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What We Learned About The Future at SXSW 2017

By Karsh Hagan | 

What We Learned About The Future at SXSW 2017

Karsh Hagan talks tomorrow

Every year, Karsh Hagan sends a multidisciplinary team to SXSW to report back on what the future holds for marketers and advertisers. This year, the KH team brought back an awesome snapshot of what tomorrow has in store for you. Here are our biggest takeaways from 2017. 


AI was a big point of discussion across SXSW. Whether it was the robots at Japan Factory discussing the finer points of sushi or the many sessions on the subject, the discussion was surrounding how we can use AI to supplement our efforts, not replace us in the workplace. While there's no telling what the future holds, for now, we're being encouraged to look at this AI movement as an infinitely evolutionary tool to augment our finite human intelligence.

Why you should care? Because robots will one day rule the world, driving us back to our caves, goat shanks and fascination with fire. But more immediately, this is directly related to a lot of the email marketing automation that has been around for quite a while, but only continues to grow in sophistication. And it’s a manifestation of the bots that act as customer service surrogates and social media curiosity. What other ways can we use machine logic to simplify our lives and optimize our efforts and clients’ budgets and brand experiences? The future starts now, Will Robinson.


VR/AR was everywhere, from gaming demos at the WOW Factory to the National Geographic popup featuring a full gallery of augmented reality art. Snapchat glasses were the big buzz with a one-of-a-kind-in-the-world vending machine and countless early adopters trying not to be obnoxious (and failing) with their game-changing eyewear. Sony featured unique armbands capable of controlling music and SFX, and Thad Starner (the dude behind Google glass) previewed an amazing set of gloves that teach your muscles how to play piano in half an hour or less. Bottom line: our digital and physical realms will continue to merge and become intertwined as our human experiences bridge the gap between the world around us and the one that exists within.

Why you should care? Wearables represent an open book of opportunity for monetization. There’s no question that the potential is there, the technology is amazing and people are interested, but no one’s doing it well yet. As wearable options continue to grow, our job is to help brands discover new ways to use that technology to engage with their audiences. The answer lies outside of our current media realm because banner ads in the top corner of Google glass are not the answer. This represents a place where we can start putting together other SXSW insights (content, authenticity, diversity) to break through the clutter and do something completely new.


Nearly every session on nearly every industry and topic, at some point, focused the dialogue on the top line importance of almighty content. The key takeaway is that you need lots of content (which is increasingly visual in nature). But, in order to effectively create it, you must know your brand, have a clear message, have a clear goal in mind, and have insights into who your audience is and how they consume content. One size fits all ultimately fits nothing, so be ready to design unique content for unique vehicles. And keep in mind that as people interact with your content, they create data themselves. Be ready to leverage those insights, but don't be a creep. People will get spooked if you push too hard. So be real, target effectively, create unique content and make sure it's aligned with your brand voice. Be considerate with your consumer and you should be good!

Why you should care: If you work in the ad industry, you’re already painfully familiar with the power of content. But as content needs evolve (and our audiences get smarter every campaign), we need to evolve our approach to maintain pace. The ultimate considerations are maintaining alignment with the voice of your brand, going where your consumers are and understanding how they consume content, and what type of content is going to make their lives better. If you’re not checking those boxes, you’re spinning your wheels.


Technology and social media continue to drive globalization. With globalization comes the idea of equality, because we're all different, have different dreams and goals, skin color, etc. Globally, politically, socially. Gender, ethnicity, body shape. Across every industry, every geography, inclusive brands will rule the future. Joe Zee calls this "The Acceptance Revolution." Ultimately, it's about loving yourself, striving for health and achieving a new level of self-confidence. Because once you can accept yourself, you have every right to expect the rest of the world to follow suit.

Why you should care? Marketers and advertisers are some of the most guilty purveyors of an unrealistic, idealized world (whatever that means). We are in a position to help drive diversity both through our language, message, imagery and the channels we use to communicate with our audiences. While it may just be TV commercials, print ads and digital banners, it’s also an opportunity to set the example of inclusivity and a celebration of diversity, for both brands, entire industries and the world.


Between SIRI, Amazon Echo and the countless other voice-directed technologies, digital experiences and UI will continue to be shaped by the human voice. The web is evolving from a browser-based, text-heavy experience to one that’s based on natural spoken, contextually-relevant human language. What's a CTA button look like in a verbal environment? How will this tech change the way we learn, think and do work? How is this digital phenomenon reshaping the way we communicate in the real world? By tapping into human's most inherently intuitive (and oldest) form of communication, we are rethinking our future and reinventing tomorrow's technological (and human) capabilities.

Why you should care? Use cases for this technology continue to grow, spanning verticals and applications. For example, the banking industry is using voice interactions to simplify basic interactions such as checking statements or sending money. Tourism experts are starting to use this tech to curate visitor experiences, positioning computers to act as personal concierges that help people book dinner reservations or activities. Where’s it going next? Well that’s up to you now, isn’t it?


Across a wide range of sessions and topics, the idea that we should expand our realm of influence outside of our expertise rang loud and clear. Gary Vaynerchuk spent a fair amount of time on this subject, saying, "those that try more things will find more success. Don’t try and predict what's coming next, but be willing to engage and ready to react." In other words, stay agile, be curious, and don't limit yourself to what you already know. The future is diversification of knowledge. Expand your mind or get left behind.

Why you should care? This takeaway is all about you as a person. Who you are, what you’re into, what you might be totally ignorant of. And, of course, as we grow as individuals, we grow as professionals and inspire the people around us. The big truth is that we should all stop being so focused on personal comfort and put ourselves out there in a way that makes failure an option. To quote Gary V again, “Learn to love failing. It’s a point of pride, cost of entry, it’s literally how you succeed.”


Authenticity equals trust. And trust equals brand engagement. Ultimately, we should be striving to make authentic connections with our audience, whether you're creating a unique voice for your brand or leveraging consumer-generated content as a surrogate. The key to authenticity is having a genuine purpose that people can emotionally connect with. Have candor, maintain grace, and be human. In the era of "fake media," this idea of authenticity extends to journalists as well, with representatives from NYT, AP and the Huffington Post sharing their perspectives on what it means to be authentic, and how audiences now have the power to decide for themselves what is real, and what they simply consider "alternative facts."

Why you should care? As the voice of the brands you service, you are the ultimate purveyor of authenticity (or a lack thereof). As a consumer, you have the power to interact with brands that feel authentic to you and shape the impact of your behavior. Many marketers are focused on feature/function, the “what,” but your audience is yearning for purpose and emotion, the “why.” If you’re not making those connections with your audience, then you’re just spitting in the wind.

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