SXSW 2014: Wearing content on your sleeve

For this year's SXSW, I anticipate that the discussion will focus more on how we refine our application of many existing technologies, as opposed to introducing new ones.

Positioned as an incubator for cutting-edge technology and digital design, South by Southwest built its reputation on several major company launches that took place at the festival. Twitter debuted at the event in 2007, and Foursquare was introduced in 2009.

For this year's festival, I anticipate that the discussion will focus more on how we refine our application of many existing technologies, as opposed to introducing new ones. The buzzwords and focal points for many of the sessions are the same as they were in previous years, but the discussion will be more detailed, as we've had more experience playing in these arenas than we have in the past.

Content and design
The written word is dying. Technology and media platforms have made the creation and dissemination of visual content easy, and it's much more compelling for consumers. However, creating high-quality content that is consistently engaging is challenging as it requires institutionalizing visual storytelling into organizations in a way that very few have been able to master. For every hit piece of content like Newcastle Brown Ale's Super Bowl video with Anna Kendrick, there are a million duds. This isn't a new theme, but it's proving to be a steep learning curve for many brands and agencies, and so it continues to be a hot conversation topic.

Big data
We've all heard the utopian vision for big data: a massive stream of personal data that is so rich and valuable that brands are able to create a tailored experience for every consumer that's useful and engaging. The reality is that we're not there yet. Real-time application of insights, which is what makes that utopian vision possible, is still far from perfect. There are also major security concerns that are only just starting to get exposed, and sometimes with disastrous consequences as can be seen recently with Adobe and Evernote. Just as importantly, while brands have increasingly detailed insight into their consumers, they still struggle with how to apply it without appearing to be creepy and intrusive. Expect a lot of discussion this year to focus on new applications for big data, and how to apply it safely.

Wearable technology
This was a major topic at the Consumer Electronics Show. Wearable technology is still at that nascent point where we're only beginning to scratch the surface of possibilities. What new types of devices will be created? Watches, glasses, clothing, shoes, or implants? How could brands make use of them to market to consumers? What data could they generate that will give brands an even greater understanding of their target consumers?

Beyond these individual themes, the discussion will also focus on how they overlap. Can you imagine knowing your customer's sleeping patterns through wearable technology and giving them a personalized brand message when they wake up depending on how well they slept? Creepy? Maybe a little bit…

Tony Lederer is SVP of the Digital Innovation Group at Cohn & Wolfe.

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