SXSW 2016 Recap: VR, Mobile Messaging Apps and More

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure and privilege of representing Nina Hale, Inc. at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2016 in Austin, Texas. For those unfamiliar, SXSW is an annual conference that serves as a petri dish of convergence for all things interactive, music, and film. Each year, the presentations at SXSW outline the trends most likely to impact the way marketers think about, plan, and test media to positively impact business results. Here are a few things that stood out.

virtual reality (vr) Takes the stage

barrett goetz_sxsw_oculus rift_vr

Image Source: Me (that’s me!)

The most inescapable facet of SXSW this year was virtual reality (VR). Whether it was the dozens of sessions and panels predicting the future of this new medium, or the plethora of brands and companies hosting customized VR experiences all over the city, virtual reality is the brightest shiny object for the consumer electronics category and marketers alike. I even got to play around with Facebook’s Oculus Rift, and experienced first hand the world of VR.

Discussions at SXSW repeatedly emphasized VR’s potential for storytelling, based on its immersive nature and the increased “empathy” it therefore provides participants. The integration of VR and social media was another notable subtopic, with one futurist even declaring that “VR will be the most social of social media.” We all remember last year’s 360 video release from Facebook that made headlines. Now, apps like Splash were front and center at SXSW pitching their technology to investors, hoping to become “the Snapchat of VR.” The bottom line? It’s clear that the way we engage with interactive and visual assets within social is heading toward VR.

Takeaways for marketers:

  • VR is a white-hot marketing topic with no end in sight, so pay close attention to product developments and innovation, as well as consumer adoption (or lack thereof) and initial marketing success stories.
  • Strive to be “platform agnostic.” While Facebook’s Oculus Rift is currently the VR golden child, be sure to do some testing with HTC’s Vive and PlayStation VR.
  • For brands with visually immersive products and services (home improvement, real estate, tourism), tap into budding 360 video content creation platforms like InstaVRto get a head start on developing creative VR assets and experiences.

Mobile: Messaging apps & Cross-device measurement

whatsapp_mobile messaging

Image Source: Flickr

In 2014, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. Earlier this month WeChat made headlines with its massive mobile payment adoption in China, and just this week, Snapachat announced major feature updates that dramatically increased its communication capabilities with video and audio calling. The rise of the messaging app is unavoidable, and excitement around its potential to combine communication, social networking, and eCommerce was a hot topic at SXSW 2016.

The future of mobile is perhaps best summed up by Ted Livingstone, founder of KIK:

“Individual mobile apps are dying. A holistic experience within mobile messaging apps is the future.”

While that may seem hyperbolic, no one can deny the scale and growth of this space. One interesting example even highlighted the diversity of WhatsApp’s functionality where in Brazil it’s being used as a CRM platform. Who knew? While marketers are still getting their bearings with the likes of Snapchat and others, it’ll be imperative that close attention is paid to this rapidly evolving space.

In terms of programmatic advertising, cross-device measurement and execution is a continued pain-point for marketers – just this week eMarketer released a survey among programmatic media buyers who cited “multi-device measurement” as their number one challenge. At SXSW, additional areas of opportunity surrounding predictive modeling and sequential messaging were touted as overarching solutions (but surely that’s easier said than done).

Takeaways for marketers:

  • Pay close attention to mobile messaging apps, specifically focusing on continual feature roll-outs and testing opportunities.
  • MediaMath’s VP had a nice quote that I thought was pertinent: “There’s so much data. But if you’re using the right combination of technology partners, you should be able to connect the dots.” Translation? Evaluate potential vendors based on their cross-device measurement and execution abilities, and leverage multiple partners whenever possible.

Social commerce: let’s get visual


Image Source: Flickr

While mobile messaging dominated the mobile conversation, there were also noteworthy discussions around the future of social commerce. A primary opportunity? Leveraging visual assets on visual-oriented social networks (Pinterest, Instagram) to add value to the online shopping experience. One example statistic mentioned was a 79% lift in conversion rate when there is a visual-social integration directly into the eCommerce shopping experience.

Lisa Grimm, Associate Director of Social Media for Whole Foods, named Pinterest as the “best positioned” platform for eCommerce success. This is largely attributed to the growth of Pinterest’s Buyable Pins, which now feature 10,000 merchants and 10,000,000 Buyable Pins – in one case study it was cited that 90% of online sales from Buyable Pins came from new customers. That said, Facebook’s continual innovation with its product feed capabilities will also something worth watching.

Takeaways for marketers:

  • Establish a healthy balance with asset development and use – created vs. curated, lifestyle vs. product, image vs. video. Each provides different levels of value for consumers during their purchase journey and overall engagement with the brand.
  • If you’re focused on eCommerce, test Pinterest’s Buyable Pins with the goal of bringing new customers into your consumer journey (assuming your products and target audience align!).

audience identification accuracy

audience data

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Leveraging “Big Data” has long been a double-edged sword for marketers: it’s an incredible opportunity, but an even bigger challenge. Today’s primary struggle? Accurately identifying audience segments based on attributes used for targeting (demo, behavioral, contextual, first party). Specifically, for the uber-important Generation Z (people born after 1995), there is a growing irrelevancy with personal gender identification, with only 44% of Gen Zers say they always buy clothes designed for their specific gender, and 81% say that gender doesn’t define a person like it used to. These stats not only echo the recent shift in the integration of gender-assigned products, but also how that translates into paid media targeting and content development – more and more, we will need to rely more on the non-demographic attributes to reach and resonate with the right people.

There was also some prevalent conversation surrounding the creation of algorithms and how they can reflect the bias of society. Algorithms are created by humans, which means the adage “bad data in, bad data out” is a real concern. Last year’s Google Photos disaster was used as a particular example of how algorithms can inject prejudice, even if it’s not overtly intended to do so. Contributing to this issue is the lack of diversity among the engineering teams at companies like Facebook and Google, who are the ones creating these algorithms that dictate which content and which ads you see. Only 4% of Facebook’s staff is black. How can algorithms be expected to reflect the diversity of human behavior if they are being created primarily by one group?

Takeaways for marketers:

  • Increase the sophistication of your data analysis to ensure you reach this audience, especially if the products being supported are gender agnostic. Relying more on behavioral and first party data is a good place to start.
  • Never lose sight of the importance of human optimization: ensure there is an established human presence examining your data (i.e. social listening) and avoid automatically relying on technology to provide the correct information.

There was a lot more content I didn’t get to, otherwise this would be a really long recap. If you’re interested in some other bits of information and insight from my time at SXSW, you can check out my live-tweets at our hashtag #NHISXSW.




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