Thoughts on Last Month’s SxSW





What can I say, SxSW is a big festival, complete with millions of gallons of complementary alcoholic beverages and tech hipsters everywhere you turn. It’s a party to celebrate our digital age, and it also brings together some of the brightest minds. While it can be totally overwhelming from a content perspective (you just can’t be everywhere you’d like to be since everything happens simultaneously, spread out across Austin), it’s enlightening about the digital age we live in.

I stayed away from the Health Tech offerings, once I realized that these sessions didn’t focus much on pharma communications, and instead learned about digital advertising and marketing strategies – in artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) – that could be put to work for pharma industry.

There were many sessions around using the power of technology to anticipate your target audience’s needs. Chat Bots were a big theme, as they use AI to gather data on your conversations and actions to serve up the most relevant and meaningful content or customer service. This could be a huge opportunity for pharma because of the ability to use Facebook pages and Messenger to engage in a safe (read: preapproved) dialogue on condition or product information.  The line between brand, commerce, and customer service is starting to blur. This would be a starting point – breaking down the silos between brand and customer service so they can help each other like other industries already do so well.


In terms of virtual reality, or augmented reality as it’s also known, everyone from IBM to The City of Washington D.C. had a VR experience ready to showcase their offerings. From a health perspective, I was impressed by the use of VR to teach autism patients how to recognize facial emotion clues. There was also an advertising application that used VR for market research purposes to determine the level of engagement in promotional messaging and to track the emotional effectiveness of a particular message that was combined with a biofeedback mechanism.

Another session on native advertising fascinated me. It’s not something we tend to focus on in pharma, but the blend of journalism and marketing can be really powerful. If well planned, a novel product launching in a crowded category or a deeper dive on a condition could be terrific opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry to remain relevant while being newsworthy. While it’s a crossover between communications and advertising, it made sense to me.


Like this article? Read about another SxSW festival by a staff member at Hale Advisors. You can read about FDA’s off-label hearing here, too. 



Zoe Dunn
Zoe Dunn, President and CEO of Hale Advisors, is a digital marketing and communications specialist with over twenty years of experience in the field. She has extensive experience in both the agency and commercial marketing side of the pharmaceutical, medical devices, and biotech industries.

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