I have now (mostly) recovered from SXSW and am having so much fun rehashing (rehashtagging?) all the fun that went down in Austin. For us, it’s a chance to be in proximity with the top brands and thinkers, as you literally don’t know who you could be having a conversation with or who you might run into (Keegan Key from Key & Peele, for one!) For those of you who have never been, it’s literally impossible to describe the experience; it’s a cacophony of sound, people, brand takeovers, light sabers, pedicabs, free drinks, and this year – virtual reality headsets. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without running into a VR demonstration.
Virtual reality and brand takeovers
My favorite virtual reality experience was at the Dell #social360 Lounge (less a lounge and more a complete restaurant takeover), where in addition to witnessing a few social famous folks like Bryan Kramer, Brian Fanzo, Ari Lightman and Mark Schaefer play a hilarious game show onstage at their “Unconference”, we could experience an immersive, sensory deep dive under the ocean to learn about the plight of the whales battling pollution, at their “Lonely Whale Project” experience. This impressive effort is in partnership with celebrity Adrian Grenier (of Entourage fame), who helped develop the script and story for the technology with Dell, to raise awareness about the effects of the human footprint on the whales. This was such a great example of “show not tell”, as we know you cannot care about something you don’t understand. This is something I will never forget and will share often.
Another impressive restaurant takeover was the IBM Cognitive Studio, complete with Watson cognitive cocktails based on your personalized flavor profile, crowdsourced
artwork, and Star Wars’ “BB-8” robot. No one owns the AI/cognitive machines space like IBM, and this was a cool way to show how the technology gets smarter over time (read: if they had allowed more than one Watson-inspired drink personalized based on how I answered a set of questions, my “drink profile” would have gotten smarter with my feedback. (Thank God Watson was intuitive enough to know that I *probably didn’t need another drink at that time.) This is also where we got said lightsabers, which led to some shenanigans later that night.
Now, I am not sure how I got onto Friskies cat food’s radar, but they tweeted me asking if I would swing by their press event at their Friskie’s Lounge, where they were launching their #CatConcoctions new line of cat food. Now, I don’t even have a cat, nor did I particularly feel one way or another about them (I am a full-on dog person, so Purina, when you come out with your #DogConcoction line of food, I am all over it) but I do respect and appreciate a team with a sense of humor and appreciation for the obtuse. Their images for “Clam Lamb”, “Bacon Cod” and “Chicken Crab” were super funny and made me giggle.
I (almost) met the infamous Grumpy Cat (a miss that made me a little grumpy) but had a great fun exchange with their social team, who showed me that they understand what this social media community-building thing is all about.
Meeting social friends IRL
One of my FAVORITE things about being at SXSW this year was connecting in person with many online social friends for the first time, and this year was no different. In addition to meeting @convince awesome community manager Christin Kardos, I got to spend a lot of time with the inimitable Mia Voss! I gotta tell ya, rarely have I met anyone who is a true soul sister from top to bottom – inappropriateness and all. She made the experience so much more adventurous and ridiculous than ever, and is the reason I had no voice left last week thanks to my constant cackling Michigander laugh.
Monday we were at Brand Innovator’s #BISummit at Lambert’s BBQ, where Bryan Kramer was moderating an Employee Advocacy panel sponsored by Dynamic Signal. While Mia and I were enjoying some time off our feet in between sessions, I got a chance to show her my new obsession – Bitmoji. Now I realize I am kinda late to this party, but DAYUM, is it FUN! For those of you unfamiliar, Bitmoji is a free app where you can customize an avatar to look like you, and then have your “person” in all sorts of funny memes that you can use in social and in your Chrome browser (if you download the extension.) We spent probably an hour customizing her avatar and giggling at the various sayings and since then have only texted each other pictures instead of text in an effort to crack the other person up.
What I find fascinating about Bitmoji as a marketer is you can choose an outfit for your digital self from a variety of real world
fashion brands – Steve Madden, Bergdorf Goodman to name a few – and the New York Times just announced on March 17 that high fashion brands are also joining the party for what I assume will be “pay-to-wear” fashion – Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Zac Posen, Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein and Diane von Furstenberg, to name a few. Currently you can pay .99 to bling out your memes (turning the color white to gold) and unlock additional “Foodmoji’s”, but this additional of real world fashion brands into this digital world is an exciting example of the sharing economy at play. These physical world brands now have a new channel to make incremental money and integrate their brand into new audience’s personal avatars at a very low cost to entry. Customizing avatars is nothing new, but distributing it as a mobile app and not a game is (as far as I know) and making it available to the masses is a brilliant thing. I may not be able to afford a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, but my Bitmoji can – and she looks FIERCE.
Our first #H2H House party
This year, PureMatter finally got a spot at the grown-ups table and threw an official event at SXSW! We wrapped up Tuesday in the #H2H House sponsored by Cox Business at the Red Room, with 3 hours of yummy wine and food and an incredible discussion with young inventor Remmi Smith, 16, winner of Cox Business “Get Started” young entrepreneur competition. Her invention, CHEF Club – available at select Whole Foods – includes a monthly subscription that provides members with a box of healthy snacks to eat throughout the month, a recipe card from Remmi’s cookbook, and a health-related “surprise” from a sponsor, such as a jump rope. We then heard from Robert Scoble, tech evangelist who made headlines in Austin by announcing he had left Rackspace as their brand evangelist and jumped to entrepreneur-in-residence at UploadVR. He blew our minds as he described the future applications and possibilities of Virtual Reality (see above) to a live audience in the house and on Periscope, broadcast by the awesome Brian Fanzo. Spotted also interviewing select guests was Comedian Tim Washer, as seen on “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver, SNL, Conan and Onion Sports Network, and Martin Jones from Cox Business, our generous sponsor. We also met some new friends from Go Daddy, who helped us carry the party torch as we late-night tweeted for the Karaoke Truck to come and satisfy our desire to sing badly (which never happened – it was 2 am people, even Karaoke truck drivers need to sleep.)
So. Many blisters, empty glasses, business cards, #H2H stickers and a multitude of laughter later, it’s another SXSW in the can. It may take another year to fully recover, but it will be worth it when it comes around again next year, just to see more incredible technology, inventions, and meet more new friends in real life. Serendipity required.
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