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SXSW: The magic of the spaces in between

With 33000 people attending over 800 sessions, 2015’s South By South West Interactive – the annual festival of tech and innovation that takes place in Austin – Texas – has been the biggest and boldest yet. It is also arguably been the most dynamic and creatively stimulating to date too.

What has really been apparent this year is how the most exciting possibilities for this progress – and for businesses and brands by implication – are emerging in the ‘spaces in between’ different fields of cultural, scientific and technological specialism.

For example The Museum of Modern Art’s Paola Antonelli richly led the exploration of the space in between the emotional capacity of art and the problem solving capabilities of science. There were also a whole host of biotech start-ups and initiatives mining the space in between the natural world of biology and the biosphere and the cyber world of technology and our shared ‘technosphere’.

The even more future forward space in between human development and artificial intelligence has been perhaps the highest profile debate that’s rolled through Austin this year, featuring high profile names like Hawkins, Gates, Musk and Rothblatt exploring the emergence of new forms of consciousness. Mind blowing stuff.

On a more popular culture level, the space in between sport and entertainment assets and fans was another big theme. It felt at times like half the NFL, MLS and NBA had turned up in Texas with tales of how they’re reducing the functional and emotional gap between the franchise and the fan.

And (perhaps most close to home for marketers) much has been made this year around the space in between the ‘potential of big data and the need to tell and engineer increasingly meaningful stories and experiences for consumers. This was explored from lots of different angles, but most had a weather eye on what it takes to optimize cut-through and share-ability.

There is so much to be inspired by and plenty to be utilised to generate strategies and ideas for businesses that can really accelerate them away from the category competition and into the flow of modern lifestyles.

So to those that made it to Austin – let’s get cracking. And to those that didn’t, I’d urge you to start planning for your own trip in 2016. It may be a long way to go for many of us, but it’s worth every mile.

 The writer is Sam Noble, chief strategy officer of Iris Worldwide.

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