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Surprises from the First Day of SxSW 2017

Sun, 03/12/2017

By Mark McClennan , SVP, MSLGROUP

The first day of SxSW has come to a close, and if I had to sum it up, it was a day of surprises. The great conversations were still there – no surprise there. Only at SxSW can you have great conversations with communications executives at the CIA, Converse, Mall of America, McDonald’s, a law tech startup and investment bankers from Brazil.

The surprise was the fragmentation of themes and topics. The dominant theme continues to be innovation. But while last year, AR/VR overwhelmingly dominated the discussion, this year it is new approaches that seem to dominate. From changing the approach of tech, to Blockchain , to the rise of bots, communicators have even more tools, and more strategic decisions to making in the coming years. And this is a very good thing.

Healthcare continues its rise at SxSW, with some great sessions scheduled for the next few days. While financial services and fintech still have a presence, it is smaller compared to previous years as conferences such as Money20/20 and FinDevr siphon off speakers and attendees.

So what are some key takeaway and learnings?

Augmented Reality is an opportunity that requires companies and communicators to look at things in a new way.

The developers of Pokemon Go ( Niantic ) and the Knight Foundation addressed this topic in an opening session. Pokemon Go is still going strong, with tens of millions of daily players. What really stuck with me was a comment from John Hanke , CEO at Niantic “Tech companies are great at building consumer cocoons. We need to refocus on using technology for connecting in real life to meet human yearning.”

For communicators, this comes into play when planning an activation. If we can implement campaigns that don’t just use gamification but bring people outside together, the response can be overwhelming. It goes beyond this video of people chasing a Pokemon in Taiwan. Users have chartered planes and rented helicopters to get an edge and build a community. When was the last time one of your campaigns evoked such passion?

This also can help brands with their relationships with their cities. In many municipalities, public spaces are underutilized, and if a company can drive traffic and civic engagement, it can help build bridges.

Blockchain is more than just a financial services technology.

Many people outside financial services may not realize the impact Blockchain is having and will have. The session today should help dispel this perception. There were more than 450 attendees in the room, and hundreds more were turned away at the door.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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