Content, Disruption Teams, and Customer First — SXSW Day 1

SXSW (South by South West) is a crazy time of year. This is my 3rd pilgrimage to the ridiculously huge event that takes place in Austin, Texas, every March. Think of it as (probably) the largest tech, social, digital, creative, design event on the planet. Over 800 sessions, and hundreds of parties over 4 days, with a mind blowing list of speakers all in once place.

This year is the first that I’m attending since starting JMD (just over 1 year ago), so my focus has really been on learning about the big corporate side of adoption of ‘disruptive’ and unconventional strategies, and the results generated.

Here’s a bit of a recap that I’ve pulled together based on some interesting sessions on Day 1…

In true Tim Ferriss style, Tim talked through a huge variety of topics from hacking the way you network, to meditation, to hiring virtual assistants, it was essentially an hour of Tim talking through some of his best life and business tips and tricks. He started by stating that “if you do SXSW right once, you’ll never need to network again”, a bold, but accurate call, the whos who of tech is in one place, and the relationships that can be built here can (and have) developed world changing organisations in recent years. One of Tim’s gems, included; “when interacting with others at a conference; don’t dismiss people, don’t be a dick, and don’t rush.”

Perhaps the most fascinating reminder from Tim was; know when to say ‘no’. In all aspects of life, in order to say ‘yes’ to the right things, it’s necessary to say ‘no’ to the wrong things. There are things you shouldn’t spend time doing, that you need not work on. Make it a conscious decision.

In a panel titled ‘Content Marketing vs Don Draper: The End Of Ads’, it was fascinating to hear from a series of marketing execs from global brands that each spoke through the role that content plays in their marketing mix. These are companies that have marketing budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars every year, and have a huge focus on print and conventional media (eg: TV), but understand where these mediums fit in their mix, and have a purposeful way of incorporating their new plays.

Linda Boff, Global Executive of Marketing at GE Corporate talked about GE’s media manifesto, which is not just a company vision or mission statement, but a series requirements that when embarking on any marketing initiative, must remain front of mind. Phrases like “we reach new audiences in unexpected ways” and “we must behave like tomorrow’s programmers, not yesterday’s marketers” stood out. Refreshingly, Linda spoke about some of the challenges associated with being a Fortune 10 company, and how their marketing team has been split into 3 core divisions; Creative, Performance, Disruption. They give their ‘disruption’ team the opportunity to experiment wildly, with autonomy to jump onto new platforms and test frequently, with no repercussions when a tactic doesn’t hit. This autonomy has enabled them to leverage platforms like Vine on the first day of launch, Meerkat last week, and be an early sponsored partner of Buzzfeed. Whether or not the tactics have sold more jet engines is to be seen, but they’ve definitely helped with their recruitment, CSR efforts, and their approach has been widely praised in the past few years.

Maya Kosovalic, the Head of Media and Digital Communications at L’Oreal talked through how their current campaigns start with a ‘big idea’ — as they always have. There is always a feeling or emotion that’s driving a core story. This was particularly important when leveraging TV and glossy campaigns, but that concept has extended to digital. Their 15–30 second TV spots are now the entry point to substantially deep online tactics, with the full story being distributed across social channels. This gives their die hard fans an opportunity to engage in a way that’s now (more) measurable.

Interestingly, we also heard from Stephanie Losee, who holds the title of Managing Editor at Dell, Stephanie leads an editorial team, driving a substantial content marketing play at one of the bigger tech companies in the world. Fascinatingly, Stephanie’s remit has been to formalise Dell’s role as a content producer. Losee was a previously a tech reporter for Fortune Magazine, so it’s very telling to see Dell see content marketing as playing such a pivotal role.

Dell have built substantial business relationships with outlets like Forbes, to produce and distribute branded content. Interestingly, heavily branded ad based content doesn’t conventionally create a strong user experience, so Dell have learned through extensive experimentation what the right mix is in terms of on-brand and off-brand topics that aren’t directly related to selling product, but are of mutual interest to their target customer.

In the last session of the day, I was fortunate to grab a front row seat at Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick’s chat in light of the release their recent book release titled, The Art Of Social Media. Guy and Peg have a fun, light hearted take on the social world, and spoke about some tactical ways that they continue to drive engagement with their collective social audience of over 10 million people. Perhaps the most noteworthy point they drove home was; “when you see a new platform emerging, jump on as quickly as possible and start experimenting”. Those who build the largest audiences are the ones who understand the growth mechanics earliest. This is actually something I’m a huge advocate for. We (JMD) build off-brand accounts on a daily basis as a low risk way of experimenting with new tactics on emerging platforms, because when you understand the mechanics, it’s much easier to apply that thinking to a corporate objective.

I was actually incredibly privileged to meet Guy at SXSW 2012, and I went on to interview him a couple of years ago following the release of his book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, the interview is located here for anyone interested: YouTube Link.

The overwhelming resonating belief that’s come from all speakers so far is that when it comes to executable marketing tactics, everything you do must come down to understanding your target customer (shock horror), and diversifying your efforts, so you hit your customers with the content they want/need as they’re browsing.

Final Thoughts From Day 1

SXSW is a funny place. I was talking to an Uber driver yesterday about the fact that I don’t actually come here to learn huge amount, but rather, use the conference as a chance to take mental stock. It’s an amazing environment to refocus on areas of importance, and leave hugely inspired. I know that when I jump on that plane to return home next week, I’ll come back to the office with an added perspective. I guess when you’re building a relatively new business, that’s probably the most value you can get from an experience like this!

I know this wasn’t an all encompassing article, it would be impossible to write about everything that went down, but getting in the habit of writing definitely helps me to drive some of those key points further. If you have any questions, thoughts, or ideas, don’t hesitate to comment or shoot me a message.

If you’d like to follow on the day-to-day, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Cheers everyone, see you tomorrow!

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Just Media Design’s story.