Top ten takeaways from SXSW for the next year

Simon Mainwaring / Brands / 9 years ago

Image: Diaspora Project

SXSW was a blur of friends, seminars, free TONE bars, dropped phone calls, late night drinks and music, and a gazillion smart people sharing interesting ideas. Now that the dust has settled, I thought I’d share the top ten things I took away from the week. You know, the broad stroke stuff that stick in your head after the details have faded away. So here goes…

1: CHINA: China is a behemoth that is not waiting for U.S. permission to lead the social revolution. The sheer weight of numbers are staggering in terms of who’s engaged in social media, what they are discussing and the sophistication of the consumer marketplace. Take the Ford Focus. There are groups built around nicknames for the car in constant discussion across multiple social networks. Consumers have fully embraced social media as a platform to discuss brands and brands need to keep up.

2: LISTENING: The quality of your listening will determine your success as a brand. Yet many brands are still listening for what they want to hear rather than listening to what consumers are telling them. As long as they do that, brands will fail to take advantage of the enormous benefits of social media.

3: LOCATION: Location based apps are in their infancy but growing fast. This year’s gathering was characterized by competition between Foursquare and Gowalla, but their revenues are rising so quickly they can no longer claim to be the new kid on the block. My impression is that location based applications will continue to diversify and be integrated into larger platforms as we just saw with Facebook.

4: GOOD DEEDS: Doing good is good business. Whether it was Beth Kanter’s crowdsourcing workshop, Sanjay Gupta’s workshop on storytelling or the Causelab that I participated in, contribution is increasingly important part of the social ecosystem.

5: BRANDS: Brands can be social. The Pepsi Refresh project at SXSW had a big presence this year and it was readily embraced. Pepsi did a grest job of disseminating their community-building message and therefore their brand.

6: CREATIVITY: Creativity is king. One of the long-standing definitions of creativity is two unrelated things coming together to create a third. The wonderful thing about SXSW this year was that musicians and filmmakers were attending the interactive session because they realized that’s where their future lies as well. Such interdependence also applies to brands.

7: EXPECTATION: I was really struck at how vocal the SXSW crowd was of seminars that fell below their expectations. This is encouraging because it shows that this crowd is not complacent or entitled. As change agents everyone seemed to take their roles and collective contribution very seriously.

8: SERVE TO LEAD: Each of the keynotes reflected a common theme – enable the user to access and share meaningful information in the ways they want to do it. The leadership brands demonstrated palpable awareness that their future success depends on how they serve users.

9: IP: Time and again I heard how the intellectual property (IP) of a brand now resides in its community. Not in the sense of crowdsourcing ideas, but rather through the organic evolution of user needs that are communicated to brands. This is an incredibly powerful realization as it means you have thousands if not millions of members in your think tank telling you how to keep pace with technology and the marketplace.

10: GAMING & VIRTUAL CURRENCY: These two are the big boys waiting in the wings to trump everything. Gaming and virtual currency permeated almost every discussion about the future of branding and consumer interaction. In short, the user experience across all media will increasingly come to approximate a gaming-like experience while virtual currency will soon merge with real currency transforming commerce (something that has already begun in South Korea).

These are my personal takeaways. If anyone else has anything that they think was really notable that should be included, please add it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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  1. Avatar danweingrod says:

    Great post Simon – I would add that Privacy and the related topic of Identity also felt like big wraparound topics at many of the sessions I attended. What was exciting for me, at my first SXSW, was the sense that here was a community that understood that it was moving ahead into uncharted territory and was willing to listen and embrace potentially critical and contrary opinions.

  2. Avatar Rita says:

    typo in #4 — it is Sanjay (not Sunjay) Gupta. (unless you were purposely putting together Suneel and Sanjay since they both led that discussion…)

  3. Great. Thanks. My mistake. I'm a big fan of what they're doing.

  4. Agreed, Dan. Privacy was a huge issue. It's difficult now that we live our private lives in public. My takeaway was that people who share other's information must be mindful of the person's original intent. Important stuff, for sure. Thanks again, Simon

  5. Avatar digitalgodess says:

    Great post Simon – thank you for sharing the 10 takeaways. We are looking forward to gleaning more of your insights at ConnectNow #cnow in Sydney. #SXSW sounded amazing…all the way down here.

  6. Very useful, Simon. Thanks for taking the trouble to do this. It's very helpful.

    Best, Robin 🙂

  7. Great. I love your avatar too – Digital Goddess – wow. I'm looking forward to it too. Really hope to provide some useful insights. Thanks and hope all is well. Simon

  8. My pleasure. When the dust clears on any event, I just want the snapshot myself. What went down and what do I need to know. Really glad its helpful. Simon

  9. Avatar iconic88 says:

    Another gem Simon! 😉

    Being here in Sydney, it's always great to have a trusted opinion filter out the cream for us outside of the US. Did they mention filters at #SXSW?

    You can see why gaming and virtual currency are intersecting and growing. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's formative work in the 70's around the concept of “Flow” explains this really well here >>

    All the best Simon.

  10. So glad it's helpful, Mahei. And again, these are only my impressions. No, they didn't really mention filters much from what I heard. Not sure what you mean. I'll check out 'Flow' for sure. Sounds really interesting. Thanks, Simon.

  11. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    Your impressions I trust Simon 😉

    Hope you enjoyed the read on 'flow' 😉 It's one of those Uni reads that makes sense.

  12. Definitely. Really makes a lot of sense. Thanks again, Simon