SXSW Snapshot: Innovation Re-Imagined
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SXSW Snapshot: Innovation Re-Imagined

Holmes Report

By Chad Latz There can only be the debut of so many trend-shaping, culture-shifting technology platforms; a finite number of $19 billion dollar lottery tickets. But by de-emphasizing a focus on “the next big thing” SXSW Interactive has succeeded in re-orienting the concept of a technology innovation conference, with a shift toward what I would describe as technology adaptation, application and implication. Here are some dominant themes and examples that reflect this shift. [caption id="attachment_1878" align="alignright" width="150"]Chad Latz Chad Latz[/caption] Adaptation – Hacking the Convergence of Physical and Digital Consumer-grade 3D printing technology was a popular hardware development heavily promoted and discussed last year at SXSW, but many were left saying “So what?” And for the marketing community, agency wonks had visions of 3D printers installed in their creative departments birthing a genesis of brand-oriented object-making for both pitch and purpose. But Oreo showed us something unique this year merging the physical and social spheres to create a unique brand experience with the Oreo Trending Machine, adapting 3D printing technology to construct custom cookies fueled by trending topics on Twitter. This of course is not a plea to have every brand create a 3D printing strategy, but rather to employ a maker / hacker mindset to how branded experiences might be created to entertain or engage the consumer. Application – “Sensing” the Tip of a Trend I am hoping that the group of people at the conference, referred to by some as “Glassholes,” have enough of a sense of humor to laugh at themselves. But if SXSW2014 has told us anything about wearable tech, it’s that the term is a gross miscategorization of what is truly the tip of a seismic shift, one focused on what might more broadly be defined as ‘sensing technologies.’ Sensing technologies are not just able to count steps, but are now capable of reading the emotions of the user. Perceptible physical responses such as change in skin temperature, brain wave activity and pupil dilation provide fairly accurate indicators of emotion. This went on display in a rather bizarre way by Subway promoting it’s new Flatizza product by strapping brain monitors to convention goers and then asking them to battle each other in a duel of mental focus in which they attempted to move a Flatizza with their mind across an LCD. But a far more compelling example came from a panel on emotional storytelling, which demonstrated (through similar technologies) how emotional responses (fear, anger, bliss, lust) could be measured. The implication by IDFA DocLab Director Caspar Sonnen and Brent Hoff, director of programming at the Made in New York Media Center, was that detectable emotional states and triggers could in fact inform how a narrative takes shape. This should be particularly interesting to marketers who are often focused on trying to deliver very individualized and relevant content as well as an engaging brand experience to the consumer. The notion that consumers could provide emotional response data without actually volunteering a response is an extremely thought-provoking concept. [caption id="attachment_1879" align="alignright" width="300"]Subway's Flatizza Exhibit Subway's Flatizza Exhibit[/caption] Implication – The Impact of Technology on Humanity Acceleration in the digital realm can create real-world problems that require innovation to solve. At a session titled The New Digital Age (#NewDigAge), top brass at Google, Eric Schmidt and Director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen, had a lively conversation with Wired Senior Tech Writer Steven Levy about the impact and implications of social media and technology in a global context through the lens of data privacy, security and permanence. There were compelling stories about countries suffering from civil unrest where Google Maps have allowed children to share safe routes through warring factions to school. When citizens and governments have vastly different perspectives about data surveillance and privacy, there is the daunting task of maintaining free and open access to information and to the Internet. For every session touting the immense value and promise of technology and data to solve global hunger or deliver greater brand engagement, there were an equal number of panels that promoted the perils. Tony Salvador, social scientist, anthropologist and engineer at the Experience Insights Lab at Intel, proposed that we have arrived at a state of “radical imbalance” which has developed as a result of how much data we expose, most often unknowingly. And as the masses are surveilled by the few, the value that we receive in exchange for exposing this data is far less than the value that we provide. [caption id="attachment_1880" align="alignright" width="300"]Agritech's Promise: Food for 10B and Beyond – a panel about the role of technology and data to optimize food production. Agritech's Promise: Food for 10B and Beyond – a panel about the role of technology and data to optimize food production.[/caption] As marketers we should pay close attention to these implications and consider the value exchange that takes place when collecting and applying data to bring brands closer to consumers. To be responsible practitioners of how we develop and use technology. SXSW has not turned a deaf ear on past attendees claims that “the conference is dead.” By shifting the focus away from flash-in-the-pan ideas to a compelling and nuanced look at technology adaptation, SXSW continues to be a valuable investment for brands and marketers alike. We can expect to see some strategic alignment by marketers that reflect these themes in the year to come. Chad Latz (@chadlatz) is worldwide president of the Digital Innovation Group at Cohn & Wolfe.     
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