Part 1: Six Top Themes at SXSW 2016

We round up six of the hottest themes at this year’s SXSW which we see as having the largest potential disruption to sectors, brands and the trendscape.

1. Beneficence and the New Hyper Transparency

Max Levchin, co-founder and former CTO of Paypal, now CEO of Fintech startupAffirm, introduced a new term — Beneficence. Borrowed from Research terminology, it describes a business which puts customer need first, above the desire for profit or shareholder satisfaction. He described this as a consumer demand in a post-recession, low trust world. This has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Clearly we can’t expect companies to abandon profit. But it does point towards the growing consumer demand for behind the scenes access and hyper transparency. Financial Services are particularly impacted with disruption from companies like Levchin’s Affirm, which is a credit service which is totally upfront and transparent about fees and payment charges.

2. On Demand — Disrupting by a Thousand Cuts

The CEOs of Favor, Washio, Alfred and Drizly broke down the core mission of On Demand start-ups — making premium services mass-affordable through greater access and scale. All four start-ups have successfully commoditised their customers’ time, whether it was getting a helping hand around the house via a weekly concierge, Alfred or getting alcohol delivered straight to your door at any hour via Drizly. The backbone of each business was based on building trust with its customers, and since the services are built entirely around apps, this means digital trust. Their key advice for On Demand start ups? Start with a broken industry and specialize in a niche product or service.

3. Time is the New Commodity

The On Demand boom is underpinned by a shift in how consumers see value. Price is not the only factor. Time has become another commodity and people will pay more for immediacy and convenience. But this notion of personal time as an asset stretches beyond the On Demand sector, in the lifestyle sector mindfulness and (or “paying attention” as keynote speaker Brené Brown put it) was frequently discussed — in other words spending time on your thoughts in order to improve mood and concentration. Finally in the world of Media, Entertainment and Advertising, conversation focused on the challenge of how to create content that held consumer attention, and time, for longest. Immersive, extremely visual, experiential content was held up as the route to lasting consumer impressions, fuelled by virtual reality, storytelling and haptic feedback that lets consumers truly feel the content they see.

4. Visual Commerce

Image-crammed, social platforms from Pinterest to Instagram are adding Buybuttons and becoming e-commerce platforms. The path to purchase is therefore more visual and more socially augmented than ever. R/GA’s Managing Director of Social, Kyle Bunch, predicted the death of the e-commerce platform, claiming future consumers will go straight to social. At FF we see the future of shopping as more blurred, with consumers flitting across social and commerce sites. As we track in our trend Wishlisting, we also measure the leisure value of collecting images online — which sometimes leads to purchase and sometimes remains a recreational pursuit in itself.

5. The Dark Web. The Deep Web. Privacy?

With every interaction on the web, from shopping, to banking, to getting that discount at the bar, requiring access to our personal information… is privacy still a thing? SXSW was littered with questions of privacy. Some trying to explain what these deep, dark entities on the internet trying to steal our identities are, and others telling us we are basically all screwed. Everything can be hacked. Fraud on-demand is now a thing. Want to steal a credit card? Just google it. Someone on the dark web will help you out with your very own ‘dummies’ guide. That is, of course, if you can pay the price.

On the other side of the privacy coin was a look at the rise in prominence and influence of the Chief Privacy Officer in the corporate world, tasked with ensuring the safety of consumer data and clarity in regards to what, and how, our data is being used. Transparency within the brand / consumer data exchange is likely set to rise, while privacy and security will tighten. And of course on everyone’s mind was the Apple vs FBI encryption debate.

6. Corporations as start-ups

Beacon-based ordering systems, start-up labs in Kenya, tinder-style shopping… these are innovations you might expect out of the hallowed halls of Silicon Valley. But, in fact these are just some of the latest innovations from corporations embracing entrepreneurial spirit by founding in-house start up labs to ensure they transition to the digital era. More than a lip service to trendy labs, corporations are seriously embracing external entrepreneurs to solve problems and secure future profits. Plus, these in house incubators frequently think outside their sector, with McDonald’s looking to the transport sector to develop smart roads that serve a dual purpose of being locationally sensitive and alerting customers to nearby restaurants. Corporations think in quarter profits or annual profits at a push while startups think 5–10 years in the future about disruptions with rippling effects across sectors. SXSW 2016 was as much about individual startups seeking attention as it was about corporations flexing their own disruptive solutions.

Check out our blog tomorrow for our round up of the biggest Tech Trends of SXSW.

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