The fifth attends first sxsw festival

the top trends and highlights from austin, texas

By Charles Ifegwu

Tuesday, 21st of March 2023

SXSW was bigger than ever this year. Spread across the city of Austin, TX, the conference and festival serves as a convergence of tech, entertainment, art, music, brands, and everything cool. It’s impossible to see and do everything, but here are highlights and trends we noticed while on the ground in Austin.

Bigger In Texas

The festival felt much bigger than last year, and is back to pre-pandemic proportions. An estimated 300,000 people attended the festival or events alongside the conference. A bigger festival also meant bigger, more immersive activations. 

Dolby took over an entire building to create Dolby House, complete with a gaming, music, and wine lounge.  Porsche took over a city block to sport its new partnership with Transformers. Amazon Prime made its own little town with studios, a nail salon, a cantina, and of course a saloon; all with a Prime Video spin.

Sales Overnight; Brand Overtime

The key challenge with brand and experience first marketing strategies are time, cost and stakeholder buy-in. But brand marketers are fighting back with a massive amount of activations at the SXSW festival. Brands have introduced sales overnight, brand overtime (SOBO) strategies that interject discreet branding efforts into a series of results-driven marketing programs. It struck us all week that Influencer marketing is uniquely positioned to solve this challenge, given its ability to collapse the marketing funnel quickly and authentically build brands alongside social commerce tactics.

It Takes Everyone 

We saw and participated in more convos, panels, and activations this year with female, Black, Latin, AAPI and other diverse and underrepresented leaders than ever before. Not only were panels and activations more diverse, but there were also many panels that specifically addressed issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion across industries.

Social Is Evolving

Social played a part in everything going on around SXSW and the brands that activated and participated there. Social was a tool to promote (pre and during), connect, activate, and amplify, and will be important in maintaining connections afterward. It served as a microcosm of the “Everything Is Social” ideology that we believe drives culture forward.

Building And Retaining Audiences Require Boldness

It was clearer than ever that audiences have so many options, in just about every space and vertical, in 2023. One of the themes that seemed to repeat itself was how to respond to those challenges, and being bold in attracting and keeping attention was one of the responses that continued to resonate the most.

Innovation And Adaptation

Innovation comes at a blazing rate these days. SXSW had an entire track dedicated to the Metaverse and VR/AR. There was a keen interest in AI, with the founder of OpenAI Co-Founder Greg Brockman hosting an official fireside chat detailing the origins of the company and its AI apps ChatGPT and DALL-E.

The Disney Imagineering panel also stunned us with amazing innovation…a real life LIGHTSABER!

Kill “The Metaverse”, but Virtual Worlds are Coming

At SXSW, many want to kill the term ‘metaverse’ as soon as possible. Instead, attendees started talking about virtually enhanced worlds. This was inevitable.

Enhancements to our physical experiences and realities will continue to blend with new technology. The “metaverse”, as a social construct might be over, but it’s clear from our conversations that the industry is turning back to VR & AR and that the future of the internet will be built on gaming DNA.

A special thanks to our friends over Brand Innovators for continuing to bring the marketing community together in such a meaningful way. They hosted some great panels like the Future of Entertainment Marketing with executives from HBO Max, Peacock, and Warner Bros., The Impact of New AI Developments on the Future of Marketing, and the Woman in Leadership Panel.

Our SXSW trip wouldn’t have been complete without their partnership!