Branding, AI and Knowing Your Creative Process

SXSWxPhil Part One

Thanks to the Dentsu Aegis Network, the Brainbox Innovation Challenge and 17 hours of transit, Mia and I arrived in Austin to dabble in the delights of this years SxSW.

The first stop was to head downtown and take a look around to see what Austin is all about – which turns out to be lots of things – from the elclectic to downright bizarre and everything weird and wonderful in-between. The T-shirts in the stores say keep Austin weird and they mean it.

After registering for our interactive badges, we set out to divide and conquer.


The first talk I attended was titled What’s Brand got to do with it? and given the panel was comprised of Mike Altier, Creative Director of Aon Consumer Experience, Ann Walsh, VP Market Growth at Penske and Mike Callender Staff Director of FedEx, the answer – was going to be a lot.

We’re introduced with a statement on how important branding is, to which everyone gives a nod of assent. Well, everyone except the gentleman sitting next to me; he’s too busy using an app on his iPhone to increase the size of his biceps in a gym selfie – Which is a type of personal branding in itself.

We’re told that despite the feeling evoked by the name of a company or their logomark – Brand is all about trust. This is something we set up with our core values, build on with a tone of voice and a style guide, and grow with UX and social media. And while it may seem as though it’s all about setting expectations – brand is actually all about delivering on them. (Which is sounding like bad news for my Instagram friend).

“The employees hold the banner of the brand.”

Delivering on the brand, we’re told, lives and dies with it’s employees. Make sure they are a culture fit and make sure they share the same brand values that your company does. This won’t be news to anyone, but given that 2/3 of Americans stated that they do not trust their employer, these can’t be rules that are being rigorously followed. If you want to manage this more tightly, the panel advises, then have your HR team actually sit down with your marketing team and make sure you are hiring to achieve your brand goal – not just to fill positions.


Moving from brands to brand experiences, we checked out what Dell, National Geographic and IBM had put on show.

Having tried VR headsets in the past, both gaming and simple immersive narratives, I was keen to give the HoloLens headset a try and see what IBM Had put together with it. The beauty of augmented reality is, obviously, that content occupies the physical space of the real world, instead of immersing you in a totally new one. It is Pokemon Go projected into your glasses for the uninitiated. IBM had setup an interactive DataViz piece on the power consumption of buildings in Manhattan that allowed you to interact and explore the visualisation itself. It was pretty neat – so I pulled out my phone and took a photo to show you all.

Moving back into the conferences we heard from Pamela Pavlisack, author of Designing for Happiness, who spoke about our emotional relationships with technology and where it’s headed. Pamela explores everything from biometric sensing devices, call centre apps that read voices for tone, robots that can sense our mood, relationship tracking devices and even how the Instagram filters we use can be a predictor for depression. (Its not XX Pro or Valencia). I already want to be plugged into everything so, the tech can’t come sooner.

It’ll be interesting to see the world when it becomes shaped by emotional technology, but It’s hard for me to know how I feel about it (I don’t even have a device for that yet). Pamela warns us that there is a general feeling of fear that comes with the territory, but my fitbit died on the plane without tracking my sleep, so I can’t even tell if I’m tired, let alone scared.

Rolling out of the conference rooms and into a tactical nap we put a couple hours between the end of the day and taking in the food and drink Austin had to offer for the evening.


Day two saw me in two artificial intelligence talks – which all but confirmed what we already suspect: AI is king. We looked at examples of how AI is improving some jobs and taking others, how it’s been used to influence elections, and how it’s even being hacked for driverless cars to unlearn road rules. Equally as exciting as its dangers (yes it can be racist and it can also steal your face and impersonate you), are it’s triumphs – look at any of the videos of a computer learning how to perform surgery. The overarching goal of course, is to remove all imperfect outcomes – but what are those? For now – they might be simple coding errors, but later -maybe a word that starts with H. (And ends with umans). Humans. It’s us.

The afternoon was an all-star mix of talks from Casey Neistat – YouTuber turned Media Company Co-founder, Cheryl Strayed – Author of Wild, Brave Enough and Torch, and Tim Ferris – Entrepreneur and author of the 4-hour work week. It’s always interesting to hear creative people talk about their process, how they got to be where they are and what they’re thinking about.

Casey reiterated his Tarzan method; not knowing about where the vine that’s just swung infront of him is going – but grabbing it anyway. He showed us the favourite videos he’s made, and said that the most important thing for his career has been to always take risks and to never play it safe.

Cheryl advised us to not show our work until it’s ready, and that to be creative you don’t need to follow a routine. (She self labels as a binge writer, she might not write all month, but then write for days straight; like a madman). She told us what some of her readers favourite quotes are, and some prompts for those writers among you to just start writing: “Woe is me, “, “Who is your darkest teacher (The person who hurt you, but perhaps taught you a lesson “, and “Explain your talisman”, (how did you come by the objects you carry?).

Stay tuned for part deux.