What We Learned at SXSW Interactive

Jeffrey Hubbard

Category: Creative

03.19.2013

NJI Media attended SXSW Interactive. We learned that social media is alive and well, and we also picked up on some trend lines. You’ll find our three core takeaways from the conference below. As a bonus, we listed our favorite places to eat, drink, and listen to music. We invite your comments, reactions, and predictions.

The undercurrent of the conference was sharable content that builds the company or brand narrative. This buzz phrase takes many forms among digital strategists, and SXSW isn’t immune. Cutting through the noise is hard, but we have some thoughts.

With over 30 years of experience, John Hagel III spoke to the power of narratives. Unlike stories, narratives do not have a beginning, middle, or end; but rather, they have a vision for a better state. Digital media can help grow brand narratives, but it’s important to understand how.

There are two types of narratives, and they evolve with the company and through its customers. The first type of narrative is the true believer narrative, which is limited because the narrative is defined within a doctrine. The more powerful narrative is organic and can be explored, which allows the individual to define their path on their own terms. In other words, the individual finds his own meaning within the journey on his way to a better state. In the simplest terms, the explorer creates his own idea of heaven. This type of narrative is built with experience and communicates opportunity. In essence, this path provides forward momentum.

With BJ Fogg, we learned that tiny habits are better than revolutionary change because of the sustained momentum associated with completing small tasks. Dr. Fogg explains that individuals who focus on tiny tasks can form habits, and over time this incremental process will lead to real change. Dr. Fogg believes the reason for this success is momentum. With tiny tasks, there is no reason to tap into willpower; therefore, the resistance is minimal.

The narrative of the brand emerges through independent actors who weave together a story that transcends the product or service. With a narrative, the brand connects with the user in an emotional way that provides an ideal.

The most powerful element of communication is listening. As brands grow with digital media, the temptation is to control the conversation through content volume. In other words, when brands push content out, customers can’t come in, and that creates an engagement problem. Specifically, customers sustain the narrative that the company or product represents, and when you shut them down, you can’t hear their feedback. Without feedback, companies and brands can’t adapt.

We have always known the formula, but it’s important to be reminded. As we move forward in the digital age, it’s critical to remember the basics. That’s what we learned at this year’s SXSW. We need to understand how narratives are built, what we can do to facilitate tiny changes in consumer behavior to create long-term change, and to listen to customers in the process.

Here’s your bonus:

We ate Nuclear Tacos and we’re still recovering. We ate damn good food twice at The Jackalope. Our team played $15 worth of Buck Hunter at Buffalo Billiards. Drank Woodford Reserve with Fast Company. Bonded with New Yorkers at the Patio. The people at Stubbs know a couple of things about BBQ.

By the numbers, we attended 32 events and ate 37 tacos. In one day, Phillip Herndon walked 28,489 steps, which means he burned over 4,000 taco calories. We won’t revel the drink count, but it was more than the number of bulls we killed in Buck Hunter.

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