SxSW Interactive 2013 Wrap-Up


SxSW Interactive began as the multimedia portion of the SxSW Film Festival back in 1994. Its original intent was to focus on community-driven technology creativity with a specific emphasis on how the Internet can create a positive impact on the world.  It has since become a crossover event consisting of three key areas (Film, Music & Interactive). However, in 2013 we saw the emergence of a new category, fashion and numerous panel sessions centered on fashion tech as well as ancillary events from designers like Billy Reid.

Every year, tons of startups and technologies flood Austin while we as marketers look to navigate the madness in hopes of finding the next Twitter, Foursquare or game changer.  The event itself has been criticized in recent years for not delivering companies of such caliber. However, it’s important to appreciate that the disruptive trends of 2008-2010 at SXSW stemmed from smart phone growth and changing user behaviour. These were mostly software based and quick moving, while the current trends on the horizon require hardware and software changes and therefore lumber somewhat.

This year, the team from Mindshare US identified key trends seen on the ground.


  1. Brand as Narrator: Austin hosted a slew of panels focused on storytelling and positioning brands as characters with a unique voice and as the narrators. Using specific tactics to get that story across must be taken into account as well as developing rich character arcs early on in the content strategy and development process. 
  1. Behavior Design: The use of technology to stimulate small changes in our behavior that over time leads to life changing habits. This trend is closely tied to the “Quantified Self Movement” via wearable technologies (Nike Fuel, Fit Bit, Jawbone UP) as well as an overarching trend in the adoption of iHealth devices. 
  1. Digital Health & Wearable Technology: Continuing the trend that began with the iHealth devices at CES, there were a large number of digital health sessions that gave perspectives on navigating the pitfalls of health data compliance in an increasingly digital/social world.
  1. The Future of 3D Printing: Bre Pettis of Makerbot kicked off SxSW with a keynote focusing on the future applications of 3D printing. The company announced a technology that models objects up to 8” in height into digital 3D models. This move essentially turns the company from a 3D hardware company into a 3D ecosystem. More importantly, the innovations 3D printing will drive in manufacturing; rapid prototyping and biotech printing are immense.
  1. LoMo With A Side of So: There were a lot of conversations around location-based mobile and how companies can get better at using data on a more localized level to have more relevant conversations with their audiences. Facebook and Google focused on how the mapping/check-in data can be aggregated into more social sharing functionality. In addition, social mapping app, Plotter won the SxSW Accelerator competition.
  1. Promotion of The Startup Ecosystem:  City governments vied for attention this year as they looked to promote their own growing tech/startup ecosystems. Representatives from Silicon Valley (SF), Silicon Alley (NY) Silicon Prairie (Midwest), Silicon Beach (LA) and Las Vegas (SxSW V2V) were all in attendance. Which will be the next to emerge? Our bet is Detroit, with its ties into the automotive industry, low real estate prices and the rise in in-auto technology.
  1. Crowd-Sourcing Transportation Solutions: An ongoing trend at SXSW has been crowd-sourced transportation solutions. Travelscout was a new app that launched around SXSW that gives users every possible option to travel between destinations with the goal of decreasing the number of cars on the road. This also follows other apps including SideCar and Lyft, where ride sharing is a central theme in the app. Waze is a leading social network for drivers that facilitate the sharing of current road conditions and destination information, all in real time.    
  1. Local Content Curation: With the fragmentation of TV viewership and consumers viewing more and more content on their mobile devices, companies like Local and Narratively have emerged to help viewers curate news based on location. Both in their web-based and mobile experiences, users can localize news, entertainment and sports content based on their geographic location, drilling down as far as the city level. 
  1. The Chameleon-ization Of Tech: As seen at CES and followed at SXSW, companies were all over the showroom floor that provided technologies to help weather-proof devices from water, sand and the elements. Technologies ran the gamut from heavy duty casing to spray on waterproofing adhesives.    
  1. Big Data, Big Data, Big Data:  One of the hottest topics for brands is what to do with the onslaught of data that is now available to them. The data landscape has changed immensely in the past few years and chances are it will continue to change at an accelerated rate. The conundrum of big data is that it is largely disjointed – both in source methodology and analysis. Brands and agencies are searching for a way to not only make the mounds of data meaningful, but to find a way to use it in real time to impact their strategy and business.
  1. The Return of Analog: Today, many of us consider our mobile devices as our default screens. As a result, consumers are re-embracing the analog world. Some call it a “digital backlash” while others believe it to be the next iteration of retro cool. A number of Kickstarter projects were circulating analog projects like Lomography and Projecteo. One panel in particular focused on Creating Digital Keepsakes in an Analog World.  Another, hosted by JWT highlighted a recent study, Embracing Analog. While it’s unlikely we’ll experience a full-fledged backlash, brands need to think about complimenting their digital experiences with the tangible to remain relevant.   

Interactive Accelerator Award Winners: 

  • News Tech                                           Phone2Action   
  • Innovative Web Technologies              Wanderu        
  • Mobile Technologies                            Syntellia           
  • Entertainment & Gaming                      MakieLab        
  • Social Technology                                Plotter