SXSW: Truth to Power, Power to Purpose

SXSW 2019 slowly powers down. My 15th one, and, -once again- a splendid edition. Austin is still weird. SXSW still inspiring. We’ve found the answers to some questions, and part with a gazillion new questions spinning in our heads. Mission qua brain fuel: accomplished. I tried to synthesize some highlights, before the maelstrom of things to do grabs me by the collar and that the reality of the business catches up.


SXSW does not have a lot of patience for yesterday’s thinking and yesterday’s habits. While most corporations and countries are still struggling with equal rights and diversity, SXSW is already full steam on inclusion. Inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. The difference between striving for equal rights, and inclusion is huge. Inclusion means that diversity in all its forms is firmly and structurally embedded in the very fabric of your society and your organization.

Inclusion tilts your organization to new heights, as women and men from every ethnic background, sexual preference, life choice and age contribute their full potential in finding the right path to a brilliant and bright future. Inclusive strategies have all the right ingredients from the very moment of conception.

Change is happening at neck breaking speeds, and all indicators show there is no slowing down any time soon. To answer this constant pressure, a culture of change needs to be installed in the root directory of every organization that wants to stay future-proof. Secondly, you will have to swing from your front foot. The best way to do that is with an inclusive team.


The heydays of the Renaissance man are over. In Leonardo Da Vinci’s time, a polymath or Homo Universalis could know about everything there was to know at that time. Today, very few people span the necessary expertise in a broad number of subject areas. To be able to succeed in the decision-making, a fine set of skills and understanding needs to be fused together. Fusion thinking, and fusion rooms let people with different views, expertise and skills work closely together. This creates sparks that ignite (re)new(ed) thinking. Organizations need to draw on a complex set of knowledge to solve problems that get increasingly multifaceted.

A Fusion room where creative and impactful sparks rub off intense conversations and brainstorming in all openness and safety, is the beating heart of the culture of change. Supercharged collaboration, the ability to tackle everything, everywhere, anytime based on the fusional power of many. I like it.

Transparency, truth, power, purpose

SXSW clearly has no tolerance for the good old backroom tactics, grey zone approaches and black-box solutions… Transparency, traceability, and openness are the new power words. As well in B2B, as in B2C honesty and transparency became two extremely important metrics. In a world where the clients become more and more vocal, every transaction becomes a moral ‘tic off’ on the values of the business partner.

Brands find power in the values that are inherently linked to its experience. Perception becomes reality, and reality is fact based, and in these times of fake news fact checked. Values connect people and brands with links that go beyond the commercial transaction.

MGM’s Beverly Jackson’s personal motto nails it: “Truth to Power. Power to Purpose.”

Communication shifts from what you offer, to why you matter. Brands that are able to communicate (and show) clear purpose win, hands down. Marketing, communications and media put increasingly more emphasis on the softer bit of the corporate message.  Less down to earth product pushing, more purpose driven value matching.

P&G, Danone, Nike, Starbucks, Mercedes, Johnny Walker and countless other brands are stepping up to this purpose driven interactions.

Advertising needs to stop annoying people

Justin Billingsley, Global CEO Publicis Emil hopes that the next generation consumers will be able to say: “Advertising was the stuff that annoyed our parents when they were trying to do something else.”

The shooting from the hip at consumers on every single possible available platform clearly will not get you into the charts anymore. Consumer time and time indicate that they have had enough with media carpet bombing, and with brand messages that are not relevant to them.

The heavy intrusion of brands in digital media –and especially on social media-, communicating in ways that are not “native” to the platform is perceived as extremely annoying, up to a point that users try to hop from new platform to new platform in a desperate try to be ahead of the Corporate Media Rollercoaster.

Advertising needs to stop annoying people. The data and connection technologies are available to connect to everyone, at any given moment, on any device. The key is to find ways of using that nuclear connection power in combination with messages that are non-intrusive, relevant and engaging.

An ad blocker is a defensive weapon. If the internet user would not feel under attack, the ad blocker would simply not be deployed.

The battle for content

Content is magic. Content that is engaging, well made, informative, relevant, funny, inspiring… seems to be the elfenbridge between brand and consumer. Over the coming months, the battle for content is going to be fierce. With consumers more reluctant to share their own personal stories online, the social media and digital platforms are frenetically looking for good, engaging content. State-of-the-art, premium content- in text, info-graphic, audio and video is in high demand.

Life as it is doc’s, neighborhood focused news, memes, quality journalism overall, citizen journalism or good old entertainment, the social platforms are scrambling to get their timelines more relevant, more attractive, and more engaging.

Brands are also slowly waking up, and see that dry 6 pack shots in reach&frequency campaigns on Facebook buys them little more than very vocal consumer’s annoyance. On the other hand, good thought-true content on the same social platform creates huge added value.

Premium Content strikes back

Content is so good that people would be willing to pay for it,  -correct that-… are paying for it. The freshly launched Quibi video streaming service, Netflix, Spotify, HBO, CNN, Twitter, ShowTime,  YouTube,  Amazon Prime… they all were on stage to put the spotlight on their premium content.

From new episodes of Game Of Thrones, award winning top-notch productions (Roma!), over the return of the podcast (the clear winner of the battle for the intelligent speaker), to alliances with the world most creative influencers… premier content stood tall and proud.

The growing willingness of the market to actually pay for premium content makes content platforms less dependent on advertising dollars. Spotify, Amazon Prime, and Netflix are proving that they could run solely based on a subscription revenue.

Drowning in Data, Starving for Insights

Big Data might be the most used hollow phrase of the last years. There is data, yes: oceans of it. But, what do we do with it? What is the capacity of translating data in actionable intelligence?  How does data become a driver that moves the business needle in the right direction?

Drowning in Data, Starving for Insights was a revealing session on how to leverage the science of Information Architecture to redefine ROI for your brand. Data is everywhere, but the value and usefulness of that data can at times be elusive. Very Elusive.

SXSW took a steep and deep dive looking at the infinity pool of metrics at hand in a fully IOT- world. How to decipher which metrics are most valuable and the ability to re-invent the rules: there is gold to be had.

From drive-in movies, to movies in the car

Remember the day where youngsters would take the car, and enjoy a drive-in theater? Those days are long gone. The car developed into a supreme driving machine, and is on the verge of becoming something else altogether. Most of the premium car-brands are looking into (semi) autonomous cars. Electric cars that is. Fossil fueled cars seem to be in a blind alley, and alternatives like hydrogen are nowhere in the race for the moment.

Yes, there are still quite a few hurdles to take: We need laws and regulations. We need (even) better maps. We need cleaner, greener and sustainable energy to power those cars. (We need that to power our cities too, btw.) Investments in charging networks need to happen, and fast. We need better batteries; better battery management, and a transparent battery (re)lifecycle based on respect for people and planet. But all that will come within the next generation.

Most people have an audio system in the car that delivers music in a superior way than the systems in their living room”, analyst Jeremiah Owyang said:  “The car is not only a vehicle that takes you from A to B. It is the device that delivers you content and that enables you to interact: with people and with brands.

Once the car is fully autonomous, the curved windshield of the car could very well turn into the biggest and most impactful content delivery screen. Future car manufacturers will have a perfect entry point in the content experience of the commuters, and the car becomes de-facto a new competitive add-on as one of the connecting points in the already crowded communication and media ecosystem.

Business as usual

Honestly, there is none. 🙂

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