SXSW 2019: Business Value of Design, Curiosity & Audio Branding

My second time visiting South by Southwest (SXSW) was once again an incredible experience. There is no energy like that of Austin during this annual event. The streets were swarming with people eager to learn and network. The convention center was full of trade show vendors from industries ranging from robotics, to social good, to VR/AR, technology, and health and wellness. Beyond meeting with current and potential clients/partners, SXSW offered an array of skill-building workshops, educational panels, industry meetups and roundtable discussions.

Over 280,000 people participate in SXSW every year, not including the folks who attend the free events without a badge or wristband. Those attending specifically for the conference sessions (as opposed to the film screenings, live music and gaming and comedy festivals) account for about a fourth of all registered attendees. It’s estimated that SXSW temporarily increases the Austin population by about 10 percent. Yeah, that’s a lot of people. And they all come for good reason.

There is enormous value in what SXSW offers – across a variety of industries, from crypto-currency, to healthcare, to fashion and retail to marketing and branding. I visited several panels, events and trade show vendors. This year, the trade show was especially important to Hale Advisors, as we are developing a wiki-like resource for marketers to find real-world examples of how other and similar brands are using emerging technology to further innovate their marketing campaigns. The tradeshow was the perfect opportunity to connect with companies in emerging technology and collect case studies for this wiki (speaking of…if you have any case studies relevant to the Life Sciences industries, we’d love to include your content before we launch. Email for more information or to submit your case study).

Beyond that, here are some key learnings I took away from the panels and workshops I attended:

1. Design Should be in Your Business’s DNA

According to McKinsey Design, based on a 5-year study of 300 organizations from various industries, companies with integrated design teams perform better financially than those that have a separate creative department. The top performing quartile averaged 32 percent higher revenue and 21 percent higher return to investors.

Key Takeaway(s): Design is more than…

  • A feeling: Design is logical and backed by analytics and real-world data.
  • A department: Cross-functional talents ensure design has a place across your organization.
  • A phase: Conscious iterations are integral to provide your customers the best experience.
  • A product: Different , and your customers should have a seamless experience, regardless of your industry or offering.

2. Curiosity and Leaving Your Comfort Zone Drive Innovation

According to Elliot Hedman, Lead Researcher at mPath, curiosity and innovation are dying. As designers and marketers, we are killing innovation by avoiding curiosity, overly defending unsuccessful ideas and positions, and busying ourselves with putting out thousands of small fires before tackling the big issues.

Key Takeaway: You need to embrace vulnerability and break the boundaries of your comfort zone (as long as you remain compliant with FDA/global regulations!) to be innovative. Being curious of what lies beyond the horizon will benefit your company whether your endeavors are successful or simply a learning experience.

3. Branding Goes Beyond Visuals

Mastercard’s Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Raja Rajammannar, brought to light an important point: what is branding worth if your customers can’t actually “you in their day-to-day interactions? With the rising use of virtual assistants and smart speakers, more and more people are using voice-activated technology to ask questions, shop and more. Rajammannar’s solution: a “mogo” or “musical logo”. These various audio pieces include background music for TV spots, commercial end cap jingles, and payment acceptance tones at the POS (point-of-sale). Mastercard reviewed more than 2,000 melodies before finding the right one. The team kept in mind the importance of keeping the mogo simple, regionally and culturally adaptable, sustainable, hum-able and versatile.

Key Takeaway: Remember ALL of the different platforms where your customers might find you. Make sure your branding follows through consistently across all mediums and always be prepared for how emerging technology is reshaping the way customers interact with your brand.

In Conclusion…

When it comes to SXSW, the best advice I can give is to plan ahead. This year I specifically chose back-to-back panels that were in the same room to avoid running from point a to b and potentially missing out if the event was full. Registrants also have the opportunity to reserve two express passes each day. So, if there is a panel you know you want to go to, sign up for your pass as soon as possible, as they are limited and tend to get scooped up quickly. Finally, if you do end up missing out on a panel or discussion because it was full, or was booked at the same time as another session, check out the SXSW app or website where recordings of the sessions are usually available a day or two after a session.

Here’s to yet another great experience SXSW. Fingers crossed I get to attend again next year. Stay weird Austin.


If you liked this article check out my key learnings from SXSW 2018.

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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