Four ways to make SXSW better

I’ve just returned from year one of SXSW V2V — a Las Vegas spinoff of what has become an annual cavalcade of emerging music, technology, film, and an increasing number of really bad brand activations. You can read my take on V2V here, here, and here. What attracted me to V2V was the fact that it was smaller and more focused. I go to Austin for most years, and while I do enjoy it, I find it harder every year to justify from a business perspective, since the throngs of semi-pro tourists and the democratization of festival content seem to have taken a lot of the power out of the conference. I figured with only 1,500 people, and content narrowly covering innovation and entrepreneurship, we could collectively create a bit more value.

I was right, sort of. In general, I’d say that most of the presentations were at the Beginner level, but the small size and concentrated area kept the vibe more intimate and made for more productive conversations.

That said, here are five suggestions I’d like to offer the SXSW crew, not that they asked:

  1. Do more to facilitate connections between attendees. Sure, there are plenty of networking breaks, but that’s not enough. For example:
    1. The app and website should contain a social network. Contact me if you want to see examples of this done well.
    2. Badges should be scannable by smartphone. I met a bunch of folks without business cards. Their fault, to be sure, but you can still create more value here.
  2. Curate an Advanced track with speakers who push the boundaries of what practitioners need to know. The most common feedback I heard from friends after most sessions was “that was a lot of common sense.” I’d argue that common sense is good for people to hear over and over, but balance that with folks pushing the envelope.
  3. Offer videos of every talk for registered attendees to watch on the site. We can’t make every talk and sometimes have to skip one. We should be able to go back and watch it later.
  4. Let Behance (or someone) work with all of the presenters to design their decks. Some folks have great things to say but don’t have expertise in Keynote. Your audience shouldn’t suffer because you can’t make a good deck (although you really should work on your deck skills).

You Need to Pay Attention

Day 3 of SXSW V2V was short for me, thanks to the impending feeling that work is piling up while I sit in conference sessions. I did manage to catch one talk before the flight home. Liz Bacelar of Decoded Fashion and Jennifer Taler of Stitch Factory spoke about how technology is impacting the fashion industry. Stitch Factory is a co-working space for designers, part of the Downtown Project, and Decoded hosts fashion-centric hackathons in partnership with major fashion events around the world.

Both are on the cutting edge of what’s driving all modern businesses — not limited to fashion — collaboration. The key takeaway here was that you aren’t going to be successful anymore by just keeping your head down in your own industry. You have to pay attention to the ways that technology is shaping consumer experiences, and you have to look for inspiration and ideas from other industries.

They also gave a long list of companies doing interesting things in the space. Email me if you want a copy. Also check out my take on Day 1 and Day 2. And come back tomorrow for a bit of unsolicited feedback I'm going to offer the folks at SXSW.


Make Coffee With Your iPhone

This may be the coolest thing I've seen in a while.

Now I'm a bit of a coffee nut and also a serious fan of design and technology, so this one pushes all the right buttons for me personally. Plus, you can make coffee with your iPhone!

But even if you're not into those things, you'll understand that this is some serious innovation in a category that needs it badly. Search Amazon for Espresso Machine, and you get over 1,200 results, most of which are basically the same. Sure they have different logos on the front; some are silver while others are black, and you have a handful of different options for feature sets. But the last real innovation the category saw was the K-Cup, introduced nearly a decade ago and knocked off by everyone in the business, including retailers like The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

It's not that any of those machines are bad, but none of the competitors really distinguishes itself from the others. By contrast, the Scanomat TopBrewer is elegant, functional, convenient, and above all, interesting.

Think about this: What can you do to make your brand or product all of the above?

Then think about this: Buy me a TopBrewer and I'll make you coffee anytime you want to come over.

Think Strategic. Think Gravity Summit.

Your humble servant joins acclaimed news anchor and journalist Rick Sanchez, Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, and many others in an impressive lineup of speakers at next week’s Gravity Summit, held at a little place called Harvard University. If you haven't seen Ramon DeLeon speak, you are in for a real treat.

Our panel is called “Does Size Matter?” and in a fast-paced, 30-minute conversation we’ll uncover the true truth about fan counts and how leading marketers are doing not just putting big numbers on the board, but also making the best use of the fan bases they build.

This cuts to the core of what it means to be an effective social media marketer, or an effective marketer period. To help me crack this, I’m bringing out some of the big brains in the space: Richard Lyons (Dr Pepper), Marcelo Guerra (Showtime), Colin Sutton (OMD Word), and Mike Schneider (Allen & Gerritsen). These guys run some of the most successful social communities on the web and will have great insights to make you go “hmmm…”

So whether you're a leader in your industry, or you want to be one, you’re not going to want to miss this.

Can't make it out to Harvard? You cat watch our panel live online for free here. And you can follow @JLevine@GravitySummit, and @FutureMBoston for live tweets from the event, or watch the chatter with event specific hashtags like #gravsum and #FutureM.

Also watch this space for a recap jam-packed with insights and other goodness.


QR Codes and Other Marketing Myths

Does anyone think QR codes are the answer to our marketing problems? Of course not. Anyway, let's hope not. But they are symptomatic of a bigger problem.

A recent article about the generally poor consumer adoption of QR codes got me thinking about all of the reasons that might be true. Then it hit me, probably because the article said it very clearly:

QR codes are pushed by brands, not people. This isn't the path to mass adoption.

That's absolutely right. We live in a world where people are in charge. People decide that Friendster, or MySpace, or Facebook, or Twitter is going to be the next big thing. Then brands race to catch up.

The other way around doesn't work. Kids today don't give a damn about what the brands are into. (Sorry, I just like saying "kids today." Makes me feel old.) But brands better know and care about what the kids are into.

I think it's funny that Rebel gets branded as an out of the box thinker. We don't sit around and come up with wild ideas. Instead, we go out into the world, and on the web, and make sure we know all about what consumers want, and what they're already doing.

Our best ideas come from identifying things that consumers already like to do, and then thinking about all of the ways a client make those things better. We think about how brands can give back to culture, and then how to use that to create business results.

This is the future of marketing, and the present. If you aren't thinking about how to make people's lives better, what are you thinking about?