Christine de la Huerta|Mar 26, 2013

A few weeks back from SXSW Interactive 2013 and my mind is still swirling with all the inspiration and ideas transmitted at this admittedly overwhelming five days of Austin wonderment.

Immediately upon returning to the office, everyone asked me, “What did you think?” It really takes a while to let it all sink in and coalesce, and figure out what major takeaways will stick long after the sessions, workshops, lounges, parties and after-parties become a fading daydream.

SXSW is known as the largest gathering of the brightest minds from digital, tech and social media worlds. You find inspiration everywhere. Not only at the motivational keynote addresses, but also at the meet-ups, sessions and even your counterparts waiting in line with you or riding the conference shuttle.

Between Raph and I, we attended approximately 30 sessions and workshops on topics ranging from new journalism to big data and storytelling to social media along with things we never thought of! We tweeted in real time as we heard many experts relay their nuggets of wisdom. You can still find all of the on-the-ground, day-to-day coverage right here.

Now for the key takeaways. Sure, everyone is talking about 3D printing, the hardware boom, cool new apps, and exciting social start-ups.

But beyond the rush to meet “Grumpy Cat” and with hindsight being clearer, we wanted to point out some of the more concrete PR, marketing and social media themes that stood out to us as being more useful in our everyday work.

It all comes down to this: The next big thing in marketing is not the device but the 21st century brand adapting to consumer needs. (A nugget of wisdom we picked up at an OMMA Mobile session.)

Mobile matters

The one thing nearly every session we attended mentioned was the impact mobile has been having on nearly every industry. The best campaigns are truly omni-channel, and mobile is a platform ripe for innovation. Essentially, SXSW panelists encouraged us to think about mobile first and foremost in marketing.

There is a new reality for brands in the age of mobile that can be summed up like this: There is no more online vs. offline. Which brings us to…

Frictionless customer experience

Remember when Mark Zuckerberg made a big deal about frictionless experiences? Facebook’s implementation of the concept received mixed reactions, but its heart was in the right place. A frictionless customer experience is what we all really want.

Some marketers set out to develop tactics along specific channels, but that’s not putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. Instead, we should go out of our way to make things easy for the customer. Customers don’t think in categories of SOLOMO (social | local | mobile). They just want an experience that is easy and tailored to their needs.

As Russ Unger, senior UX Leader for GE Capital, said during his solo session, “A good experience is invisible.”

The importance of storytelling

The classic tenets of storytelling apply to your brand and your online content strategy. In our session with Mark Williams and Carri Bugbee, they discussed the idea of having a storytelling plan: Who is your main character? What is the context for the story? What challenge must be overcome? How does the story end? What’s the theme?

Mark showcased Isaiah Mustafa’s Old Spice ads as a good example of omni-channel storytelling that had an arc. (In this case, it was the Old Spice guy joining the Internet.)

Today’s social channels have reached a certain maturity. It’s not enough to simply acquire new fans, followers or likes. What’s more important is how you engage with customers once they are there.

For many brands, a message is best told through its unique story, rather than a sales pitch. A relatable story with emotional touchpoints to capture audiences and unfold with rich details. That’s the stuff of long-term brand loyalty. In other words, it’s not enough to post shallow, “like this” type updates.

Even with all the hype we heard regarding “big data,” Wall Street Journal Senior Writer James Grimaldi put it best, “Good data doesn’t necessarily make a good story. It has to have a human element. Narrative is your friend.”

Find your visual voice

How you visually present your content is increasingly crucial to your brand story.

Visuals are becoming more and more central to the online experience, with visual platforms like Pinterest and Instagram growing exponentially and accounting for the largest growing segment pushing web traffic. In addition, fans are 44 percent more likely to interact with brands if they post pictures than any other media.

The bottom line is…your brand and your content need a visual definition to compete online today.

Put the customer first

We know that Breakout Brands put the customer first, aim to do more to make customers lives better and inspire emotional attachments that can be measured at the cash register. You should tell your story from the customer perspective. For instance, if you’re a toothpaste company, don’t just post about your product. Share a mom’s story about the first time their children brushed their teeth by themselves.

As marketers, we are not connecting with customers, users or registrants. We’re connecting with people, and people want to feel that. According to rbb’s research, 83 percent of people would pay more for a product or service from a company they feel puts them first.

Raph and I discussed these concepts at our official Breakout Brands Meet Up during SXSW and also took note of numerous breakout brand behaviors and insightful tidbits throughout the conference, which we collected for you here. We also gave out some cool swag!

All in all, it was an excellent mashup of ideas and inspiration. Stay tuned; we will be expanding more on all of these concepts in future blog posts.


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