Following are some observations from the Austin-based event that keeps growing and everyone seems to be talking about:
1. Yes, brand marketers swarm. SXSWi originated as an attraction around the CD-ROM industry, then developed a focus on Internet culture and startups. Now brand marketers are flocking in ever-greater numbers, even becoming major sponsors. This year, SXSWi was swarming with marketing execs involved in media and technology. If you have an innovative proposition for brand marketers, this is a great place to meet them, though a better matchmaking service would be useful.
2. Digital marketers are still pushing boulders up hills. I’ve probably had a hundred conversations with customers from large brands over the past several days. Brand marketers attending SXSWi represent a subset of the more forward-looking members within their organizations. While they’re eager for new ideas, almost every single one I spoke with concedes an ongoing challenge and mission to educate their colleagues and transform their organizations for the digital age. Digital unpreparedness and paranoia is top of mind, and digital transformation will continue for many years to be an evolving theme.
3. Don’t forget the conference. Many visitors flock to Austin for SXSWi without buying a pass, with the expectation of never stepping a foot in the conference hall. With so much going on outside, it’s easy to forget there’s a conference going on. Side events and meeting opportunities happening outside of SXSWi are more valuable for a lot of people. But the conference holds some great content and often makes news. I recommend investing in at least two or three conference sessions because they can be insightful and create serendipitous opportunities to make important connections. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden were among this year’s keynotes.
4. Pace yourself. I was reminded for the third time how intensive SXSWi can be. There is so much going on, and many opportunities to engage with people from all over. It’s easy to drink too much, eat too much, and avoid sleep. Your brain is always on. Since it’s hard to avoid becoming both mentally and physically fatigued, remember to pace yourself, get sleep, and recharge with some quiet time each day.
5. Rent a house and car. We rented a nice house, which became a SXSWi base for 10 colleagues along with some customers. It was far more affordable and pleasant than all of the overpriced corporate hotels. Moreover, it served as an amazing venue for a customer party, dozens of meetings, a quiet place to work, and mental and physical replenishment. We rented a car, as the taxi shortage seems to keep getting worse.
Many people debate what is becoming of SXSWi. Some swear it is the best interactive and tech culture gathering in the world, while others claim it has become corporate and
jumped the shark.
Because of its size, it most certainly has become a lot of different things. That’s why, for any individual, it really is what you make of it.