SWSXi 2015: Trends & Highlights

Growing in popularity over the last three decades, South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) has now achieved legendary status as the interactive event of the year. Recognized globally for showcasing breakthrough technologies and innovative startups, SXSWi spurs discussion around forward facing topics such as the intelligent future, the evolution of media consumption, and tech-inspired cultural trends that influence policy and human behavior.

Despite the crowds and daunting amount of content, SXSWi consistently exceeds expectations! The daily sessions, workshops, meet-ups and conference related content provide incredible value in their own right. But it is the intersection of information, experiences and memorable interaction with a diverse group of attendees that make it special.

In recent years the event has attracted the media/advertising industries. Brand marketers and their agencies, along with partners and publishers are not only attending in greater numbers, many are investing heavily to establish a presence and interact with attendees. Since 2012 the proliferation of massive brand installations and impressive activations have demonstrated the relevance and value of SXSWi in the eyes of many in our industry. This year, the attendance of Sir Martin Sorrell (WPP’s CEO) and John Wren (Omnicom’s CEO) further illustrates this point.

Undoubtedly, SXSWi is a glorious event, but not without flaws. Many complain that there are simply too many people. Yes, long lines are commonplace and sessions fill up. (Prepare accordingly!) Also, many desirable sessions overlap forcing tough choices. But most agree, the many positives greatly outweigh the few shortcomings.

With over 1,000 sessions in just a few days it would be impossible to deliver a comprehensive summary of the event. Therefore, the recap that follows comes mostly from the marketing/advertiser perspective with noteworthy highlights, observations and trends through the eyes of the team who attended the event.

Emerging Conference Themes

1. Real-Time Content Broadcasting

The hottest startups at the event centered around live streaming apps that can broadcast your experience to friends in real time. If 2014 moved content creation further towards the visual world of selfies and photo filters, 2015 is set to move social media a huge step toward user- generated video. Publishing companies like Buzzfeed and Mashable are transforming their own business models to cover national news more quickly than ever and pull data immediately to inform the next trend.

2. Re-emphasis on Startups

There was a noticeable increase in the overall presence of startups this year. Many more sessions and a much larger physical space dedicated to startup activity is a refreshing balance to the growing presence of well-established consumer brands. This is also great because it gets back to the roots of the event, and should help preserve the spirit and energy of SXSWi while the appeal continues to expand.

3.Convergence: Beacons, Wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT)

The sustained hot trends from last year centered around beacons, wearables and heightened connectivity that continues to enmesh the physical and digital worlds together and breed opportunity as these two dimensions converge.

For example, the sheer size of the conference, spread throughout an entire city, motivated festival organizers to try innovative experiments using beacons and sensors to foster hyper-local networking. The largest deployment of beacons ever, this enabled the SXSW app to recognize nearby attendees and connect them with other attendees, events and content. The example here shows real time interaction between session attendees.

beacon screengrab

Expect to see companies start to use beacons as a key marketing tactic in the future, especially retailers, small businesses and out of home advertisers.

Wearables continued to mature this year, not just with smart watches and fitness trackers, but with creative entries into industries like fashion as well. The idea is to make wearable computers invisible, weaving them into clothing and stylizing them as accessories.

Ws expected, the internet of Things was a big topic on displayand discussion this year. dozens of startups showcased apps to control your house, car and life. The IoT opens up possibilities for companies to make their products more accessible and intimate, and offer potential targeting capabilities for marketers as consumer behavioral data may soon become accessible.

4. Sharing Economy and On-Demand Services

Established industries such as transportation, hospitality, retail, fashion and entertainment are poised for disruption as consumers embrace the sharing economy and on-demand services.

Startups like Rent the Runway and AirBnB give consumers more shopping options at a cheaper price on demand. Many of these startups are fueled by the notion of a sharing economy, a way for consumers to rent their possessions out to others for a fraction of what traditional retailers and hoteliers charge. Major players such as Amazon and Google are also moving into the on-demand space with initiates such as Amazon Fresh and Google Express.

5. Storytelling, Ad Targeting and Privacy

Content creation and storytelling was a popular topic at the event with thought leaders emphasizing the need for brands to become storytellers in order to engage more deeply with customers. Experts encouraged authenticity in their storytelling, and urged marketers to tailor stories to more defined groups through improved ad targeting. Of course with more personal data being handled than ever, privacy was a major area of concern for consumers. If companies are carless with their privacy controls they risk losing the trust of their customers and fans.

6. Diversity

We are becoming an increasingly diverse nation. in the u.s. alone, there is a new majority in seven of the nation’s 15 largest cities. The change in these cultural dynamics provides new opportunities for businesses, and marketers should be adapting to the new landscape.
There was a strong emphasis on the hispanic/latino marketplace. one key takeaway was the growing need for quality, culturally relevant content to engage and entertain hispanic consumers.

Another theme that ran through many sessions at sX this year was “women in tech.” Women have historically been underrepresented in technology, but with leaders such as marissa mayer and sheryl sandberg taking such a prominent role in major technology companies, there is a strong push to see more women get involved and stay involved in the tech space. expect to see innovative, talent-hungry companies focus on attracting and retaining women by developing sustainable support networks that usher in opportunity, encourage growth and drive success.

Startups to Watch

  • Meerkat – Meerkat was the clear winner of SXSWi 2015. The app allows users to instantly stream content from your phone to social channels.


  • Periscope – Can it ride the coattails of Meerkat?
  • Ghostery – A browser extension that shows you all the companies that are tracking you when you visit a website.
  • Cooler – Re-sequence your social feeds, eliminate spoilers and engage in social media conversations while watching TV.
  • Peepsqueeze – Unite everyone’s separate videos into one. Record your video, designate a recipient and delivery date; then invite your friends to join you with their own videos.
  • Yik Yak – Allows you to see what other people in your physical location are sharing in a privacy conscientious way.
  • Glide – Send and receive video messages that can be watched live or later.

Notable Quotes

“Products don’t need privacy, people do. You can track a shirt all around the store. If you are tracking a person – that’s different.” Ryan Bonifacino, SVP Digital, Alex and Ani

“Technology becomes nature when it’s a part of our lifestyle and identity.” Koert Van Mensvoort, Director, Next Nature Network

“We got nervous when the image of Snapchat disappeared. The way we have lived forever is disappearing. Documenting is new.” Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO VaynerMedia

“Innovation is what keeps our clients around. Speed is key.” Cary Tilds, Chief Innovation Officer, GroupM

“Diverse teams make better products.” Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer, United States

“Vision without execution is hallucination!” Walter Isaacson, President & CEO, Aspen Institute

Did you attend SXSW? Let us know what you thought in the comment section below!

Header Photo Credit: Felicitas Hackmann

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