At SXSW, 6 trends to watch -- and watch out for

Austin, Texas.
Austin, Texas.

Isobar's director of mobile and strategy separates substance from hype in time for this week's show

SXSW in Austin is a fascinating forum for marketers. This year’s big themes illustrate where a progressive marketer’s head should be right now — and highlight some of the hype (so prevalent in the industry) we should be wary of.

Wearables everywhere. There will be hundreds of panels, keynotes and talks about wearables. My unscientific study shows around 20% of all material available has "wearables" or "Internet of Things" as its theme. While SXSW tends to focus on the Next Big Thing, this feels like overkill. There’s no doubt that IoT will be huge, but there’s plenty of work to do structuring your marketing proposition before getting carried away with wearables. However, SXSW closely follows the release of Apple Watch, so if I have taken delivery of mine by then I may well join in the frenzy …

Product as marketing. I think the notion of the Experience Economy will be prevalent this year – the idea that Millennials in particular are experience-focused and want brands to show that they will offer a unique experience over "just" the product. Hopefully, this collision of marketing and product thinking will hopefully stretch many marketers into new ways of thinking.

Bitcoin. Hands up who really understands Bitcoin? SXSW has sessions on everything from Bitcoin for Dummies right through to hardcore implementation. Most brands have other fish to fry while Bitcoin settles down, but it should be a fascinating opportunity to meet some leading thinkers in this space — and perhaps to ask them, if Bitcoin is supposed to be secure, how come we hear every week about another exchange getting hacked and collapsing with all its assets looted?

Big data. While "big data" was 2012’s big buzz phrase, this year we seem to be focusing on data-driven experiences. Whether we will get any deeper than explaining the basics of marketing automation remains to be seen (I have seen one session’s promotional blurb declaiming "Soon the whole world will be like Amazon!"), but hopefully some innovation around the tailoring of multiple kinds of real-world and digital touchpoints will arise.

However, there are two areas that I’m disappointed to see almost entirely absent from the agenda:

Ecosystem marketing. No one appears to be looking at the big picture. Much of the thinking around IoT and wearables is purely system design. There are no sessions specifically calling out the greater technology and brand ecosystem required to support these mobile and data-driven experiences.

Brand marketing. While SXSW is nominally an "interactive" event, surely we’re now at the point where brand and digital should be inseparable? Digital experiences aren’t just functional ways to achieve basic tasks; they should contribute to the overall value of the brand. As so many brands undergo — or require — considerable digital transformation, the implications for branding itself are manifold.

Tim Dunn is Director of Mobile and Strategy at Isobar US.

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