5 SXSW 2018 Takeaways

South By Southwest has always been on my bucket list, and this past March I was lucky enough to attend. I walked 60.7 miles, attended 15.5 sessions, ate like a king, learned from some of the most innovative minds in the world…

… and of course, caught a pop-up Wu-Tang Set.


Some might say I suffered from a severe case of information overload after attending sessions led by the likes of Bozoma Saint John the Chief Brand Officer Uber, Alex Chang the founder of GIPHY, top dogs at Facebook IQ, David Godsman CocaCola’s Chief Digital Officer and many others. I have been sifting through my notes, bouncing ideas around with my peeps and digging into all I learned over the past month and have pulled out 5 key learnings.

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1. Magic can happen when music and brands collide.

To make a real impact on your audience these days you have to be really, really loud. Sometimes taking this quite literally is the best strategy. From CocaCola partnering with a startup streaming service for an intimate showcase to Dr. Martens’ takeover of Container Bar with a diverse range of incredible acts as well as free tattoos. (yes, you could get a tattoo while watching a show at a bar)


Music has an incredibly power to bring people together, open people up and make memories. When paired with an energized environment and a strong vision you have a perfect recipe for building lasting affinity with your audience and making a one-of-a-kind introduction to new comers. This kind of thinking is what lead us to throw parties in a suit shop.

2. Gen Z is absolutely addicted to social media.

Although this should not be a surprising takeaway, the stats can be bit overwhelming. According to Josh Dickens, product designer at Instagram, they are seeing users spending over 9hrs/day on the platform, an increase of 25% from 2016. Josh also introduced the idea of “spam social accounts,” that users are creating to filter brand related content out of their daily feed.

For example, someone who is a frequent user may have a personal account for connecting with friends and loved ones while having a completely separate account that they treat like a spam email address. Ann Mack, Global Director at Facebook IQ, and Tomá Beck, Global Content Strategist at Facebook IQ, shared that Instagram video watching increased by 80% year over year. This again reinforces the that time spent in social media is rising with no sign of decreasing.


3. Personalized content is a must.

According to Facebook IQ, there are currently 6 million advertisers to 2 billion consumers. That means for every 333 consumers there is one new advertiser. That also means that there is an outrageous amount of noise in social and opportunity for brands to be lost in the feed when they are wasting their time with content that does not match their audience or vice-versa. In comes personalized content strategies to save the day.

Put simply by David Godsman, Chief Digital Officer at The Coca-Cola Company, “Personalization comes down to connecting in a specific moment and time.” Coca-Cola has gone as far as identifying 10 specific audiences and 15 moments of intent mapped out across each day. They then use this as a map guiding their content creation to resonate at each moment to drive choice. This is how they have found success in cutting through the noise.


4. Experiences are the #1 way to connect with people.

SXSW is one giant brand experience. Every where you turn there are bars, restaurants, street corners, buses and more that have been completely transformed into immersive brand experiences for the weekend. Examples range from the Viceland Bus to Sony’s WOW Studio to real life Westworld and everything in between.

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Christian Lachel, the Executive Creative Director and Vice President at BRC Imagination Arts, stated that,“Experiential marketing has become the most vital tool in a modern marketers tool belt.” To create an impactful experience it is important to start with your audience in mind and think through what you want them to tell there friends when they leave. What will you create that will inspire the wow moment and make a lasting impact? Go make some magic.

5. Consumers habits are evolving, and so are expectations.

Kaitlyn Wilkens, Director of Account Management at Facebook, shard that more than 70% of content is viewed in on-the-go situations. These kind of consumptions give brands about a 2 second window to grab attention. In direct relation to this consumption trend is the 80% rise in Instagram video watching mentioned previously. Wilkens took this stat a step further and attribute a large amount of Instagram video watching to Instagram stories. She stated that content shot vertically results in a 9.1% increase in ad recall in stories. This is the data that is driving Coca-cola’s digital strategy and why they now “think vertical video first.” The approach they take is to create a 2 second taste of content and then expand on the idea from their in necessary.

On another note, Facebook IQ has found that users are valuing the user experience (UX) within content now more than ever. There has been a 5.2% increase in conversation on Facebook regarding UX year-over-year. For brands, this means that the general public is become more aware and setting higher expectations for content. The concept of building content that fits within in each platform specifically as to not create, “a jarring content experience,” for the user could not be overstated according to Wilkens.

In summary, I think everyone should expereince SXSW at somepoint in their life. I left inspired with a head full of ideas to get to work on. 🤘

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