Every year, floods of tech-savvy and tech-curious individuals make their way to Austin to take in the SXSW Interactive Festival. Credited in years past for launching new technologies like Twitter, the 2018 festival seemed to connect more with key themes like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and increasing diversity in the workplace. Specific to the sessions attended on the marketing and customer behavior tracks, the Mindsailing team netted these takeaways:


The Future of Technology in the Purchase Experience

While plenty of interactive sessions bemoaned the death of brick-and-mortar retail, Emily Wengert, an experience director at Huge argued that retail stores have much to gain by embracing what makes them different: tactile browsing that can't be paralleled in the e-commerce space. Certainly, digital is finding ways to permeate the retail store experience: brick and mortars from Starbucks to car dealerships have integrated “screens” to deliver brand messaging, but in most cases, as an after-thought lacking a specific reason-for-being with regard to the purchase experience. Instead, Wengert advocated for adding technology when it could deliver a memorable surprise tailored just for the audience. One such example she mentioned is the idea of an autonomous store -- self-driven vehicles that house product collections that navigate their way to a location that’s convenient for the consumer.

Takeaway: The integration of technology in retail - or anywhere in the sales and delivery of your product or service - should be a complementary and planned in advance


Integrated Campaign: V2

One of the unique differences about the SXSW Interactive Conference is that it exposes attendees to unique and unexpected topics through the lens of case studies. During an HBO roundtable on the secret sauce behind its smash hit series Westworld, the series producers stressed the importance of building a “transmedia” campaign to deliver narrative storytelling across multiple platforms for the purpose of enhancing the user experience. Case in point: the Westworld television show focuses on a futuristic Old West theme park where visitors can live out their fantasies, but the campaign surrounding its launch included a real-life trade show booth for the fictional park at a TechCrunch conference, where a web-based artificially intelligent (AI) concierge answered questions about the theme park, and a "secret" website that told the story of Westworld characters. Launching months in advance of the show, this marketing campaign linked these complementary channels in a network that fans could explore in advance of the series premiere.

Takeaway: Audiences are growing tired of traditional integrated campaigns that repeat the same message across marketing mediums. Standing out is the result of embracing platforms – website, email, social – in complementary ways.


The On-Demand Era Demands Focus and Purpose

In the age of Netflix and Amazon Prime, leading brands are working hard to serve customers with products and experiences in real time, but it's not enough just to be fast. During a panel at the Capital One-sponsored house, Nicole Quinn of Lightspeed Venture Partners noted that on-demand companies must have a specific, niche focus so customers understand how to use the channel. This was part of the challenge Lightspeed experienced with its investment in Taskrabbit - the online marketplace of freelance “Taskers” who could be contracted to help with most any daily task, but this generality made it hard to some customers to understand. Taskrabbit later gained stronger awareness when a majority of customers started leaning on the service specifically for help assembling DIY IKEA furniture. (IKEA went on to buy the company in 2017.)


On the same panel, Jeremy Phillips from Capital One's innovation team noted that the most successful implementations of on-demand, digital experiences reinforce or make easier the behaviors we already engage in. Using Lyft as an example, Phillips pointed out that people have always relied on friends for rides - Lyft simply added a digital overlay of convenience to an existing experience. Capital One strives to deliver a similar experience and Phillips noted a pilot debit card replacement program to underscore the point. In select markets, customers can use their banking app to report a lost card and have a new one delivered to their door step in less than two hours. The brand impact was clear. Phillips explained: exceed customer expectations with a standard, expected service and they’re more likely to recommend the product or company.

Takeaway: On-demand delivery of products and services may be a growing customer expectation, but without focus and purpose, the resulting experience will leave customers questioning its value.