The key characteristic that sets SXSW apart from other conferences is the convergence of seemingly disparate subjects and speakers into exhilarating discussions on topics relevant to us all. This unique convergence was on display during Thursday’s #W2OSXSW sessions as speakers ranging from Intel, Dropbox & JNJ to Barstool Sports, Bell Flight & The NFL Players Association came together to expand the audiences’ minds and challenge our long-held assumptions.
With that, I’ll skip the lengthy introductions and jump straight into the meat of the panels. To give you an idea of what we learned, I’ve included the session titles, speakers, key learnings & top tweets from each panel:
Digital Playbook: Connecting Brands Fans & Athletes
- Bryant Barr, Co-Founder & CEO, Slyce.io
- Deirdre Lester, Chief Revenue Officer, Barstool Sports
- Paul Rabil, Athlete, US Lacrosse; Founder & chairman, Rabil Companies
- Ahmad Nassar, President, NFL Players Inc.
Day 3 kicked off with a focus on connecting brands and the athlete influencers they work with. To give you an idea of the session, I’ve called out three things that I took away from the conversation:
- Programming & Cadence
- Paul and Deirdre reiterated the importance of excellent programming published at a consistent cadence. Whether you are a media outlet publishing news content or a YouTube influencer sharing videos, you want your audience to become accustomed to when your content is released and begin to look for it at that time.
- Authenticity was a theme we heard throughout the day’s panels and was identified as an absolute must for any brand-influencer Authenticity of both the athlete representing the brand and the media outlet authentically transferring their brand value to the brand partner. From the athlete’s perspective, Paul recommended having the influencer explain why he/she is endorsing this brand to establish authenticity. The influencer having a conversation with the audience they connect with daily can make a huge difference.
- Workflow & Measurement
- Two key aspects of athlete influencer activation are workflow logistics between the brand and influencer and measuring the value of the partnership. Bryant explained how Slyce addresses measurement by ingesting every social post an athlete makes online and analyzing the content to identify the brand’s earned media value from the partnership. Regarding workflow, Slyce streamlines communication and asset sharing between brands and influencers to drive performance and efficiency.
To close out the session, Paul asked each panelist to give their top recommendations for social influencers to follow:
- Ahmad: Rob Gronkowsi (@RobGronkowski)
- Bryant: Will Smith (@WillSmith)
News Integrity: Advocating for Quality Journalism OR “Can We Save The World from Fake News?”
- David Kirkpatrick, Chief Techonomist, Techonomy
- Amanda Bennett, Director, Voice of America
- Matt Largey, Managing Editor, KUT Radio
- Gina Chen UT Journalism School
This was truly a fascinating topic and discussion expertly moderated by David Kirkpatrick of Techonomy. To give you an idea of the sometimes contentious (in a good way!) session, I’ve called out three things that I took away from the conversation:
- Journalism is essential to democracy.
- The panelists reminded us that journalism is essential to democracy and though some may try, we cannot unlink the state of journalism and the state of our democracy. To put it succinctly: the media’s job is to inform the people; people who are informed are more likely to participate politically; participating politically is a good thing. If our democracy is to continue as designed, the citizens must participate politically.
- What is the state of truth?
- Trust is at an all-time low. Fake News (or misinformation as our panelists decided was a better term) is more popular than truth. A recent Science Magazine report proved this by showing stories that are not true can achieve as much as 100X the retweets as a true story on a comparable topic. The obvious next question then is how do we combat fake news? By focusing on solutions, not problems. Dr. Chen spoke of the University of Texas’ Knight Center for Journalism that is working to study discreet questions by creating research projects to try to solve problems for media outlets. One example, she gave was of a recent project to help a news organization understand how to improve their comments section, always a dangerous place to venture into.
- Local news trumps national news.
- When you ask people “do you trust the media?”, they say no. But when you ask if they trust specific journalists or local news outlets they say yes. KUT editor, Matt Largey, pointed to the NPR business model which is built on trust and partnerships with local outlets. And as an Austinite, I can confirm that I turn to KUT for trustworthy local news far sooner than CNN or other outlets. The panelists also pointed to Facebook’s recent shifts to include more local news sources as a positive step to improve trust in the media.
Honestly this panel had so many great discussions, I couldn’t come close to covering them all in this summary, so I recommend watching the full session via the link above.
Breakthrough Innovators Who Are Changing the World
- Komal Ahmad, Founder & CEO, Copia
- Seema Kumar, Vice President Innovation, Global Health, and Policy Communication, Johnson & Johnson
- Melissa Schilling, Herzog Family Professor of Management, NYU Stern School of Business
- Scott Drennan, Director – Engineering Innovation, Bell Flight
We did this one a bit differently, giving each panelist 10 minutes to outline the innovations they are working on and then followed it up with a conversation about innovations that are changing the world. I’ve outlined my key takeaways from each presentation below:
Melissa Schilling, NYU Stern School of Business
- Melissa shared insights from her recently published book, Quirky – The science behind the traits and quirks that drive creative geniuses to make spectacular breakthroughs, which explains the traits that really distinguish the people who literally change the world. Interestingly, of the 8 innovators she studied, the only 2 living members (Elon Musk & Dean Kamen) attended and spoke at SXSW this year. If that doesn’t make you want to attend SXSW next year, then I don’t know what will.
- For more on her book, read this glowing review in The Financial Times and watch this catchy 1 ½ minute video overview on CNBC.
Komal Ahmad, Copia
- Komal is inspiring. She is literally feeding the world’s hungry with food that would otherwise be thrown away. After hearing her talk, we all left wanting to change the world. As a student at UC Berkeley she started Copia, a for-profit platform that matches unused food to people who are hungry. And since this group came out of Silicon Valley, of course they built an algorithm to efficiently match food donations to non-profits and seamlessly run all the logistics of transporting the often-perishable food to the folks who need it. Here are a few stats to give you an idea of the impact they are making:
- At the Academy Awards they gathered unused gourmet food to feed over 1,100 people
- At the Super Bowl they gathered 14 tons of food and fed 23K people
- This year they will feed over 2 million people.
- As Komal ended her session she channeled her internal Muhammad Ali to remind us “Impossible is Nothing”, and I, for one, believed it after hearing her.
Scott Drennan, Bell Flight
- If you don’t think of Bell Flight (Formerly Bell Helicopter) as an innovative company, then you are wrong. Bell’s Director of Innovation, Scott Drennan, wowed the audience as he overviewed the new era of innovation at Bell. Driven by his CEO, Mitch Snyder, they have transformed from a product company into a technology company. With that in mind, Bell is innovating how we fly by building amazing machines like the V-280 Valor, which is a hybrid aircraft that uses tiltrotors to take off like a helicopter and fly like a plane (for more on the V-280 check out this WIRED article).
- On the consumer side, they are partnering with Uber and others to build electric-powered urban air taxis that will eventually allow us to hop on an aircraft on the roof of a skyscraper in downtown and get home in a matter of minutes. I had a chance to experience their VR activation (check it out here) showing how this would work and I have to say I was wowed. I immediately thought of that scene in Star Wars where ObiWan & Anikan are jumping through flying cars to catch the bounty hunter. Thanks to folks like Scott, the future of air taxis is closer than you may think.
Seema Kumar, Johnson & Johnson
- JNJ continues to impress me with their innovative breakthroughs across pharma, med-device and even business models with their JLABs initiatives. Seema embodied JNJ’s innovative spirit while reminding us there are many healthcare problems in the world and what we need are breakthrough innovators to uncover the next life-saving cures. Importantly, Seema reminded us that innovators are not soloists, they are “masters of an orchestra of people.” It takes an entire team to bring about change and JNJ is doing an amazing job of compiling those innovators across their organization to bring the changes the world needs. I can personally attest to that after spending time with many of their team members inspiring us all at SXSW this week.
Engaging Society via Life-Changing Innovation
- Katie Weimer, Vice President, Medical Devices, 3D Systems
- Sandra Shpilberg, CEO & Founder, Seeker Health
- Annalise Coady, W2O EMEA
- Jim Weiss, Founder & CEO, W2O
Another fascinating session punctuated by powerful personal stories of science impacting patient’s lives for the better. To give you an idea of the session, I’ve called out three things that I took away from the conversation:
- Scientific stories are hard to tell.
- Perhaps I’m stating the obvious here, but the panel made it abundantly clear that it’s difficult to explain complex technologies like 3D printing and the scientific aspects of clinical trials to the average person. However, doing it well and in a way that is relatable is absolutely critical to make patients and advocates aware of potentially life-saving scientific advancements.
- Personal stories make it real.
- By telling a person’s story we can make complex topics relatable to an audience. Katie demonstrated this by telling the moving story of twin boys born conjoined at the head and successfully separated using advanced 3D modeling & printing technologies. Her story won over the audience and set the tone for the rest of the panel.
- Involve the patients & advocates!
- Partner with these groups to authentically understand their situation and needs so you can accurately tell their story and communicate to them in a way that is relevant & relatable. Patient inspired communication is a positive trend in healthcare. Jim pointed out “In our best cases, we have co-developed the narrative with the community. When you do that you really nail it.”
Last Advice from the panel:
- Katie: Healthcare is personal. Just like our treatments are personal, so too should be our marketing communications.
- Sandra: It’s ok to not be mass. What we need are understandable, actionable communications to our patients.
- Jim: All PR is local. You have to know your audience.
Evolving Business Models: Finding Next-Gen Customers
- Marcus Sawyerr, President, Adecco Group X
- Alyson Griffin, Vice President, Global Marketing, Intel
- Liz Armstead, Head of Brand & Influencer Partnerships, Dropbox
- Greg Matthews, Managing Director, W2O Group
We wrapped up our day of programming with a conversation between major brands converging to find next-gen customers. To give you an idea of the session, I’ve called out three things that I took away from the conversation:
- Telling Great Stories
- For Dropbox and Intel, their products are largely invisible. You often can’t see them even though they power numerous projects and devices. To get their message out they have to market through stories. They tell the stories of amazing things that are being created with their platforms. For example, Liz shared about their recent collaboration with Steve Aoki to
- Authenticity & Transparency
- Nothing is more important than authenticity & transparency. Alyson pointed to Intel’s use of their drones in the Olympics opening ceremony as an authentic use of their technology to reach their target audience. Liz referenced Delta providing consumers access to their data via their new mobile app. Delta has always had this data, but now they are sharing it with customers to improve their travel experience. Marcus explained how Adecco works closely with their customers to figure out what they need, their requirements, their desires and then builds them. As an example, he pointed to Adecco’s new YOSS platform which links freelancers to international companies looking for the services they offer.
- Let’s end where we started. Just as SXSW is distinguished by its convergence of interactive, film & music (among others), this panel gave significant conversation to the idea of a convergence of our personal and professional lives. This all started with the advancements in personal technology that drove us to demand the same tech and experience at work. Alyson pointed to people bringing their own Devices and illegally using them on the network which led Intel to realize this was something their customers wanted. We also learned that Dropbox is based on convergence. For example, Liz discussed customers driving the creation of Dropbox for business by repeatedly asking for business solutions, which led to the creation of a UX allowing users to toggle between professional and personal Dropbox accounts.
Final Advice from the panel:
- Liz: If you aren’t engaging influencers in marketing I would recommend doing so. Today’s consumers are very savvy and won’t take your word for it. They trust their peers.
- Marcus: In order to evolve business models, you have to understand your customer today and your customer in the future. Co-create with them and bring them along the journey.
- Alyson: Inspiration. The most important thing is inspiring your target. Knowing who you are trying to talk to and inspiring and showing them the outcomes or benefits of your technology, not just the product itself.
Now we start planning for SXSW 2019!