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SXSW 2010: Observations from an Overcrowded A-Town

My 14th go-round at SXSW consisted of many firsts – my first year attending as an Austin resident, my first year as an Interactive participant and my first year organizing the first annual San Diego Hoe-Down for the San Diego Music Foundation.

Attending both SXSW Interactive and Music required a 10-day commitment to learning, networking, eating, drinking and rocking – with very little sleep in between said activities.  Interactive was bigger than ever with more than 15,000 attendees – at least 600 were technology media – jammed into overcrowded hotel conference rooms for five days, discussing everything from mobile apps and geo-location marketing to brand influence and customer service.  Despite a few less than spectacular panels and speakers, and a lack of electrical outlets to recharge drained laptops and mobile devices, SXSW Interactive provided a fertile forum for discussion and brand building – both personal and professional.

A couple of key takeaways:

  1. Mobile marketing (apps, SMS texting programs and WAP sites) is the new inroad for brand engagement, stimulating a recurring debate among panelists around brands building their own mobile apps vs. sponsoring or marketing through pre-existing apps and mobile platforms.  Much like social media two years ago, mobile marketing has been infected with bright shiny object syndrome. Regardless, strategy must drive the decision to incorporate mobile into your brand marketing plans – does it support your brand goals and objectives?  Do you have a follow-up strategy in place?  How are you measuring success? The importance of understanding your customers – and their needs – before jumping into mobile is a fairly obvious yet often overlooked first step.  Are you providing value, education and relevance to your consumers?  Brands are perceived by what consumers are saying about them, so their mobile apps should be more about functionality, convenience and user experience than brand imagery and entertainment – built in location-based sensitivity designed to change consumer behavior should always be in the strategic conversation.
  1. Location is key, but privacy policy is king – lots of talk about geo-targeted social media marketing with location-based platforms Foursquare and GoWalla at the center of numerous panel discussions.  A humorous contribution from one panelist entertained the idea of joining Foursquare so he could check-in at “I don’t care where your eating,” located at the corner of “Who gives a sh*t” and “TMI.” Both Foursquare and GoWalla kept the privacy-control debate alive and kicking during panel discussions – positives and negatives associated with the increasing trend of telling people exactly where you are at any given time.  Foursquare also received high praise among conference attendees for incentivizing consumer behavior through points and prizes – in addition to connecting friends through location sharing.

In spite of the tragic news of Alex Chilton’s passing just days before a scheduled Big Star performance at SXSW Music, some festival highlights included:

  1. Lenny Kaye
  2. Alejandro Escovedo
  3. Chuck Prophet
  4. Whitey Morgan & the 78’s
  5. The Waco Brothers
  6. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
  7. Band of Horses (in a church)
  8. Vivian Girls
  9. Ivan Julian
  10. Dengue Fever
  11. Deadstring Brothers
  12. Sondre Lerche

I’m tired, my ears hurt and I need to do a Master Cleanse, but I’ll definitely be back for SXSW 2011.

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