Digital Trends For Brands, Execs and Agencies To Watch
Founded in 1987, South By Southwest (SXSW) began as a festival focused on music. In 1994, it added film and multimedia components. In 2011, it added fashion with the adoption of Style X (pronounced “style by”), a fashion trade show and event, to the conference’s calendar. For the city of Austin, Texas, SXSW is the highest revenue-producing special event for the local economy, with an estimated economic impact of $167 million in 2011. This year, the conference featured digital trends and technology that directly focused on retailers utilizing social media and commerce as part of their online marketing strategy.
The rise of interest networks
The most talked-about trend this year at SXSW was interest networks. During the conference, it was clear that interest networks are the next big thing that Silicon Valley is watching to change online user behavior. With interest networks, online users can tailor their experiences and interactions around things that interest them by choosing the people, brands and products they’re connected to. The concept is already found in Google Circles, where you can assign people, brands and products you follow to a certain “circle” or group set.
Now the concept is being translated into entirely new social networks like Chime.In (founded by Uber Media’s Bill Gross) and Hibe, a network that assigns its users “facets” that enable them to create one of four online profiles–family, professional, friends and public. Each profile contains a certain amount of information that the user then designates for different people to see.
Background location apps like Glancee, Highlight, Sonar, One and even GroupMe are the evolution of Foursquare. The goal of these apps is to help users uncover connections with other people in their immediate geographic vicinity that they miss every day and bring them together around shared interests. “My sense is that these apps are in the middle of a new way of sharing that will be adopted by larger companies,” wrote Eric Eldon of TechCrunch. “The white-hot pace of experimentation might one day be viewed as a watershed moment of widespread location sharing, not just a crowded, noisy and battery-draining affair.”
“One of the challenges in attracting new users in large numbers is that people are becoming increasingly ambivalent about sharing their personal whereabouts in new mobile social communities,” said Margaret Ryan, a San Francisco-based marketing consultant who advises consumer technology companies on their go-to-market strategy. “Coupled with notification issues related to spam and the information required to use these apps, people are wondering how and if their location is used, raising questions about security and safety.”
Software solutions to measure social media ROI are growing
Marketing professionals and brand executives came to SXSW searching for solutions to qualify and quantify their social marketing efforts. Two technologies that provide companies with impressive, comprehensive solutions to do that rose to the top. The first solution is Spredfast. Founded in 2010, Spredfast is comprehensive social CRM software for marketers that manages day-to-day social media activity as well as campaign related to product launches. Measurement is determined by the amount of content distributed, how many people were reached and whether the intended audience was engaged. Spredfast integrates analytics from clicks by tracking bit.ly links as well as data from each social network.
With Spredfast’s benchmarking feature, managers can compare social campaigns to other strategies in the industry or to the same type of campaign run in another industry. It also allows certain parts of campaigns to be assigned to a specific area of marketing, e.g. social media, PR or customer service. Brands may also create algorithms that allow them to track the dollar value of social media efforts by campaign activity and customer purchases. Pricing starts at $12,000 per year; offering campaign based marketing analytics, daily social media monitoring and engagement metrics and platform application development.
The second solution that impressed attendees this year at SXSW was Pointburst. Pointburst aims to let brands and retailers manage all of their social media content and their affiliate programs from one place using the software’s cloud-based library. Brands and retailers can simultaneously publish relevant communications, social content, videos and photos to their selected social networking sites and then make that content available to participants in their affiliate programs with one click.
“Brands can ensure message consistency while providing their affiliates with valuable content to support their social marketing initiatives,” said Blair Park, vice president of business development, Pointburst. Pointburst uses Facebook Insights and other social metrics tools to measure the overall effectiveness of the social media efforts around the content being distributed through its platform. Pointburst’s platform intrigued us with its content distribution, affiliate integration and analytics suite. For retailers and fashion brands, this looks very promising. Visit their website for video and product demos.
Fashion brands and retailers expand brand presence
Fashion, luxury and beauty brands were in full force this year at SXSW. While brand presence at SXSW is nothing new, this year luxury and premium brands and retailers dipped their toes in the marketing waters of the largest film, music and interactive conference in the U.S. From Neiman Marcus to Bergdorf Goodman, Land’s End to Bonobos, premium brands and retailers made their presence known through brand activations during the entire conference.
Retailers were clearly exploring the context of consumer lifestyle marketing beyond product category expansion in their brands. Leaving the runways and trade shows behind, Warby Parker, Kate Spade and camera maker Lomography all held music events, pop-ups and networking events during the film and music portions of the conference in order to directly interact with current or would-be consumers of their products in store and online.
“Lots of brands from Pepsi to FedEx also see this event as a time to launch specific marketing initiatives to position themselves as innovators in marketing,” said Diana Hong, chief creative officer at CreateThe Group. “Chevy had a fleet of cars, that gave free rides to anyone who needed it and to showcase their line of cars. Nike and AMEX also had a massive presence there, where AMEX threw a Jay-Z show and Nike had a huge setup to launch and showcase their latest product, the Fuel Band.”
Technology that targets niche fashion audiences
In the fashion and interior design space, social discovery, social curation and mobile photo apps were targeting the lifestyle set in Austin. Social curation site Buyosphere, a site hailed as “Quora meets Google product search for fashion” by founder Tara Hunt, held a three-day beauty event for 550+ female attendees of the conference, offering manicures, martinis and place to network in between their schedules.
Mulu.Me, a social commerce site that has amassed a several celebrity followers, allows users to share their favorite products and shop for social good. During panels and presentations specifically oriented for marketing fashion and beauty brands online, Svpply, Discoveredd, Fancy (backed by PPR), POSE (recently funded by stylist Rachel Zoe), PoshMark and Pinterest were named as the top sites leveraged by brands and retailers to drive consumer engagement and online product sales.
Retail executives focused on online brand strategy
Brand managers and agency executives attended official and unofficial panels, discussions and networking events related to fashion and retail this year. In an open discussion about privacy and online shopping lead by Caroline Waxler, digital content director of Lucky Magazine, marketing executives from ASOS, Bottega Veneta, HSN, eBay, DKNY, Modelinia and Neiman Marcus discussed the future of online shopping.
Participants shared that they were focusing brand strategies on the following areas:
- E-Commerce: Many brands, especially those in the luxury category, are still wrapping their minds around social media. Before they delve in more deeply, they’re focusing on their e-commerce sites, ensuring that the customer experience and product discovery process are streamlined and optimized for consumer purchases. In the customer e-commerce experience, brands are focusing on product image (resolution and zoom features), online merchandising and adding social sharing features to products in maximize their online sales while making distribution of their products across the social web.
- Video: Most brand managers are extremely interested in leveraging video as marketing tool for social media and e-commerce strategies. But, until they feel that they can create video that doesn’t interrupt their viewer experience or the purchase process, they are hesitant to invest in the medium.
- Online Shopping and Privacy: Online consumer adoption of “social shopping” is mixed. Brand executives are finding that younger demographics (ages 18-34) are the ones sharing their purchases, wish lists and soliciting advice from social networks. Shopping apps that allow consumers to compare prices or locate items they were interested in tend to be more popular with old audiences (ages 34+). Waxler inquired about services such as Itemize that siphon data from users that opt-in their services, asking if there should be a payout for consumers who willingly give share their shopping data. Participants agreed that an incentive for data sharing was challenging and that they were still attempting to create consumer-brand benefits in the program model.
“The goal of my panel at the SXSW was to spark a lively discussion on privacy and social shopping,” said Waxler. “Through our session we learned how several big brand retailers viewed privacy, how their customers viewed privacy and levels of tolerance users had for foregoing it. We also heard about what’s next on the horizon. As SXSW attracts more and more attendees from the worlds of fashion and retail it’s critical that the evolving programming serve their needs and their interests, while still remaining true to the core DNA of SXSW.”
South by Southwest beneficial to brand executives
“Anyone working in the digital space can benefit from attending, whether you work for a brand, technology company, ad/marketing agency or a startup,” said Hong. “SXSW interactive has always been set up as a place where the convergence of technology, media, and brilliant minds come to co-mingle IRL (in real life). Beyond the panels, valuable, serendipitous exchanges happen, when you least expect it. You could be sipping a margarita while talking to the CEO of a major startup, while high five-ing an art director from an ad agency in Austin.”