By Lauren Hindman
Each March, more than 70,000 representatives from the music, film and tech industries descend upon Austin, Texas, for SXSW. Considered one of the world’s top tech conferences (yes, this is the one credited with generating Twitter’s success), the two-week festival is dedicated to exploring the latest trends and strategies in the digital media space.
SXSW’s famed interactive conference includes hundreds of events each day and features speakers from established technology leaders and emerging companies alike. I had the opportunity to attend SXSW Interactive in 2015, but I found this year’s experience even more valuable — both from a professional perspective as the senior director of marketing for the Texas Stars, but also for my role as an instructor with Brandeis GPS’s Digital Marketing and Design graduate program. I currently teach Writing for Digital Environments, and the panels that I attended related directly to several course topics: audience targeting, storytelling techniques, social media strategies and user-generated content.
Marketing to moments: a new outreach strategy
One particularly insightful panel I attended, Marketing to Moments that Matter, featured Ann Mack, head of content and activation for global consumer insights at Facebook. Mack talked about how marketing strategies have moved beyond targeting by demographics and even by passions and interests. Today, with the ubiquitous nature of mobile in our lives, marketers need to focus on the particular moments that people experience on a daily basis. Mack shared some compelling statistics about the millions of moments shared through mobile devices any given minute, and designated those moments into three categories for strategic outreach:
- Landmark moments (marriage, children, college graduations)
- Annual moments (holidays and birthdays)
- Everyday moments (cooking, losing a phone)
Mack’s takeaways for the audience resonated with the digital media writing strategies we had covered in class: be personal in your messaging, be precise in your targeting, and be persistent with your strategy.
Sports fashion, Grumpy Cat, and great writing’s place in a visual world
Not only did the topics covered at SXSW directly relate to my digital writing course, but the course seemed to follow me to the conference. Each week in our discussion forums, students choose organizations to analyze based on that week’s topics, and I was excited to run into two companies that students had studied during my SXSW experience. Less than a week after a student had critiqued a marketing email from Fanatics.com, I sat in on a panel with their vice president of marketing, Ryan Donovan. After listening to him speak about their marketing strategies and challenges, I was able to relay that information back to the class as a follow up to our discussion forum.
Another student had analyzed Friskies’ digital media presence, and when I saw that Grumpy Cat was making a SXSW appearance on behalf of the cat food brand, I waited in more than an hour-long line (all for the benefit of the class, I swear!) to get my photo taken with Internet-famous cat and experience their #CatConcoctions digital campaign first hand. I’ll be using this campaign as a case study during our user-generated content week to demonstrate ways that brands can encourage consumers to post content on their behalf.
The biggest benefit to attending SXSW Interactive is having the ability to get a pulse on the digital media trends that other companies are focusing on. Even as digital media moves toward focusing more on the visual through photos and videos, I heard the words “storytelling” and “authenticity” in multiple panels this year. To me, this emphasizes the fact that organizations still need great writers and creative thinkers on their digital teams.
My time at SXSW 2016 was a definite success, and I am so excited to be able to share what I learned with my GPS class and immediately implement those ideas into my teaching. While I’m constantly reading about the latest developments in digital media, there’s nothing quite like being able to sit in a room with the experts, hear them talk, and ask them questions about issues I am tackling both in the workplace and in the classroom.
Lauren Hindman is the senior director of marketing for the Texas Stars and an instructor in the Digital Marketing and Design program at Brandeis University Graduate Professional Studies.
Learn more about the online master’s degree in digital marketing at Brandeis here.