South by South West Interactive (SXSWi) is not just an annual geek pilgrimage to Austin, Texas for free brand swag and barbecue. It is the defining event for innovation, creativity and technology – a culmination of the best minds in these spaces, coming together to showcase, discuss and collaborate. It is our Paris Fashion Week, and it sets the agenda in the digital world for the following 12 – 18 months.
But you already know how it works. And with all that media coverage, it’s almost easy enough follow the excitement over the web.
60,000 kilometers, 5 days, sore legs and inspired minds later, we’re here to tell you that reading nuggets of information on Twitter and daily SXSWi round ups isn’t enough to get you to the heart of the state of the art. There’s nothing like being present. Here’s why it’s worth it:
1. Diversity of attendees
One thing you will do a lot of at SXSWi is stand in lines. Long lines. But the lines at SXSWi are like nowhere else, because people actually come to enjoy them. This is due to one reason – the people you will meet. Never did we stand next to someone who did anything like our jobs, which meant that we spent the time networking with cutting edge software developers, directors transforming the filming process for the Oculus Rift, social media experts championing better social KPIs and even scientists looking for new innovations they can incorporate into their work.
No other festival brings together such a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences, or industries. No other festival facilitates so many opportunities for new collaborations and partnerships.
2. Variety of topics covered
Reviewing the SXSWi schedule is a daunting task. Thousands of sessions confront attendees as they scroll through the app and an intense sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) inevitably sets in as you attempt to make your selections. How does one choose between A Virtual Conversation with Julian Assange and How New Tech is Innovating Gaming Experiences?
SXSWi isn’t about ‘digital evangelists’ preaching to the choir. SXSWi provides a unique opportunity to look outside of the industry for inspiration. Attendees can spend the morning with sessions presented by ESPN and Edward Snowden, then spend the afternoon with Adam Savage and Buzzfeed, before leaving having gained valuable insights into how different industries approach creativity.
3. Contagious energy
The vibe across Austin during SXSWi is electrifying. How could it not be when the best and most brilliant minds congregate. From NASA scientists sharing their discovery in the next frontier in space with the James Webb space telescope, to Blake Mycoskie from TOMS, inspiring us to do some good – SXSWi is filled with people who not only talk the talk but actually walk the walk. They make us welcome the risk of failure, to strive to do better things, and be better people.
Even spending a day at SXSWi will make you want to get out of your comfort zone and do something. And you should, because that is where the magic happens.
4. Participative conversations
It’s easy to write off conferences if the extent of your participation is the equivalent of a sponge. SXSWi is riffled with keynote speeches and panels, which if you prefer, allow you to do that. But it is one thing to consume and another to interact.
SXSWi is filled with Meet-ups, Workshops, Maker-labs and our particular favourite, Core Conversations. Core Conversations aren’t about telling you the correct answers; they’re about helping you ask the right questions. Led by a moderator, they serve as exploratory sessions, where the audience learns and comes to their own conclusions by sharing their challenges, successes and failures. A particularly insightful session on Content Consumption saw surprise attendees from Oreo, Arby’s and Chupa Chups, sharing their brand case studies on real-time social media marketing.
With such variety of sessions happening on an hourly basis over 5-days, it’s hard to ignore the training benefits for innovative minds in your company. An Amsterdam agency, Tam Tam, believes SXSWi is so valuable they sent every one of their 88 employees to the festival.
SXSWi pushes attendees out of their industry bubbles and exposes them to state of the art technology, the latest research across industries and the premier minds across hundreds of topics.
6. Opportunity to try state of the art technology
Two-hour wait notwithstanding, one of our best experiences at SXSWi this year was being able to test the Oculus Rift. This product made headlines in 2012, and they re-showcased this year at SXSWi. Gaming enthusiasts and digital early adopters were each only given 3 minutes to spend in an immersive 3D world.
Those 3 minutes were like 3 minutes of heaven – a surreal experience of being transported into a realm of virtual reality. Forget how this will revolutionize the gaming and film industry, imagine what this technology could do for the digital retail experience.
Demo videos aren’t able to do experiential technology justice. It’s not enough to get on YouTube. With wearable technology growing in significance, how can we involve our brands and clients on this trend without having ever tried any of it ourselves?
7. Including Asia in the global conversations
Despite the Asian market dominating digital consumption globally, we couldn’t help but notice that for an international event, representatives from our part of the world were far and few in between. There is no doubt that this highly connected landscape is making our world smaller, and this under-representation can lead to Asia being left out of the conversation.
The writers are Josie Khng (left), social media strategist at BBH and Lindsey Cummings (right), engagement planner at BBH and chair of IAS UPSTARTS.