Proof Strategies M

Notes From SXSW

March 19, 2018

“Are you having a good conference?”

That’s my pick-up line. Seriously. If I am sitting next to someone in a session, coffee shop or the shuttle from my hotel to downtown Austin, that’s what I ask them. And because I’m at SXSW, which has now become one of the largest interactive conferences in the country with more than 70K in attendance, here to see the latest in film, music and of course interactive, you are bound to meet some cool, smart people.

And they have a lot to say. This year’s SXSW had some interesting through-lines that I didn’t expect, but dovetail nicely to our mission at Proof – authenticity, empathy, transparency and wait for it……kindness.

I know, right? How unexpected!

But the BEST panels by far were about brands and leadership at brands, who were connecting with customers or their staff, through campaigns and initiatives that were honest, bold and didn’t sugar coat issues and topics that make people, well, uncomfortable.

Take for example this panel: “Why the Best Content Marketers Use Empathy” 

Led by leaders from Seventh Generation, Plum Organics baby food and an agency called Something Massive, they underscored the fact that their companies are striving to use an empathic approach when it comes to storytelling.  Their question: how do you identify topics to explore that feel authentic to your brand voice rather than contrived?

Seventh Generation and Plum Organics baby food have come up with some great campaigns to speak to customers’ most difficult issues …like finding time for sex, vaginitis and getting your kid to poop. Take for instance this Plum Organics campaign, “Do Your Partner.”  And, yes, it means exactly what you think means…

This type of really-honest thinking and direct engagement with the consumer’s pain points nicely complimented another session I thought was excellent:

“Create Magic: 6 Experiential Storytelling Secrets”

Led by CMO of Jameson Brand Homes, and General Motors Henry Ford Museum and of course their agency, BRC, this session explored the magic 6 keys of engaging audiences through storytelling, specifically through what they call “brand homes”.  Brand homes are actual physical spaces that tell a story about a particular brand and are starting to have real momentum in Europe now as well as the States.

  1. Start at the Heart. According to the panelists, 90 percent of the buying decisions we make are based on emotion. As a result, we must design from the inside out, and start from the heart of the audience. “Making sure that you are fishing with bait that is of interest to the fish, not the fisherman.”   What’s important to them?  Trying to find the things about the brand and things about the audience that connects them.  Ford Rouge Factory Tour is a great example as it attracts and changes to increase the knowledge of the audience. While innovation is an overused word, that is what drives the interest of our audience. Thinking about where manufacturing is going, and the constant change in the workforce and looking ahead 50 years– is the story GM is telling. GM has been consistently changing; they show how and have brought their workers and customers along.
  2. Know Your Destination. What kind of difference are you trying to create? What is the delta? Ergo you can’t mimic what’s already out there… you have to find what is new and speaks to customers at an emotional level. What are the actions you want people to take? Jameson identified clear KPIs – they wanted visitors to their brand homes in Cork and Dublin. They wanted them to understand and appreciate the complexity of distilling whiskey.
  3. Emotional Engagement. All great stories have a central theme. What is the one unifying theme that holds it all together? Everything you need is already there… like the Wizard of Oz. The Henry Ford Museum interviewed union workers to make sure that their theme aligned with what their other workers thought. And again, and again the employees said “innovation.” We have been around for more than 100 years, they said, and every time the industry changes we change too. Innovation is what we do best, they said.
  4. Engage all 5 Senses. Where and when you can, engaging the customer through the senses drives brand advocacy. The creation of brand homes, like Henry Ford’s Museum and Jameson Whiskey tour, allows brand advocates to physically experience the product. The Jameson CMO mentions the fact they still have William Jameson’s diaries from when he began the distillery more than 100 years ago – and it smells like hell but visitors love to see it, smell it, the whole deal.
  5. Create Magic. Technology is best when it’s invisible, they say.   In experiential marketing, in particular, the panelists spoke about the impact of VR, and AR in some of their brand homes and how the technology to create this experience is cloaked in a way that is fun and not overly complicated.
  6. Hospitality is Key. Because brands are shifting from a transactional experience to good-old-fashioned-customer service, hospitality is making a real comeback. People want to be engaged in thoughtful and kind ways because 3/4 of consumers who have had a negative opinion of a brand say it’s because of a bad experience with the staff. As a result, training staff is critical so that the Customer experience touchpoints are positive.

But truly, this theme of people first, authenticity and empathy carried through other leading sessions too – whether it was Jennifer Romallini, the Director of Shondaland’s Content Marketing, who led the session “How to be a Boss? Even if you are not really bossy” and wrote the book, “Weird in a World That’s Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ck-ups and Failures”; or Joey Coleman who wrote the book “Never Lose a Customer Again: Creating Lifelong Loyalty”, this theme of empathy, kindness, and emotional need is the latest trend in engaging and increasing the brand base.

Who knew that in the age of Trump, kindness would make a comeback?