Five things we learned at South by Southwest 2019

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This time two years ago we were just imagining what kind of agency we wanted Monday to be. In a little cottage on Bowen Island we wrote our Guiding Principles—rules that define how we work and what we value. Education was (and still is) right at the heart of them.

That means teaching and speaking whenever we can, sharing our own insights right here on Monday Mag and curating others’ on Twitter. But it also means staying on top of what’s next in brand, marketing, digital advertising, and our clients’ industries—like AI, ecommerce, and fashion. Frankly, we don’t know a better place for this than Austin’s annual South by Southwest conference.

For ten days, 500,000 people swarm the city to dive into all things digital, music and film. It’s a utopia of ideas and innovation and free drinks. Some inescapable themes of SXSW2019? The rights and role of tech giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google (thanks Elizabeth Warren), augmented intelligence, the shift to one-to-one customer service, and the ways our bodies can and will interact with technology.

Here are five of our favourite takeaways:

  1. Chatbots are coming (writers needed)

    The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas recently introduced a chatbot named “Rose” to help guests discover and use more of the hotel’s amenities. In a panel, the team behind Rose shared what drove the project and what it took to make a truly compelling and relevant bot. It all starts with Facebook—there’s a huge shift towards using the platform for private encrypted chat. As a result there’s new customer demand for direct one-on-one communication from brands, and to serve that demand, brands will need to invest in AI.

    As an incredibly brand-driven organization, the Cosmo knew their chatbot needed to be flawlessly branded and human-centred. Specifically, said Matt Moore, the SVP of AI at R/GA who led the project, it needed to have Cosmo’s signature “just the right amount of wrong.” They called Rose their Resident Mischief Maker—she has a personality, an elaborate backstory, and a repertoire of communication developed by a team of scriptwriters. She responds within 30 seconds and knows just when to transfer a guest to a human—along with a full record of the interaction so the guest never needs to repeat themselves.

    Cosmo guests who interact with Rose are 30% happier and spend 15% more money. The key takeaway? Chatbots are inevitable for brands—in fact, Moore predicts they’ll be like websites: in a few years, if you don’t have one, you’ll be left behind. Brands that spend the extra time developing that experience and making their bot a branded experience will see a return. There’s about to be a huge demand for “conversational architects”—skilled scriptwriters who can create human dialogue.

    Noted. We’re already working on that job description. ;)

  2. People are STILL talking about authenticity

    Authenticity has almost lost its meaning in the brand and marketing world. We avoid using the word at all costs, yet as marketers we exist to evoke the feeling. In a session featuring leaders from Taco Bell, children’s line Rockets of Awesome, Sprout Social and AJ Hassan (the agency genius behind the lauded Always “Like a Girl” campaign) we learned that this desire for authentic brands is being driven by women.

    Surprise! Women buy 70% of all consumer goods (including 50% of products for men), but only 1 in 5 C-suite leaders are women and only 30% of agency leaders are women.*. So a majority of marketing messages are being created by men for women.

    Here’s the risk: women (68% of those in a recent study, at least) want to feel a connection with a brand and will deliberately choose brands that connect with their desires. It’s no longer enough to talk “at” your consumer or guess at their desires. You need to establish a warm, human voice and foster a one on one connection rooted in shared purpose. According to Hasson: “Connection comes when you know your brand’s personality and what you have to contribute to the conversation… Brands should think of themselves as people. Who do you want to be friends with?” Great question.

  3. You can’t fake a social mission

    And speaking of authenticity: you can’t manufacture meaning. Having a purpose isn’t a box to tick. You can’t choose a purpose after years of business and backfill your messaging around it. You need to live it for a while before you talk about it. The same panel talked about the Warby Parker founders who ran a non-profit for years before they launched their one-for-one glasses brand. Social mission has to come from a deep passion-driven place or customers can feel your inauthenticity. It takes a lot of work and a firm foundation to live a purpose, and it needs to be rooted in a solid sense of “why”—why do you exist and how does that guide your business decisions?

    For 30 years before launching “Like a Girl,” Always mission was to support women’s confidence. They were doing it in programs in developing nations, but in the US confidence was simply translated to being able to wear white pants. “Like a girl” was an opportunity to finally bring those values to US marketing. A great takeaway: If you haven’t been operating from your “why” but want to, it’s possible to make a shift, but first you have to know who you are and stay true to your brand essence or it will feel inauthentic. You risk falling into the trap of Carl’s Junior who keep shifting their approach, or Chic-fil-a who brutally missed the mark a few years ago with their Kinfolk-inspired digital magazine Let’s Gather.

  4. The universal password: your heartbeat

    Undeniably the most interesting session, and maybe the most universally applicable: Eco Moliterno, CCO of Accenture Interactive in Latin America, talked about all the applications of the heartbeat as our new single form of ID.

    Forget fingerprints or facial recognition: the heartbeat is the very first sound we hear before we’re born and it’s about to become the universal tool for personalization and communication. Imagine a wearable that captures your unique pulse—just waving it gives you access to your front door or your email, starts your car, or turns on your lights and music when you walk in the door.

    The heartbeat could offer a new form of home security that detects breath and heart rate to see if someone is in your home. Walmart has already tested shopping carts that measure heart rate and temperature of your grip as you walk by a sale. Soon it might be the key piece of biometric data that identifies us and gives us a single password for everything.

  5. Forget five senses—we’ve got 21 of them

    Vancouver darling lululemon took the stage (with imagery created by our own art director Ryan Romero) to talk about the future of performance apparel. The brand’s Innovation Manager, Chantelle Murnaghan, PhD, revealed we have a whopping 21 senses. Who knew? Like our sense of position: proprioception. Or our sense of movement: kinesthesis. Our sense of a change in temperature: thermoception.

    When you consider all of these senses and the way our bodies respond to them, you realize performance-first isn’t always optimal. Sometimes what performs the fastest isn’t always what feels the fastest—swimmers like to feel the water moving against their skin, even though a full coverage swimsuit might make them faster. For us, it reinforced the value of product testing—whether you’re selling stretchy pants or SaaS software.

We left Austin with so many big ideas. Want to hear some of them and talk about how they could come to life in your business? Get in touch and we’ll grab a coffee!

*we’re working hard to shift that balance at Monday


Lindsay Seguin