Category Archives: Conferences

Why bigger is better for brands at SXSW

Greetings From Austin

South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive 2015 is over and by all accounts it was bigger than ever before. This was my seventh consecutive year attending and speaking and I’ve witnessed this evolution firsthand. More so than in any prior year, my week in Austin left me with the impression that SXSW matters more than ever for brands and is currently the top “must attend” event for marketers.

Previously, many brand-side executives dismissed the notion of traveling to Austin in March, despite the allure of beer, barbecue and warm Texas weather. SXSW used to be called “spring break for geeks” – considered more of a social scene for techies than a place for brands to get business done.

This year’s festival leaned towards the regional and the niche. But with the rise of digital and convergence of culture and technology in society, the content and communities of SXSW Interactive have become increasingly relevant to a wide range of audiences.

This year, I saw three key reasons why brands should save the date for 2016:

1. Major digital trends are on display
I’ve been tracking a series of key global digital trends since the beginning of the year and have seen them reinforced at CES, Mobile World Congress and now, SXSW.

First is the evolution of natural interfaces. There were plenty on display, from startups showcasing gesture-based and augmented reality offerings, to panel discussions regarding the evolution of fabrics and wearables.

exiii Prosthetics

Another global trend is the rise of smart machines and practical application of data. General Electric, for example, held a “barbecue lab” at this year’s event to explore the science of what makes barbecue great, based on science.

Finally, the internet of things was put into action as 1,000 Bluetooth beacons were deployed throughout the city to connect attendees with each other and to provide information on the venues they were visiting.

2. Brands are building startup street cred
SXSW has always had client-side representation in attendance. However, in years past, marketers would attend individually or as part of a small team on a fact-finding mission. Now, big brands are paying big dollars to have a presence at the festival.

Samsung lounge

What really matters though is how traditional companies are reaching out and bridging the gap with startups. IBM, Visa and McDonalds all hosted startup pitch competitions during the festival. These brands are getting credit by association with new thinking, while getting a jump on disruptive innovation.

3. SXSW has become a global gathering
The attendee badge lists a person’s name, company and country. More often than not I saw non-US locations listed, including Germany, France, Korea, Japan, Sweden, the UK and beyond. SXSW has attracted a global audience that brands can connect with.

SXSW 2015 badge

In stereotypical Texas style, everything at SXSW has become big. The amount of content offered, the number of attendees in town and the range of parties and concerts available were mind-boggling. It seems likely that next year’s conference will be even bigger and brands will bring out their best to shine brighter than their competitors in the warm Austin sun.

This post was originally published in The Guardian.

What to watch with the Apple Watch

I was at Mobile World Congress last week in Barcelona. This week, Apple finally announced details on their much anticipated first-generation smartwatch.

Wearables, but why?

The Apple Watch faces the same critical challenge that all smartwatches already struggle with today: a strong use case. In other words, is it really better to do this on my watch than on my phone?

  • The trend is towards big, not small. Today, most watches do not have independent internet connectivity so you’ll always have your phone nearby when using your watch. If anything, the boost in iPhone sales after the launch of the larger 6 and 6 plus should be a hint that the world wants *larger* screens, not smaller ones.
  • The ecosystem for connecting software and hardware is still immature. Lots of interesting solutions are emerging, e.g. payments, notifications, and access, but mobility is still firmly in the early adoption phase.
  • People stopped wearing watches a while ago. Check out this article from 2007. Generally speaking, a lot of people stopped wearing watches because their phones provide the time and serve dozens of other functions. Everyone finds phones to be useful for multiple purposes. The same can’t be said for smartwatches or smart glasses.

But there’s just one thing.

At MWC, every manufacturer seemed to have a smartwatch offering. They came in a variety of designs, with high- and low-end finishes, targeting different consumer segments.

Acer

Huawei

LG

LG

Sony

Polaroid

Regardless of brand, there’s one thing all of these watches have in common: they run Android. They may look different on the outside, but when you get into the user experience, they’re all essentially the same.

And Apple is the only manufacturer with its own operating system.

So despite similar challenges of use case, battery life, phone tethering, et al., Apple has something unique. It’s not about the $17,000 version, the initial set of brand apps, or the celebrity endorsements. The key is the ecosystem. And while the Apple Watch won’t be an instant hit like the iPad (again, big screen size!), it will be a solid first-generation product entry, just like the first iPod. What will be interesting to watch is how other manufacturers create a meaningful difference in a sea of Android sameness.

What I saw at CES

I was at CES 2015 last week. Here are some reflections, in no particular order:

1. The Internet of Things was Everywhere.

Internet of Everything

From the opening CES keynote to every 20 feet on the show floor, IoT was everywhere. But while there may be “infinite possibilities of IoT,” the question everyone will start asking in 2015 is, “but why?”

Samsung Infinite Possibilities of IoT

If IoT ecosystems become truly pervasive, analysts will become the most in-demand professionals out there.

2. Wearables, but why?

I was speaking to a 20-something professional about new products and he said, “Watches? I don’t get it. My generation is the one that stopped wearing them; we use our phones to tell the time. So why do all these companies think that everyone is suddenly going to buy smartwatches?”

WonderWoof

The variety of wearables businesses plays out like a Mad Lib. I saw wearables for fitness. The elderly. Kids. Babies. Dogs. Cats. You name it and if it moves, then there’s a business that wants to put a sensor on it to collect data.

3. Surf like nobody’s watching.

VR at Intel

But when you’re demoing VR on the CES floor, everyone is. Except at the Oculus booth, which had the longest lines that I saw at the show.

Oculus queue

4. Give me a break.

Walking around the show can get so tiring for some people that they just fall asleep in the middle of the day. Some booths facilitate this.

Taking a break

5. Mirror, mirror on the wall

Some solutions like virtual fitting tech sounds great in theory but the demos show that there’s still a long way to go.

Virtual Fitting Solution

On the other hand, other offerings that focus on a smaller, more specific application work very well.

Panasonic Beauty

6. The Connected Car

Audi TTS

There were more automotive manufacturers at the show than ever before, with a heavy focus on connectivity and automation.

BMW+Samsung

7. Physical to digital to physical

Martha Stewart MakerBot

The transition from the industrial to information age is entering a new phase, where we are digitizing our physical world.

8. 3D TV won’t die

Samsung 8K TV glassless 3D

I was surprised to see that every major manufacturer was showing off some sort of “glass-less” 3D TV. Even in the sweet spot, they seem like an awesome UHD TV got messed up somehow with a blur effect around the edges. 8K, yes. 3D, no.

9. Robots and the uncanny valley

Easily the creepiest thing I saw was Toshiba’s “Communications Android,” which had disclaimers posted around it like “robot does not interact with you.” Even so, when she turned and looked in my direction, I felt a chill run down my spine.

Communication Android

On the other hand, fake robots like Alibaba’s interacted with the crowd and were entertaining.

Alibaba robot

10. Times they are a-changin’

After recent years of backlash, booth babes have almost entirely disappeared from CES, in exchange for slightly more practical robots and people working out. Moreover, people dressed in cartoon costumes seem to have disappeared from the Strip as well. Here are two types of people you probably won’t see at CES 2016:

Two types of CES staffers heading for extinction

When I visited the Intel booth, I looked across the aisle and the old Microsoft space was now occupied by two Chinese manufacturers, Hisense and Changhong. Sign of the times.

Changhong

However, what hasn’t changed is that the floor is primarily for media and spectacle, while business gets done behind the scenes and off the floor.

Samsung Smart Lounge

I’ll be keeping an eye on how these trends of digitization and connectivity play out over the year, with visible checkpoints at MWC, SXSW, and IFA.

Six years, $60 million, and all I got was this stupid hoodie.

Voting for SXSW 2015 sessions has started.

Austin panorama during SXSW 2014

If I get the chance to speak next year in Austin, I’d like to tell you about the last six years of my working life.

Between 2008 – 2014, I committed my time, energy, and intellect to build a startup company as the first employee into a multi-million dollar, multi-national social business advisory and big data analytics company. We received quite a bit of funding from Austin Ventures along the way. The company was ultimately acquired by Sprinklr and the only tangible reminder of my experience I have left is the classic cliched symbol of a startup company: a logo hoodie.

I could probably write a book on what I wish I knew then. (Maybe I will someday.) In the meantime I’d like to share the highlights of what I learned about startup life. The great reads out there make even more sense to me after having lived the experience.

I guess it’s only fair to disclose that I don’t intend this to be a sixty minute smack-talk session. Even without the snark, somewhere in between the trips to Las Vegas, managing people managing their personal brands, working with acquired companies under earnouts, writing a book, and creating an entirely new category of advisory called “social business,” there are some lessons worth sharing.

This would be my seventh year speaking at SXSW Interactive; if you’re interested in hearing more, I’d appreciate your vote.
Vote to see my session at SXSW 2015!

If you can’t get business done at SXSW, you’re not doing it right.

Austin panorama

South By Southwest interactive has come to an end for 2014. This was my sixth year of speaking at the conference and it gets better every year. It also gets bigger every year and some people say that experience quality is inversely related to attendance growth. Why? Because they miss the serendipity of the days when SXSW was smaller. What’s the benefit of serendipity? Reasons cited by Techcrunch include job hopping and love affairs.

Those two things have never been on my SXSW (let alone any professional conference) agenda so I haven’t been disappointed yet. In fact, the bigger SXSW gets, the better it becomes for a place to get business done. Here’s why.

  1. Guerrilla is out, grownup is in.
    Forget the street teams handing out flyers and putting massive stickers on everything. The only people who need to stay up all night to get lucky are desperate startups and “serendipity” seekers. Real businesses have rented out proper meeting spaces like Oracle at the Waller Creek Boathouse and Samsung at Vince Young Steakhouse, so executives can sit down with partners and clients to conduct meetings without having to yell to be heard over the noise of a DJ or without being interrupted by free beer seekers shoving their way through a conversation.
  2. Everyone is here.
    Well, not everyone. About a week before interactive started, I noticed an uptick in public declarations along the lines of “I’ve been so busy this year — and it’s only two months in! — that I deliberately choose not to attend SXSW because it is too low signal high noise for a person of my status.” It’s #FOMOSXSW. For the rest of us, this week brings heavy hitters to Austin from politics, media, entertainment, brands, and beyond. While Edward Snowden was remote, presumably due to visa/travel issues, it’s tough to be disappointed with the lineup of people available to meet in person.
  3. It’s about the hands-on experience.
    Most conferences are limited to the constraints of a single venue, like Centers Moscone or Javits. SXSW takes place over a large part of an entire city. So instead of trade show booths, most brands are able to offer hands-on activations, like giving rides in cars, sitting on an iron throne made from swords, setting up a go-kart track, walking through a wired home, eating 3-D printed candy, eating food made from artificial intelligence recipes, and so on. Brands also leverage local spots with world renown, like WCG’s event at Franklin Barbecue and Umbel’s party at Austin City Limits Moody Theater.

Hope you had a productive time in Austin — and see you next year.

For more on how business gets done at SXSW, check out David Berkowitz‘s Ad Age column “Let’s Be Honest: SXSW Is About Innovation in Marketing, not Tech” and Hubspot‘s “9 Unforgettable SXSW Moments.”

My #SXSW session “Capital vs. Talent” is today at 5 pm, Hilton 616AB #whosboss

Tax wealth not work

I’ll be hosting a core conversation today at 5 pm in Hilton 616AB.

What is a core conversation?

“The informal discussions that take place in the hallways between sessions have traditionally been one of the most productive parts of the SXSW Interactive Festival. In 2008 we formalized this process by adding our Core Conversation program, sessions in which a single moderator leads an open discussion with attendees around a specific topic for an hour’s time.”

Here’s what we will discuss:

Every business must manage a fundamental conflict between individuals who control the means of production and individuals who operate those means to a profit. Roger Martin outlined this struggle in the classic HBR article “Capital Versus Talent: The Battle That’s Reshaping Business.”

Today, businesses are challenged by an added dimension: the rise of social media. Individuals seek global recognition by sharing insider viewpoints with the world and Talent has embraced the leverage of new tools. Management has tried to quell the rise of a workforce filled with “personal brands,” wondering what defenses remain to mitigate the risks of an employee base that is active in social media.

I’ll discuss how the best solution for Capital is counterintuitive — brands are best off by wholly embracing social business. Far from condoning revolution, management can harness the collective efforts of seemingly self-guided individuals for corporate gain under the umbrella of “social business.”

If you’re at the session, I’ll see you later today!

uberX service at SXSW starts today at 5 pm

Uber ATX

As an analyst, I’ve always valued the perspective of firsthand experience. So next week I’ll be an active participant in the collaborative economy during SXSW in Austin: I’ve registered as an uberX driver.

Users get free rides, as Uber doesn’t officially operate in ATX yet. So you might call for an Uber and get me to show you around! Just don’t ask me to drive you to Driftwood or Round Rock.

Service starts at 5pm on Thu 6 Mar and ends at 3pm on Sun 16 Mar. I predict that once people hear the phrase “free rides” there will be much more rider demand than driver supply.

And of course if you need to sign up for Uber, I’d be happy to refer you to sign up: http://uber.com/invite/esu88

SXSW 2014: Capital vs. Talent

Since returning to Dachis Group earlier this year, I’ve been focusing on internal operations and consulting with a select group of clients, leaving little time for publishing thought leadership. However, one event I’ve always enjoyed participating in has been SXSW, where I’ve spoken for the past five years.

SXSW 2013 Book Signing

The 2014 SXSW PanelPicker is live and the session I’ll prepare and present is “Capital vs. Talent.” I’ve been watching the rise of social media and its impact on business for about seven years and issues of power and control are far from resolved. In fact, while social technologies may be new in the workplace, organizational dynamics are the same as they ever were.

Here’s a full description of what I’ll discuss:

The Next Battleground of Capital vs. Talent: Social Business

Since the Industrial Revolution, every business has been forced to manage a fundamental internal conflict between individuals who control the means of production and individuals who operate those means to a profit. Roger Martin outlined how this struggle originated in the 18th century and persists today in the 2003 Harvard Business Review article “Capital Versus Talent: The Battle That’s Reshaping Business.”

As we progress deeper into the 21st century, businesses are still struggling with the ever-shifting balance of power, albeit with a new dimension: the rise of social media. 72% of US online adults are social networking site users, creating indelible change in personal technology use and interpersonal relationships which inevitably impact professional operations. In the early days of corporate social media adoption, individuals like Robert Scoble gained global recognition by using emerging channels to share insider viewpoints with the world — Martin’s Talent had discovered new tools to gain advantage over Capital. Management reacted by putting policies in place, trying to quell the rise of a workforce filled with “personal brands.” These policies have now come under scrutiny, leaving employers wondering what defenses remain to mitigate the risks of an employee base that is active in social media.

The best solution for Capital in this case is counterintuitive — brands are best off by wholly embracing social business. By intimately understanding the dynamics of social engagement and leveling the conversation landscape among customers and employees, management can harness the collective efforts of seemingly self-guided individuals for corporate gain. The potential benefit: McKinsey estimates that productivity increases of 20 to 25 percent are achievable, along with $1.3 trillion in value that could be unlocked within four key industries alone. Managers would be wise to recognize the value creation opportunity inherent in social business and potentially stabilize the long-lasting tension between Capital and Talent.

If you’d be interested in hearing more about this, the session has been included in SXSW Interactive’s 2014 programing in a “core conversation” format. See you there!

Thanks!