SXSW Preview Day 1: Hit the Ground Running

Every year, SXSW Interactive (aka Geek Spring Break) gets a little bigger than the year before. To make things easier, we’ve combed the list of panels, looking for the best opportunities for affiliates and marketers. Each day this week, we’ll highlight a different day of panels at SXSW and provide an overview of the content.

Sugar High

SXSW Interactive opens its doors officially Friday, March 9. And one of the ladies best equipped to kick things off will take the stage at 2 p.m. Friday. In Battle for the User Soul: Gamification’s Dark Side, user advocate and former game developer Kathy Sierra will look at how games have become a way to bribe people to engage or join a community as opposed to helping users do what they really want to do.

The discussion around gamification is a volatile one with respected players on both sides of the debate (make sure to read the comments). Sierra is well known for her commitment to the user experience, and you’re likely to hear something along these lines in her presentation:

…the current crop of “gami­fi­ca­tion” experts are doing nothing more than “pointsification/badgification”, taking the most super­fi­cial, sur­face mecha­nics of games and appl­ying them out of con­text to areas where they are, as I have refe­rred to it, “the high fruc­tose corn syrup of enga­ge­ment.” Once the sugar-rush novelty has worn off, there will be a subs­tan­tial crash from the high. And it may be one from which a brand can­not recover.

As an alternative, Sierra will challenge attendees to look past gamification to something more sustainable that doesn’t rely on that initial rush to create meaningful engagement with customers. If you’re a marketer who’s looked to games in the past, this is the panel for you.

That Ad Knows My Name

Few people truly understand just how much information the internet scoops up every time we go online. Starting at 2 p.m. Friday, the Creepy? Captivating? Ads in the Personal Data Era session will tackle what the world will look like as individual data gets used more frequently to customize are personal experience online. Set up as a panel, you’ll hear from Deb Schultz, Jason Cavnar (Singly), John Battelle (Federated Media), and Robert Stephens (Best Buy). Personally, I think Deb Schultz alone makes the panel worth attending.

Given the backgrounds of all four, you can expect to hear strong arguments about both the good and the bad of getting more personal with our customer interactions. We’re moving into the Wild West of data, and this panel will walk through what you stand to gain and to lose as they discuss data liability, identity, and privacy, particularly with the recent release of President Obama’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Where’s My Brand

Evolution in branding is a good thing, right? It shows we’re not stuck in the past and we’re paying attention to changes around us. However, the panel on Brands As Patterns will argue there’s a need for consistency. The panel offers a good mix of perspectives with Greg Johnson (HP), Marc Shillum (Method, Inc.), Maureen Sullivan (AOL), Robin Lanahan (Microsoft), and Walter Werzowa (Musikvergneugen).

You can also expect to hear this group outline a new model for designers to adopt. For instance, as Johnson noted last year:

We have entire industries built around following guidelines, reading rule books, implementing standards… We need to strive for a different idea of what success looks like, based on the premise that a one-size-fits-all approach is dead and that our digital age has given us the tools to do something never before possible: adapt to context and the individual consumer. To generate a brand expression. But doing so means we have to rethink how we tell the story of a brand, and the tools we create to express a brand.

Depending on the chemistry of the panel, this could be one of the more thought-provoking sessions of the day. If you’re struggling with brand and how to adapt, plan to make time for this one on Friday at 2 p.m.

Making More Than Ads

Advertisers often get a lot of grief for only being able to do one thing: make ads. To that charge Robbie Whiting will use his solo presentation, We Made This, and It’s Not an Ad, to argue that agencies and marketers can do more. And Whiting should know; he’s the Director of Creative Technology and Production at Duncan/Channon.

Whiting clearly stakes his territory with the statement that, “The ability to make something that isn’t an ‘ad’ is no longer optional in modern advertising.” If that’s the case, it will be interesting to hear his take on the debate around creative technologists and the idea of agencies acting like start ups. Whiting will present at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.

Reaching Specific Groups

The new tools available to marketers can make it easier to do our jobs, but what if we don’t really understand our audience? To this end, two panels caught our eye on the first day of SXSW:

In the first panel, panelists Bob Watts (Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs), Brian Block (Pierpont Communications), Jennifer-Joy Bronk (The Hebrew Free Loan Association of Houston), Leisa Holland-Nelson (ContentActive), and William Daroff (The Jewish Federations of North America) will speak to the specific issues that come from trying to bring century-old organizations into the digital age. To that end, they’ll highlight how to build relationships between organizations and digital experts while supporting community engagement.

In the second session, solo presenter Trevite Willis (Southern Fried Filmworks) will challenge attendees to do more than look at income and education when building a diverse community. Willis will highlight best practices to help you find communities, understand how they engage (i.e. how you need to adapt), and the platforms that can actually reach diverse communities.

Surviving the First Day

The first day is packed with some amazing talent. If you’ve been keeping track, you’ll realize that we’ve recommended panels at competing times. Luckily, SXSW records all sessions, so you can catch up later on the overlapping panels after your survive SXSW.

Tomorrow I’ll highlight the top panels for SXSW Interactive on Saturday, March 10.

Photo credit: Alex de Carvalho

About Britt Raybould

Britt Raybould has a passion for telling stories and she specializes in helping companies figure out how to tell their own stories. Through her firm, Write Bold, she shows companies how storytelling can define them, both to their customers and within their industry. When she remembers to, Britt blogs on her personal sites at and You can find Britt on Twitter @britter.

Twitter: britter

2 Responses to SXSW Preview Day 1: Hit the Ground Running

  1. Wow. Wow wow wow. Britt, well done and thanks for highlighting. Paging Brian Clark of GMD Studios and founding father of Revenews! Brian has been keen to pioneer the non-HFC stuff for many years now. And wow… what an outstanding, memorable way of putting it, Kathy.

    In my estimation, what Kathy describes is the branding ghost at work yet again. This ghost just won’t die.

    There’s one word/idea/concept (lie) that the ghost survives on lately: Engage.

    “Just engage. Trust me, just engage. Make them laugh, give them eye candy. Now… see that rise in sales? It’s because we engaged well, correctly. It worked! Oh… this month sales lowered? Well, that’s because customers didn’t buy (pass the blame)… although we wish we could, we cannot control that.”

    • Thanks, Jeff. As I’m sure you’re aware, people LOVE the idea of a silver bullet to solve their marketing and/or sales problems. To me, the recent focus on making a game out of everything is another attempt at trying to find an all-in-one solution. Shocking as it may be, sometimes people just want answers to problems, not a higher score.