Cyborgs and Crossroads: Lessons from SXSW
Having spent 4 days at SXSW in soggy Austin earlier this month, I wanted to share some overall takeaways.
We Are All Cyborgs
Dictionary.com defines a cyborg as "a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device." A common theme to Amber Case and Ray Kurzweil's keynotes was that we're already functioning cyborgs. That, even though the technology is not implanted in our bodies, the smartphones we carry around are actually extensions of our brains. Hard to argue with this, except for the fact that I'm not sure it's actually helping us. I guess that's the flipside of dependency.
Agile vs. Waterfall
This to me was the primary takeaway, and it's something I've been discussing a lot for the better part of two years. We live in a real-time world, but our processes and people aren't built for this. Traditional ad agencies/agency people and traditional marketing clients weren't schooled in real-time development. And those who were (like interactive and CRM folks) were generally not schooled in the development of a brand.
We are at an intruiging crossroads. How can we balance the need to be more nimble and reactionary with the desire to create and nurture a brand that makes an emotional impact? How can agencies and clients structure their fees and budgets to allow for real-time flexibility and not drive their CFOs crazy?
Shiv Singh brought up a point that illustrated this issue clearly. The week before the event, the KONY video basically took over the Internet. And yet, there wasn't a single panel about it, and frankly, barely a single panelist even mentioned it. Here we were at the cutting edge of tech and marketing, and even it didn't have the ability to react in real-time to transformative events.
Promise vs. Peril
The flip side of this is that we've become a very reactionary culture. There is very little research or reading done before people make a personal decision on what side they want to take on an issue, and then broadcast that stance to the world. Things go viral before people even know the whole backstory.
The Homeless Hotspots effort by BBH and KONY are both good examples. Could there have been a better way to execute the Hotspot idea, or some tweaks to have it work better? Sure. But the backlash against the idea, all the way to The Daily Show, seems very outsized given that they were simply trying to do something altruistic. The backstory behind Invisible Children and the large quantity of their donations that do not go towards helping solve the problem is another example. Everyone taking a deep breath and doing a little research seems like good advice in these times.
Make Your Own Adventure
Overall, this was a great event. Credit to the organizers of SXSW for what is truly a mammoth undertaking and pulling it off with very few hitches. I walked away from this year truly feeling that if you're in any form of marketing, be it advertising/client side/interactive/etc., you're crazy if you don't find a way to attend. There is truly such a wide range of panels and topics that no two individuals' journeys are the same. I spoke with people who purposefully avoided all panels and just focused on the networking opportunities. And those who tried to hit as much as they could logistically to soak up as much learning as possible. Both ended up winners.
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