SXSW is a massive event, taking over downtown Austin for a week – creeping into local restaurants, bars, hotel lobbies and of course the convention center. As a startup, the opportunity to meet with multiple brands and agencies is enticing. But it’s also an opportunity to spend time with other startups and technology companies to get a read on how technology is impacting the marketing function across industries.

Some of the big themes at SXSW centered around virtual reality, mobile apps, robotics, 3D and artificial intelligence as reported by AdWeek.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality was pervascent, literally flowing into the streets of SXSW. But how soon will this technology be as pervasive in marketing budgets? The answer? Might be awhile yet.

In speaking with a large hospitality brand, virtual reality is in an interesting proposition to allow people to experience their properties and local attractions before booking. However, it may be some time before virtual reality goggles are readily available and affordable for their target audience (leaving Google Cardboard aside, quality virtual reality headsets are in the range of $300 – $800). With many hospitality brands trying to personalize their websites and make them more mobile friendly, virtual reality is unlikely to be at the top of the list.

However, 360° video might be a better way to create an immersive experience without the need for special equipment. In addition, for some hospitality brands with many properties spread across state lines and international borders, an in-lobby virtual reality experience might be worth testing. What better way to showcase other properties then while your guests are enjoying one of your destinations? This allows hospitality brands to test the concept of VR, and evaluate whether it leads to additional bookings or is merely a nice-to-have.

When speaking with a luxury auto brand, the idea of VR is appealing, but again, not at the top of the list of priorities for 2016. There was a feeling the quality isn’t quite to par, and when you’re a luxury brand the need for accuracy and attention to detail is paramount. And to top it off, they were skeptical a consumer would buy a luxury vehicle without an actual test drive. So the test of VR in the automotive industry might be how many additional people it drives to local dealerships. With a high correlation between car enthusiasts and gamers, VR might appear more quickly in the automotive space than in other industries, even if on a small scale until clear ROI is determined.


While not a topic featured by AdWeek, I heard several presenters speak to the idea of personalized content or 1:1 content. And since this is pretty near and dear to Chute’s heart, my ears perked up at the mention. As technology continues to improve, marketers will actually know who they are talking to in an email, ad, social media, etc., and send them a highly personalized message. Millennials, and now centennials, have grown up being part of the online conversation with their favorite brands. They aren’t impressed by mass messages and have increasingly high expectations of brands building personal relationships with every fan. This is quite a daunting task for marketers, but as technology improves and as various tech platforms begin to integrate with CMS tools, marketers can achieve this.

One interesting example of personalized marketing at SXSW came from McDonald’s. The fast food heavyweight hosted a custom burger bar (plus a do-it-yourself Sundae bar – I’m definitely lovin’ it #McDonalds). I was able to walk up to a touch screen and select my bun, which ranged from artisan bread to ciabatta, as well as a range of toppings, condiments and extras like bacon and avocado. The burger was delicious and I loved that it was made just for me.

When I think about personalization, I also associate it with humanization. In speaking with both fashion and beauty brands at SXSW, the idea of sending the right message to the right person at the right time is clearly the holy grail, but the message can’t be robotic. These brands are looking at content marketing, as well as incorporating customers into their marketing messages. For example, one of the retail brands is starting to highlight behind the scene moments – new shipments coming into the stores, buyers meeting with designers and vendors, managers putting together outfits for their local market/climate, etc. Another brand is tapping into fandom to supplement much of their marketing mix – engaging with fans to share not only makeup tips, but also tips and encouragement for being strong women with the broader community. These ideas for humanization layered with the more technical customer profile is an exciting opportunity for marketers to continue to explore, test and in the near future – perfect.  

In summary, SXSW didn’t disappoint. I met with some great people, ate way too much, stayed up too late, and wouldn’t change a thing. See you in 2017 Austin!

About The Author

Jody is a lover of animals, gardening, cooking (eating, obviously) and her two adorable kids. She's a bit marketing obsessed, but only in a really healthy and normal way.