South by Southwest 2014 was a bit different year, and it’s one more example of how technological trends are predictably inconsistent. Years ago when major corporations started coming to Austin to sponsor SXSW Interactive thanks to their big budgets, the focus was on increasing visibility, sharing their voice, encouraging more interaction and validating business models. And this approach really worked. Think about Twitter and Foursquare that spread like wildfire at SXSW and had marketers lining up to run campaigns.
This year, however, was different. Even though startups were everywhere at SXSW, the attention was not directed toward them. Oh, and step aside music. This year’s focus was on innovative technologies being offered by big brands like IBM, Chevrolet, Samsung, and of course, Google. While people couldn’t exactly pinpoint any startups that left a lasting impression, they were able to revel in the exciting technologies that brands plan on using, such as rapid prototyping, recommendation engines and mobile video.
So, what are we really looking at here? In 2014, can we expect to see new startups, new technology or better branding? Well, you can expect two of the three at least.
Branding at SXSW was huge. This proves that we are in the year of marketing, buzz and establishing strong connections. This does not mean that companies aren’t interested in learning new concepts, ideas and strategies, because they are actually more eager to learn than ever. The difference is that instead of relying on new startups to get their brands noticed, companies are counting on creative marketing tactics to set their brand apart from others. And, from a music festival standpoint, it shows that marketing and technology is just as cool and inventive as music.
Don’t be mistaken, though, startups are still the main attraction at SXSW. Marketers are still lining up to meet the best startups and perhaps become part of something really big and exciting in the near future. In the past, marketers were most intrigued by startups that had proven their models or had something groundbreaking to offer. Now, it’s more about finding the technologies that will match the business and give it the strong marketing buzz that it’s craving. Forming connections, partnering with relevant startups and learning from the best are also important at events like SXSW.
Only time will tell what SXSW Interactive has in store for marketers in the future. Startups are still integral to the event and outshining musical acts, but we can already see marketers shifting and looking for the truly ingenious strategies that will have the greatest impact on their business.