SXSW – What’s next for Brands & Marketing?

SXSW, or South by South West to give it its full name, was started in 1987 by members of the local newspaper, The Austin Chronicle. Originally intended as a music and arts festival it has quickly grown to become one of the World’s most important events for film, art, music and most importantly for me, interactive media, marketing and digital technology.

Having always been fascinated by innovative digital technology and the impact this has on human behaviour, I was excited to see how large and small businesses are using technology to learn insights from, and reach their customers.

I spent 5 days visiting the various events, keynotes, experiences and demonstrations to find out ‘What’s Next’ for Brands & Marketing? Below is a summary of my key observations, I hope you enjoy 🙂


PepsiCo & MarsWrigley Consumer Insights

One of the great things about SXSW is the access to speakers from global brands and businesses. One of the first talks I attended had 2 of the biggest global brands; PepsiCo & MarsWrigley. The talk was titled; Insight Leaders on the new Consumer Centric Approach to Marketing’ and featured; Tim Warner (VP Insights & Analytics Global Digitisation Leader) PepsiCo, Michelle Gansle (Marketing & Insights Leader) MarsWrigley and Ryan Barry (Chief Revenue Officer) of Zappi, an insights business working with some of the world’s largest brands.

Both Michelle and Tim spoke about how technology has taken the control away from brands and into the hands of consumers. Tim said; Technology has empowered consumers. They are no longer just ‘consumers’ they are the instigators and they arguably are the marketers of brands.”

Michelle went on to state how enabling technology has raised consumers expectations and how this is causing large brand’s certain challenges:-Consumers expect to buy what they want, when they want and have it within 24 hours. MarsWrigley have a challenge to adapt to this need. That level of service used to be a ‘delighter’.” Tim added:- “A WOW moment, quickly becomes expected.”

So how are big brands tackling these challenges? Through insights and more intelligence on how consumers react and interact with their brands. Ryan had some useful tips on how brands could tackle this; “Don’t spend time or money on what you already know. Standardize and digitise workflows, learning and data systems. Make sure you connect success metrics to drive foresight. And most importantly, infuse consumer learnings into your workflow to drive innovation.” This last point really struck a chord with me and what we do within our business. As a ‘Solutions’ company our foundations are built on innovations which are driven by our customer insights. Before we set off on any new product development the first question we ask (or are often told) is what does the customer want? How can we make this a win-win? That often includes; time/cost savings, efficiencies and/or a unique offering. SASO®, one of our latest innovations, provides all of these and has been driven entirely by customer insights.


IS THIS THING ON? Creating ‘Sound-On’ Content, in a ‘Sound-Off’ World

As already mentioned above the access to global brands is worth a visit to SXSW alone, and my next talk featured another; Twitter. The premise of the talk was how do you engage your audience so much, that they ultimately end up turning the sound-on when viewing your social feeds?

Tom Chirico (Lead Brand Strategy, StoryLab) from Twitter, started the discussion with some fascinating statistics; 85% of all content viewed on social media channels is watched with the Sound-Off and a staggering 70% of users on social media will scroll past your content if it doesn’t engage them within the first 3 seconds.” When you combine this with the fact that 91% of Millennials will discover the content they want by browsing feeds, it’s extremely important that your content hits the mark.

So how do you make content that is so engaging, people want to turn the sound on and ultimately engage with it? Tom had some useful tips; “Don’t wait until the end of your content for your punchline (key message), put it at the beginning, ideally within the first 3 seconds. Show people in your content. Showing people has been proven to drive engagement. And finally, 90% of Twitter users read the text copy in your posts, therefore ask people to engage with your content.” Certainly, food for thought when you are trying to drive engagement across your social media channels.


Re-branding Mastercard for the Digital Age

Know what a MOGO is? Neither did I, until I’d attended a talk by Mastercard’s Chief Marketing Officer; Raja Rajamannar. During the talk Raja discussed how Mastercard have dramatically changed their marketing output over the last 6 years to focus on ‘priceless’ experiences such as concerts, movie premieres, art exhibitions and global ‘events’. This intentional shift from traditional advertising was done because, as Raja said; “Advertising is seen as noise. The experience of advertising is annoying.’” This coupled with the fact that Mastercard have 1.88 billion consumers across the globe, tailoring adverts for each of these audiences becomes a huge task.

So what is a MOGO? Quite simply a musical logo. But why? Raja explained that the Mastercard brand previously had 10s of different identities and over time he has been stripping this back so the visual identity of Mastercard is now very simple, just an orange and red circle slightly overlapping, even the word ‘mastercard’ has been removed. This now ticks a lot of boxes from a visual perspective, but what about commerce where visuals don’t exist e.g. Amazon Alexa? Mastercard have spent the last 2 years developing their audio identity which is broken down into 3 main parts; Melody (30 seconds +), Sonic Signature (3 seconds) and an Acceptance Sound (1.2 seconds). The acceptance sound is the sound it will make at the till when you pay for your shopping or alternatively the sound your Alexa or other smart speaker will play when you choose to pay with Mastercard (Mastercard have already integrated the acceptance sound with Alexa). The MOGO has been customised for 24 different cultures and countries and the shorter versions will play differently in Tiffany’s then if you were in a discount store but still have the same notes so can be recognisable as the Mastercard sound. I found it fascinating the way global brands are looking to protect and indeed enhance their brand through new mediums such as smart speakers and audio artificial intelligence.


An Ad Guy & Pyschologist Walk into a Campaign – The Pyschology of Adverts

As I mentioned in the introduction to this blog I find the impact technology has on human behaviour extremely fascinating. This has recently led me to try and understand why people behave in certain ways. After some initial research, I discovered the book; ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman, a remarkable insight into the way our brains are ‘wired’. With this book fresh in my mind, I was excited to attend a talk titled An Ad Guy & Psychologist Walk into A Campaign.”

During the talk Dan Monhelt owner of creative agency; Hardhat and Sports Pychologist Dr Melissa Weinberg dissected 3 well known adverts and gave us a detailed breakdown of the impact each of the adverts have on our brains. Below is a brief summary of those adverts and the psychology behind them:-

1.      Budweiser – Wasssup!

This advert originally aired back in 1999 and was an instant hit. The reason? Well, according to Dan, Budweiser used something called ‘Vernacular Jacking’, taking a well-known phrase (‘What’s Up’) and creating their campaign around this. Melissa expanding on this by stating what Budweiser had done is known as ‘Classical Conditioning’ taking two previously unconnected things (Budweiser & the word wassup used between friends) and brought them together. The term ‘Wassup’ is now synonymous with the Budweiser Brand and as Dan pointed out no royalties had to be paid unlike brands who use a specific piece of music in their advertising. Very smart.

2.    P&G – ‘Thank You Mom’

P&G were faced with a huge challenge when trying to capture what they did as a business in one advert to promote their sponsorship of the 2018 Winter Olympics. P&G own 18 global brands and make everything from batteries to nappies. The advert they produced used something called the ‘Availability Bias’, or to put it in a less psychological term; something everyone can relate to. By making the advert relatable, emotional and building the story from a sad beginning to a happy ending, the message was very powerful. John Lewis is another business who do this very well every year with their Christmas adverts. 

3.    Apple – Are you a Mac or PC

In 2006 Apple produced 66 adverts featuring 2 actors representing the PC (beige, geeky) and Mac (cool, relaxed) personalities. The adverts blatantly described the advantages of using a Mac over a PC. Something Dan described as Side by Side advertising. Nothing new, but previously this had always taken an aggressive stance i.e. ‘Don’t go there, go here’, ‘We’re cheaper than XYZ’. What Apple had used is something called the ‘Peak-End Rule’. By creating a number of ‘peaks’ within each of the adverts they always finish with the Mac looking a lot better option than the PC, leaving the viewer thinking this must be a better product. Also, by creating 66 of these adverts Apple also tapped into something called the ‘Confirmation Bias’. The brain loves to be right so when you see these messages over and over again the brain believes they are correct.


So where do we go from here?

I believe there are many learning’s from the talks detailed above however, I’ve tried to summarise the top 3 below.

• Your customers are your most powerful marketers. Learn from them and develop solutions to make their lives easier. If you do this they will champion your brand.

• Understanding human behaviour can be a powerful ally when devising any campaign. Take some time to understand these behaviours it will guide and help you when making those key decisions on advertising and marketing budgets.

• Brands and products need to be aware and ready for the changing landscape of consumer behaviours in relation to technology. XR, audio commerce and artificial intelligence will all play a huge part in how consumers engage with brands and how they purchase products.

If you have any questions or feedback on my SXSW experience please feel free to drop me an email to:-

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