well worth the wait, Why? Because it was a picture of ME.
I was also shocked to see that brands were actually offering me things that I needed and wanted rather than yelling at me with a megaphone. Chevy offered me free rides around town through their “Grab a Chevy” program. AT&T let me power up my phone in a secure locker as I roamed the conference (while feeling naked without my phone). And countless brands gave me free stuff, like 3M post-its, battery packs and cell phone cases. The cell phone case came from a company that lets me customize and design my cover with—what else—pictures of ME.
The sessions were great, and, shockingly, they all revolved around ME. A few sessions touched on the power of humor, and I like to laugh—as long as you make it easy. And storytelling—I love a good story and you’re actually starting to learn that I would rather hear about the story behind your products than the features of your products. I attended Jonah Berger’s session (he’s the author of Contagious) and realized that you’ve started to figure out what makes things contagious. And as you suspected, it’s the content and type of content that makes things memes, not just calling them “viral” or making sure the right blogger or TV show mentions them. And, speaking of contagious, I waited in line one hour to get a picture of Grumpy Cat (and ME).
I even found it comforting to hear the stories of how Panera Bread and Whole foods are becoming more meaning-driven. It makes ME feel good when I eat there.
So keep it up marketers.
Your consumer (ME)
Colle+McVoy: SXSW Talks
There's no shortage of opinions about South By Southwest presentations. Especially on the social Web. You can track the good, the bad and the ugly before, during and after. With all of the tweets from last year's SXSW Interactive Festival at our fingertips, Colle+McVoy decided to collect and analyze every single tweet to answer the following question: What makes a presentation stand out at SXSW?
Standing Out and Creating Serendipity at SXSW
Pete Cashmore and Dennis Crowley’s presentation, Enabling New Experiences & Creating Serendipity Through Check-ins, was the most tweeted about presentation at the 2011 SXSW Interactive Festival. According to SXSWTalks.com, there were over 5,500 tweets during their presentation, which generated more than 10 million impressions throughout the Twittersphere within 24 hours. Across all social media, the reaction to their presentation was 93 percent favorable, with 38 percent of these posts being positive.
The purpose of our proposed SXSW presentation, SXSW Presentations: The Good, The Bad, The Trending, is to get to the bottom of what makes a stand out presentation at SXSW. Pete and Dennis’ presentation fits the bill, which is why it’s highlighted here. Not only did it generate a significant number of tweets, but it also spread at an impressive clip with 46 percent of these tweets being retweeted. It’s amazing to think that 140 characters can spread to 10 million people over the course of 24 hours.
In addition to the quantitative analysis conducted at SXSWTalks.com, we assessed the presentation qualitatively by listening to the presentation and watching clips of it on You Tube. Based on our analysis, we’ve arrived at the following hypotheses:
Involve the Audience and Give HugsThe Crowley family won Family Feud in 2009. Creating a perfect excuse for Pete Cashmore to poll attendees with random questions about Dennis and then emcee a quasi-Family Feud event. As Pete proposed questions, he encouraged audience participation. He also facilitated an open mic Q+A at the end of the presentation. Dennis even gave a woman a hug. Moral of the story? Get the audience involved and give hugs.
Unveil Exclusive InformationWhen Dennis first arrived onstage, Pete crowned him mayor of SXSW. Minutes later, Pete asked Dennis about the just-released version of Foursquare. Seconds after that, they were discussing venue harmonization, Foursquare’s most recent product enhancement. To wrap up their discussion, Dennis insisted on making an announcement about an exclusive Foursquare party. Give the audience a feeling of exclusivity and you’ll have them eating out of the palm of your hand.
Dual Format Popularity is an AnomalyThere are six different presentation formats at SXSWi. Surprisingly, this was the only dual format presentation in the top 10 most tweeted about presentations at SXSWi. Four of the top 10 most tweeted about talks were panel presentations with four or more speakers. Less isn’t more in this case.
If there were a proverbial social media iceberg, this would only be the tip of it. Mike and I hope to earn your vote to make a trip to the 2012 SXSW Interactive Festival to present our full analysis. And, if we do make it, be sure to check-in to our presentation on Gowalla, because that’s what the cool kids do. One hundred and fifty five people checked in to Pete and Dennis’ presentation on Gowalla, compared to 31 people who checked in on Foursquare. Wait, what? That’s right. Austin-based Gowalla out-checked-in Foursquare. #winning
Full audio of Pete and Dennis' presentation:
The Blurring of Media Boundaries at SXSW Film
At SXSW 2012, the programmers of the film festival brought back Lena Dunham, who had won the Grand Jury Prize two years prior for her film Tiny Furniture, to debut the first three episodes of her forthcoming HBO series “Girls.”
It seemed like an anomaly at the time—just one year ago—to have a television show represented at a festival showcasing independent film. This year, however, television was no longer an anomaly.
The networks had apparently taken notice of the runaway success of “Girls” and came out to the festival in force. HBO was back with an ingenious “Game of Thrones” installation—a replica of the Iron Throne that people could sit in and then post photos to social media. And, post they did. HBO also had Iron Throne pedicabs taking people around the city.
A&E screened their new show “Bates Motel,” hosted a panel with the show's creator, and took over one of the larger local bars, converting it to a branded experience. Even the Film Festival Shuttles were wrapped with ads for Showtime's current roster of programming.
The rise of television at the film festival was part of a larger trend we saw: The medium is becoming less important and content is what's truly creating an audience.
Fred Armisen talked about this on an IFC panel about alternative comedy on television. He talked about the potential for a low-budget show like “Portlandia” to find a large audience through the new channels of distribution. He explained that big budget Hollywood films and small basic cable TV series are going to end up right next to each other on Netflix, and audiences are going to watch whatever they find more entertaining. This puts everything on the same plane and opens up tremendous opportunities.
From the artists' perspective, tons of people are still watching and enjoying your work, but they are able to do it in a more flexible way. Viewers don't all watch at the same time, but the views over time are remarkably high.
This shift toward content over medium reflects the overall trend we saw at the festival that consumers are demanding experiences that are more personalized and centered around themselves. This new form of content distribution appeals to them because they get to curate what they watch according to their own interests and they get to watch it on their own schedules.
And, judging by the line for the “Game of Thrones” chair, these personalized, "centered around me" brand experiences have reach beyond the realm of content distribution.
Thriving on the Vine
A few months back, to much fanfare, Twitter bought video-sharing service Vine. Like Twitter before it, Vine is another excellent example of the freedoms of limitations. Instead of 140 characters, Vine limits you to 6 seconds of looping video.
The app recently had its mass media moment when someone’s Vine of the recent terrorist attacks in Boston was featured by news programs across the globe. The Tribeca Film Festival had a Vine contest this past April and brands like Lowe’s and Urban Outfitters have been experimenting with Vine-centric campaigns.
I appreciate the immediacy and urgency when creating Vines and thought it would be a great way to capture my experiences at SXSW. Because you need to capture video “live” and there is no editing after the fact, creating a Vine involves careful planning or just plain lucky timing. Brands will find success in the former, figuring out what story they want to tell in a mere six seconds. Those who understand the medium will embrace the spontaneity and rawness of the output and take advantage of features like perpetual looping.
All in all, I found Vine to be a great way to capture some of the various themes at SXSW. Themes such as:
Celebrating the Unpredictability of the Digital Decade
Minnesotan marketers get interactive. This has never been more apparent than it was this past Wednesday at the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA) Summit. The theme of the conference was “Celebrating the Digital Decade,” which served not only as a testament to the monumental changes we’ve experienced in digital, but also a celebration of MIMA being the oldest and biggest interactive marketing association in the country. MIMA has pioneered a local path that allows organizations to elevate their talent by offering premium programs that present high-quality speakers to share the digital love.
There were more than 60 speakers at this year’s MIMA Summit, who were organized into 10 different tracks for attendees to choose from: content and storytelling, digital decade, e-commerce and e-mail, marketing technologies, measurement, mobile and screens, the nonprofit perspective, social media, trends and user experience. Colle+McVoy sent a group of people from various disciplines in order to take in as much as we could from the 40 different sessions.
Outside the two keynote speakers (Avinash Kaushik + Chris Anderson), I spent most of the day attending sessions listed in the user experience track. With the hope of capturing the perspective of everyone who attended from Colle+McVoy, I solicited feedback by asking for two or three sentence descriptions of themes they identified throughout the day. The unpredictable nature of the Web and technology rose to the top. Avinash’s opening keynote talk set the tone, “Predicting what the Web will be in five years is impossible. What we learned six months ago is irrelevant today. Which is why we all continue to do this and why all of you are here. That’s what I love about my job.” Avinash closed by talking about how failure inherently follows the unpredictability of innovation. By failing fast, interactive marketers can swiftly adapt to the real-time changes in consumer behavior.
The idea of unpredictability carried over into the first session I attended, titled “The Future of UX” by Boon Sheridan. “You can’t put things in motion and predict the future of digital and technology because it changes so fast. Focus on the now. The reality is that we can’t solve for design problems that don’t exist today,” emphasized Sheridan. He continued, “Design for interruption. It’s impossible to perfectly guide someone through the digital ecosystem.” The idea of digital ecosystems has become a common phrase among UX professionals and digital strategists. Given the ecosystem’s unpredictability, Sheridan recommended starting all digital projects by storyboarding a few different use-case scenarios and then layering in the navigational and content gaps that exist. From there, teams can brainstorm possible solutions before initiating design concepts.
Edward Boches and David Armano also covered the unpredictability of innovation in their session “Group Therapy for Would-Be Innovators.” Boches argued there are three ways agencies can grow: 1) sell existing services, 2) develop new services for existing clients, 3) create new services for new clients. Innovation can fuel any of these growth strategies when the agency’s workforce is liberated to work on experiential projects. Due to the unpredictable nature of the Web and technology, the only way to keep up with the shifts in consumer behavior is to experiment. Learn by doing. And failing. Hearing these perspectives definitely solidified my perspective on how Colle+McVoy has started to formally harness innovation across the agency. My role may serve as a catalyst to identify opportunities for innovation, but it’s the makeup of the agency that allows us to produce ideas such as Squawq, Super Chatter and SXSW Talks.
My final session of the day, “Rethinking User Research and Usability Testing for the Social Web,” offered one final reminder of the unpredictability of the Web and consumer behavior. “We don’t know how to find out about things we don’t know about. People don’t act in the real world as we want them to in usability tests. People don’t live in a world doing one task with one device out of context,” explained Dana Chisnell. She said, “The Web has always been social, but it’s now more social than ever. The Web enables a powerful platform for human-to-human interaction facilitated by technology.” Because of this, Chisnell expressed the importance of rethinking how we gather people’s feedback as we create digital experiences. With the Web being an enabler of human-to-human interaction, understanding people’s online relationships is more important than ever. We need to stop looking for the things we know about in usability testing and challenge ourselves to find the things we don’t know about.
MIMA was right. The imperfection and unpredictability of the past, present and future of interactive marketing should be celebrated. It should be celebrated because our community has demonstrated an unmatched passion and interest in learning, failing and obsessing over how we can get smarter and better at what we do. There’s a reason people like Avinash Kaushik and Chris Anderson are coming to Minnesota. It’s because we’re humble enough to be obviously curious and we have some of the top brands and agencies in the country producing some of the best interactive work on the planet.
Colle+McVoy: 2012 SXSW Panel Picker
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Jeffery Bennett Joins C+M As Creative Technology Director
MINNEAPOLIS, Oct. 19, 2011 – Colle+McVoy announced today that Jeffery Bennett has joined the agency in the new position of creative technology director. Bennett will manage the agency’s development team, as well as work with clients to ensure that they are best leveraging technology and interactive experiences to drive their business forward.
“Jeff is a great blend of talent, knowledge, experience, passion and personality,” said Mike Caguin, executive creative director, Colle+McVoy. “His involvement has already lifted our interactive product and I cannot wait to see the impact he’ll have on our clients in the future across all digital mediums.”
Colle+McVoy billings have grown annually for the sixth consecutive year. Much of this growth has been fueled by growth in digital, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the agency’s work product. Recognition for the agency’s digital work includes three Webby Awards for the pop culture phenomenon YearbookYourself.com, which generated increased mall visits for client Taubman Centers. The agency’s work has also been recognized by the Cannes Cyber Lions, The One Show Interactive, Adweek Buzz Awards and Communication Arts Interactive Annual.
"I joined Colle+McVoy because I was attracted to the incredible energy and the entrepreneurial passion for experimenting with new technology,” said Bennett. “It is very difficult to manufacture this and enthusiasm begets great work.”
Prior to joining Colle+McVoy, Bennett was technical director and partner at Proto in San Francisco. He previously served as an engineer at the Yahoo! Research Lab in Berkeley, where he had a hand in developing next-generation applications, including the Yahoo! video player. He was also a senior developer at EVB, developing award-winning work for companies large and small. He has played a role in critically acclaimed work, including a Webby for Best Retail (www.IMakeMyCase.com), SXSWi Best Flash site (Leapfrog Fly Pen) and a Cannes Cyber Lion (Doritos Late Night). Bennett has presented at SXSW Interactive multiple times, has written for TechCrunch, has been awarded several technology patents and helped organize the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Hackathon.