Sonya Klinger
Marketing Manager

Trends in Brand Marketing: SXSW 2019

SXSW’s brand & marketing track is an overload of content, pop ups, parties, shows and swag. With e-scooters ready to whisk you off to your next stop and street tacos calling to you from every corner, waiting in line had better result in a rewarding experience. Sparking intrigue is a tough game, and brands that stand out do so because they have strong identities and tell effective, authentic stories that resonate. These brands are rewarded with industry chatter that radiates long past the confines of the festival, setting the trends for the year ahead for brand marketers globally.

The shifting role of technology in consumer experience

As technology evolves at breakneck speed, brands need to integrate developments that drive lasting impact rather adding technology for technology’s sake. Having a real story to tell -- and using technology to augment it -- will enhance your message as long as consumers aren’t being asked to adopt yet another product or behavior. We’re all inundated with information, and unless technology is applied to make it more digestible and accessible, consumers won’t listen. Brands must understand their consumers intimately and add value to their lives seamlessly.

At SXSW, this was reflected in the application of augmented and virtual reality. In previous years, AR and/or VR at times felt like a box brands

checked to be “on trend,” but the technologies have yet to find their way into daily life for most consumers. 2019 saw a progression in sensory integration with activations that were enhanced by technology, rather than making technology the experience itself. We saw an evolution of screen-less AR in haptic responses by Sony, a heat- and touch-reactive experience by SAP & Under Armour and a notable rise in audio integrations.

Bose also focused on lifestyle-oriented and screen-less applications of AR. Its new audio sunglasses augment real-world experiences like travel, exercise and meditation, and its SXSW event (staffed by the app developers themselves) left an impression of a brand truly invested in innovation. Bose’s wearables point to a larger trend in the application of audio:  augmenting ambient sound rather than blocking it out.

As Raja Rajamannar of Mastercard noted in his keynote, marketing and technology have become inseparable as brands move from interruption to immersion to reach their consumers, and this increasingly relies on audio and other screen-less technology. Rajamannar underscored the importance of developing a sonic identity as visual real estate dries up and companies are challenged to translate their brand across mediums.

The discussion around voice and audio raises the issue of privacy. Consumers are rightfully wary of companies that listen in and collect data. Personalization via tech is increasing, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of consumers’ privacy. This issue was top of mind throughout SXSW 2019, both reflected in panel discussions and prompted by the data-collecting nature of the event itself SXSW-goers must RSVP to gain entry to many events, providing a range of personal details. In the growing heat on tech giants, consumer privacy will continue to be relevant as brands lean into voice/audio and personalized, tech-forward experiences.

The blurring definition of brand and product

SX’s stand-out moments revealed that a solid brand is one that can extend beyond the commodities it produces. In “Retail Revolution: Brick and Mortar Bounces Back,” luggage company Away detailed its commitment to bettering the travel experience. The result, not the impetus, is a high-quality and well-loved product.

Austin-native brand Outdoor Voices brought this ideal to life in its event, “A Brunch of Joggers.” The brand is built on the idea that being active should be recreational and fun, and this vision echoes throughout the community events it offers. Outdoor Voices wasn’t pushing product at the SX event; rather, it played on its #doingthings mantra and relied on fans to show up for an easy walk/jog and a party in a parking lot. And show up they did: More than 7,500 people wearing blue OV hats and other branded apparel waited in blocks-long lines, often with their dogs by their sides. OV’s message resonates, and the payoff is a loyal fanbase that buys plenty of OV products.

A strong identity and a story that adds value is the key to success at an event like SXSW. Don’t get caught in the trap of speaking to product. Make consumers passionate advocates of your message first; the brand love and sales will follow.

Insights for brand marketers

  • Tell your brand story first, then integrate technology in a way that adds value.
  • With the rise of voice and audio, consider how your brand evolves sonically.
  • When creating a personalized, tech-forward experience, ensure that you’re protecting consumers’ privacy. Be transparent!
  • Activate in a way that adds value or solves a problem for your consumer. Put the product second.
  • Don’t spend more, spend smarter. You can never reach everyone. The power lies in an intentional, targeted approach.

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