SXSW 2018: Three Things I Learned About Building Customer Trust

I’d never attended SXSW. The number of events stretching across downtown Austin were utterly overwhelming. Since my boss, Zoe (Hale Advisors president and CEO) had attended twice, I took her advice and chose events that would be interesting and useful for both me and our clients at Hale. It was important to me to attend panels that had relevance to our clients not tomorrow or eventually — but NOW. Therefore, I chose panels that would give me insights to building customer trust but I’ll get into that in a little bit. 

When i first arrived, the convention center trade show was electric with examples of emerging technology. Drones filmed events from overhead. Mechanical arms dueled with brightly-lit lightsabers. After the initial awe set in, I was able to chat with the CEO of an agency specializing in analytics and email marketing. He walked me through a demo of their video in email service, where videos are playable directly within the email client. I immediately thought of a client where this could be useful. I also met with an electronic caregiver service that was similar to Lifeline, except this company combined the idea of a rapid response device with the monitoring capabilities of FitBit, which I thought was cool. With this combination, caregivers could be connected to loved ones around the clock. In a sea of shiny gizmos at the convention, these pieces of technology stood out for me. They were relevant to our clients’ needs at Hale Advisors. The technology wasn’t emerging or being developed for some future launch; it was valuable, relevant, and useful today.  

@suzybiz launch party featuring Shaggy

I made the acquaintance of some folks working for a new real-time consumer research agency. This got me a  private invitation-only launch party where Shaggy was performing. That was pretty exciting. Singing along to “Angel” and “It Wasn’t Me” was not only a fun flashback, but also a reminder that corporate business doesn’t always have to be consumed by black suits and ties.



The design and branding panels were the most valuable to me because I was reminded of four key points

1. Customers need to know not only what you do, but also who you are.

Brand personality isn’t limited to advertising. It should be seen in every aspect of your brand, from your products and offerings to your internal company culture. Consider creating a persona for your brand to help define company values.

2. User experience exposes a lot about brand culture.

Relying on a single visionary for innovation reduces sustainability, especially if that visionary parts ways with the company. Look how the new Apple iphones don’t have a headphone jack. Do you think Steve Jobs would have signed off on that UX atrocity? A well-planned roadmap with a steady growth is healthier than growth at any cost. Immediate profits can fuel the fire and overshadow simple issues until they are no longer manageable. A lack of diversity internally can cause a “tone deaf” symptom, highlighting that the company doesn’t understand the customer. Consider Apple Health Kit. Reproductive health and menstrual tracking features weren’t added until 2015. Were women even included in the development process of this product? When Google was developing its AI facial recognition technology would it have gotten into the controversy it did around labeling African Americans as gorillas if it had drawn upon a more ethnically diverse testing group? That debacle should (and could) have been completely avoided with a little more corporate responsibility and diversity. 

3. Applying behavioral science to design can help you better understand the customer, deliver a better user experience, and provide a more effective service or product.

Think first of the action you’re asking of a customer (the prompt), and then consider the motivational issues and the customer’s ability to carry out that action. High motivation + low ability = customer helplessness. Low motivation + high ability = customer annoyance. Because simplicity changes habits in the long term, provide an experience that requires the scarcest resources possible. For example: a customer has ten minutes of spare time and your meditation app has a minimum session requirement of ten minutes. Is that offering a high ability to a customer? A three minute session would be much more effective here. 

4. Facilitating customer trust in technology is essential, especially in the medical devices industry.

It took western society fifty years to trust elevators without an operator manning the controls. To build consumer trust in new medical devices, such as pocket-sized insulin pumps, medical device companies need to first understand the psychology of their customer. 



Bud Light Bottle Design, SXSW 2018, @zuzubee @mouf_ltd

The last panel I attended was about fearless design and street art, and how to take that mindset into branding oneself as both designer and artist. When you think of street art, you might think of graffiti or tags from vandals. But this panel opened my eyes to another side of the aesthetic. How can a designer express herself without being stuck in corporate restrictions? The Bud Light bottle design for SXSW was one example of this. With this design, the street art perspective incorporated a free-thinking kind of style into a corporate brand. I found this inspiring.

I also connected with some of the local artists in the community, assisted in some paper-mâché activities, and attended the Hope Outdoor Gallery. I was amazed and inspired by the array of stylistic decisions made by the local artists who participated in that event. 

Hope Outdoor Gallery, @HopeCampaign

Hope Outdoor Gallery, @mleeding

Hope Outdoor Gallery, @tourmalinetodd







SXSW was a little overwhelming, but overall I thought it was an incredible experience. Now that I have a grasp on the magnitude of offerings the conference offers, I hope I can attend again. I’ll close with a quote from a SXSW panelist that stuck with me like crazy glue:

“Don’t fall in love with the solution, fall in love with the problem.”

A simple but profound statement. Getting too close to your solution (whether a mobile app, a medical device, or even an idea) makes it easy to forget the problem, or why customers need your solution in the first place. Falling in love with your problem ensures you’re focused on what really matters, rather than becoming infatuated or distracted with your own design. Focusing on the problem opens new possibilities for innovation and solutions. 

Thank you, SXSW and Austin, for the priceless learnings and memories. XO

Tina Niemynski
Tina has over 12 years’ experience in graphic and web design/development and animation and 5 years’ experience in digital strategy. She holds an A.S. in Advertising Design & Graphic Technology from SUNY Ulster, a B.A. in Graphic Design from SUNY College at Oneonta and an M.F.A in Media Design from Full Sail University.

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