Reported by Harald Neidhardt, CMO & Co-Founder of Smaato Inc.
Coming down to Austin Texas in the middle of March is a great break from the usual trade shows – and especially the weather lately in New York, Europe or the Valley.
Greeted by a refreshing 77° F (25° C) the City of Austin is kind to its regular and newbie visitors and reveals an upbeat, young and vivid scene of creativity. The SXSW (South-by-South-West, or “South-by” for the regulars) festival for interactivity was started 13 years ago – added to the foremost music and film festival founded 24 years ago.
This year, 14.000 people flocked to Austin for a long weekend with a conference program running from Friday to Tuesday in the Convention Center plus adjacent hotels and music venues. Social Media is the overarching umbrella and is examined in lots of parallel tracks of panels and keynotes. Lots of online and mobile’s leading CEO’s and founders are present and share their visions and new product releases on stage with their peers.
Is Twitter Old School?
Twitter CEO Evan Williams officially announced the highly anticipated Twitter ad platform in a chat on stage by with Omair Haigue, who is the head of the Havas Media Lab. That did not go well with the real-time twitter community in the Ballroom and the additionally set up simulcast room – many left early.
The @anywhere named ad platform was presented with a short video and with underwhelming features. It does serve a purpose of make life easier for publishers and authors to set up “follow me” buttons on websites that we know already from Facebook. In addition a keyword feature has been introduced, where websites can set up links to twitter accounts of editors, brands or trending topics. There was no involvement of any big brand marketers presented – only some known publishers that will set these links up on their side. Those include the New York Times, CNN, Yahoo and the Huffington Post – there was no mobile screen and no mobile marketing initiative present, other than the availability of location published with every tweet. Within the hour 2.500 people signed up to follow @anywhere.
A much more energetic keynote was presented by New York Times bestseller Gary Vaynerchuk, Author of “Crush it”) as he emphasized heavily that brands need to open up and engage via twitter and social media with their target group and have authentic conversations. “Every meaningful conversation will lead to sales and a loyal brand community,” he proclaimed. When he said “Big brands don’t get it, a marketing person from P&G protested heavily – but Gary V. made clear that hiring agencies to do the dialog might not be the ideal way, but sometime necessary.
Training in-house teams to get involved on all levels will make big companies fitter for a much more educated and knowledgeable customer base that have a clear “bull shit detector” to filter out plain marketing messages from meaningful invitations to engage and provide feedback.
Geo Apps - the cool kids on the block
As anticipated the new rock stars of mobile location based apps made a big splash and were working the panels and presentations: foursquare (of New York) and Austin based Gowalla. They where even going head to head in party mode on Monday night - out doing their rivals with bigger, better events. The 13th annual SXSW Web Awards, sponsored by Adobe, rewarded Gowalla over Fourquare.
Foursquare founder NN spoke on a panel and emphasized, that mobile advertising in geo-apps is happening and evolving into local offers and targeted values to people checking into a new location, e.g. restaurants, businesses or event venues. Businesses can profit from the micro feeds of the foursquare crowd through viral marketing as word of mouth is getting blended with conversational, branded messages.
A new start-up entered the fray with an official launch at SXSW: stickybits based in New York and founded by Seth Goldstein is a pioneer in social media in the online space – and the founder and Chairman of Social Media Inc. – one of the fastest growing ad platforms for the Facebook platform. Now, he is at it in the mobile space: stickybits is a crossover of foursquare and Flickr – all around mobile barcodes. The interesting concept got of to a great start as SXSW visitors added coments, pictures and videos to provided barcode stickers attached to name tags and products such as coke cans and energy bars.
Big brands come out and play with social media
In a big local presence, some big brands came out to Austin and engaged in branded conversations with their audience and the local community of the festival.
Pepsi organized a clever initiative that invited the people to vote for one of three charities with twittering about the selected initiative by a specific hashtag. Refresh Pepsi provided then the “Refresh Zeitgeist” on lots of flat screens locally and online to show what is going on locally. In included maps of happening locations, quotes and tweets that related to SXSW and the campaign. The Pepsi Refresh Project is a groundbreaking effort to foster innovation in social good, and will award more than $20 million this year to fund great ideas that “refresh the world”.
Other brands onsite included Miller Light, AOL, GM and Microsoft among others. The expo floor has a focus mainly on tools for creativity and was a showcase of new startups and creative agencies to showcase their product or service.
Big telecom giant Alcatel-Lucent featured a developer and publisher lounge to present a solution of total access open API bundles. The set of technologies enables developers much faster to monetize services provided by operators (like advertising, virtual goods, anonymous demographic data, text messaging) within their app. Smaato was selected to be the mobile ad platform for the launch, other partners included Motally(analytics) and Billing Revolution (payments).
What can Marketers learn from this leading Interactive Festival?
Spending a few days in the atmosphere of this busting college town with all the start-up and social media energy one can only wonder how fast the mobile marketing train is coming out of the gates. This hotbed of alpha geeks, leading bloggers and influencers of old school media id the breeding ground for a new generation of creative ideas, discerning audiences that no longer want to be target groups.
If mobile marketers what to stand out from the crowd, find the engaging consumers that can spread the word about new products and services, then brands need to start digging deeper into new formats of mobile engagement and messaging.
Pure banner ads are challenged to add value to geo-location apps, social media and user generated news sites. Especially the hyper local advertising to targeted audiences of one on this personal device needs new ways to evolve – fast.