What stood out at this year’s SXSW?
SXSW is over for another year. With highlights including an impactful keynote by London Mayor Sadiq Khan and baby goats at the Viceland bus, it was another stellar performance. Here, some of the attendees from socially-led creative agency We Are Social share some of the trends that stood out for them.
Mobbie Nazir, Chief Strategy Officer
Diversity – From Data to Action
There were a number of talks this year at SXSW around diversity and inclusion. One of the interesting themes for me was the ongoing challenge of taking diversity initiatives beyond data into action. The big firms in Silicon Valley have been publishing diversity data for the last few years, but change in the technology industry is happening very slowly. Why is this and what can those in other industry sectors learn from this?
Businesses have to ensure that diverse thinking is not just the responsibility of those who come from minority groups themselves. Creating silos of diversity and inclusion doesn’t work. These groups are of course important because they create spaces in which minority issues can be raised and support provided. However, alone they will not make any impact on the wider organisation.
Companies need to recognise that bias is also a cultural issue. This point was starkly brought home by the example of gender pay gaps for Uber drivers. Despite the fact that Uber is gender neutral in selecting and dispatching drivers, men are still getting paid more through the system than women. When they looked into this, it was due to that fact that women worked at less profitable times than men (for example not at night) and tend not to drive as fast or take as many “risks” with routes. This is not an issue with the programming of the system or data algorithms but of culture and society. Uber is apparently working at a grassroots level to address some of these issues and help to make the service as profitable for women as it is for men. This is a great reminder for us all that it is not enough to hire more people from minority groups into our organisations. We also need to create an environment that supports them and helps them to thrive.
Alistair Campbell, Executive Creative Director
The Power of Communities
SXSW saw a renewed focus on communities and their power to deliver value to their members, brands and in the best cases, the world beyond. This was most obviously seen in Facebook’s decision to move away from being just another ad platform, to a company dedicated, at least on KeyNote, to promoting meaningful interactions. Now driven by the belief that ‘ideas that bring people together, change the world’.
While Facebook may only just have rediscovered people power, more broad-minded marketers and companies have been busy demonstrating the point. Nasa and Lego have been using communities to foster open innovation. The Lego Ideas community get to suggest, vote on and produce four new Lego sets a year, while NASA competitions see thousands of members of the wider science community helping to tackle serious, technical and challenging problems. In medicine, peer-to-peer support groups are helping people with debilitating diseases like Cystic Fibrosis share their stories, fears and best practices. While it’s debatable whether there is room in there for brands, there certainly is a role for healthcare providers.
In his presentation, Facebook Global ECD Andrew Keller was at pains to say that meaningful interactions don’t always have to mean delivering against a higher purpose. But at a time when ‘bad social’ is under so much scrutiny, the more good the rest of us can do, the better.
Harvey Cossell, Head of Strategy
Awash With AI
SXSW was awash with all things AI. However, there were still many people talking about the tech in ways that alluded to a lack of understanding, usually brand people who felt compelled to mention it alongside VR and AR to appear current.
The challenge here is that AI is not an output but a business strategy. Something that can help solve a problem, allowing you to crunch unstructured data (think audio/video/text), as long as you know what data you want to analyse. And it is not about replacing humans either.
The best way to think about it is through the lens of ‘augmenting’ human intelligence as opposed to replacing it. To help to identify visual trends, to inform a creative development process and such like. But to blindly accept the output from AI without understanding why the AI made a specific recommendation is to only have half the story AI can tell.
And nowhere is this most pertinent than in the world of medical treatment, when physicians must know why AI is making a treatment recommendation over another.
Gareth Leeding, Creative Director (We Are Social Sport)
We’re in the era of collaboration. Every brand is doing it, on product, on experience, from cult and niché brands to the world’s biggest names. It’s clear why – it’s an effective way to enjoy creative exploration, tap into a new audience (that of your collaborator) and increase brand awareness. It can be that a source of inspiration and shared cultures can help you create something new – a recipe, product, song, experience – that will resonate with both your audiences.
There are so many incredible examples of pure value sharing that worked for both sides. Take high-end fashion house Louis Vuitton and skate wear brand Supreme last year. This was particularly indicative of the new cooperative culture. In 2000 LV had sent a cease and desist letter to Supreme, 17 years later they did the biggest collaboration of the year.
At SXSW, the talk Better Together: Cult Brand Collaborations showed how to build a brand through collaborations, and how these experiences can be oxygen to businesses, helping communicate shared values and giving brands renewed purpose. But collaboration isn’t without risk. If the brand values are not in sync, if the main motivation is to make money, then a partnership can come across as forced and inauthentic. Potential collaborators need to make sure they’re a good fit. Spend time together, work together, eat together. Learn what makes the other business, or person, tick and build a rapport.