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Andrea LaSala Snyder,
Director of Digital Services
Twitter: @AndreaLSnyder

"Considering how video and music have proliferated the web and social media, it is only fitting, therefore, that South by Southwest Interactive should be at the center (literally and figuratively) of the respective SXSW Film and Music festivals. The coverage of ‘things to come’ range from astounding (3D printing) to logical (Google+’s rise to becoming the social affinity standard), but only time and reception by the population will determine whether or not these enterprises will succeed."

Spotlight on SXSW 2013

Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog

March 18, 2013

Posted on The Conversation Starter blog on March 15 by Marian Hughes

I’m back from an action-packed three days in Austin for South by Southwest Interactive. If you haven’t been, SXSW Interactive is a conference on emerging technologies sandwiched between the famous SXSW Film and Music Festivals. The event takes over Austin’s downtown, providing a plethora of experiences including keynotes, panel discussions, meet-ups, trade shows, start-up pitches, parties and clever vendor offers and events – all held at multiple venues simultaneously.

Before I share some of the innovations I encountered at SXSW, here are some thoughts about how to get the most of out this conference. To me, planning a trip to SXSW was a lot like planning a trip to Disney -- you don’t just show up and wander around. Rather, you need to do your research upfront, get tips from experienced SXSWers, and go in with a plan to ensure you get the most out of it. If you don’t, you are guaranteed to be overwhelmed and go home disappointed. Prioritizing and mapping is a big part of the planning process – and when a session unexpectedly fills up, preparation and flexibility is key. You needed to be able to act on your plan B – and quickly. Thankfully, I came prepared.

Digital Disruption & The Future of 3D Printing

The underlying theme of most SXSW events was digital disruption – what innovations would be game changers and transform industries. Here’s a nice summary from Altimeter Group on the technologies the organization believes mattered the most from this year’s conference. Two of the hottest topics, positioned to hold the most promise for digital disruptions, centered around space and 3D printing. I attended a great panel discussion called The Future of 3D Printing, moderated by CNET's Rich Brown and featuring three panelists: Scott Summit, founder of Bespoke Innovations; Avi Reichental, CEO of 3D Systems; and Alice Taylor, CEO of MakieLab.

Why is 3D printing considered so game changing? One of the panelists summed it up well, saying that previously a few companies designed for millions, and now with 3D printing, millions can design for themselves. Because products can be printed on the spot with 3D printing, the technology eliminates inventory issues and expensive tooling processes, not to mention IP issues that arise when releasing product designs for tooling and manufacturing.

The price point of 3D printing makes it available to start-ups, and its capabilities completely level the playing field in innovation and design, enabling up and coming companies to compete shoulder-to-shoulder on product development with established companies. The panel added some counterbalance to the opportunity of 3D printing by touching on some of its issues as well, specifically the potential to one day download and print files for fully functional firearms. It was an eye-opening discussion.

The Power and Promise of Affinity Databases

Another session particularly relevant to my clients was a presentation by Nate Elliott of Forrester Research, titled Affinity, Intent and the War for Marketing Dollars. Elliott set the stage, explaining that despite advancements in technology, marketers are still guessing who their customers are...and more often than not, their guesses are wrong. He went on to explain that social media presents a huge opportunity to help marketers with their brand initiatives – but companies are still figuring out how to tap into the power of social data.

Elliott explained the differences between intentions and affinity in social media. Intentions are observed by rational/exploratory searches and affinity is shown by more emotional/engaging behaviors online such as likes, plus-ones, comments and reviews. While databases of intent have been useful as marketers craft strategic direct marketing campaigns, they have fallen short in terms of providing guidance to brand-building programs. Elliott believes cracking the code on social affinity databases is the secret sauce that will truly help companies develop strategic, on-the-mark brand-building programs.

While Facebook currently has the corner on the affinity market, Elliott does not believe the company will win the race in decoding affinity for marketing dollars. Why? He says the winner will be the solution that:

  • Pulls data from across the social world
  • Has access to analysis tools and analysts who can help them bring meaning to their harvested data
  • Offers advertising formats that create brand impact

As you probably are deducing, Facebook can’t win this battle in its current state because it only draws its affinity data from one source – Facebook users – and its ad formats are limited and uninspiring. Got a guess who he thinks has the strongest potential to win the affinity game? Yep, that’s right….Google. Google collects affinity from many sources (YouTube, Google+ Gmail, Zagat’s, the Google Index, etc.). As such, it has the power and talent to bring meaning to data and it offers the best ad unit for branding through YouTube.

Elliott believes that over the course of the next four years, marketing will evolve through four stages of affinity, ending with a ubiquitous affinity phase in 2017. This transformation will result in branding campaigns that deliver a more accurate, engaging and powerful experience for customers.

In summary, SXSW was an enriching, albeit exhausting, experience and a fantastic opportunity to explore the next wave of digital disruption. Here are some links to other interesting topics explored this week in Austin. So long for now Austin, we’ll see you next year!