My Three Key Inspirations From SXSW Interactive 2014


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The SXSW Interactive experience is never a disappointment. I love all the keynotes, tech talks and events. There is no single greater place to go as a digital marketer if you want to watch marketers talk to marketers. Think about that one for a moment, then respect the challenge. If you were to ask me why I make a journey thousands of miles, at a huge cost that I front as a business, I’d explain that I go to be inspired and then let the future unravel.

Australia is a long way away from the Silicone Valley, Alley or where ever, and we are often removed from the trickle effect and impact moments when trends emerge merely due to the fact that we are upside down in time and season. Moving beyond my thoughts on Lady Gaga  whilst the suitcase still needs unpacking and my feet are still sore, I thought I would share my top three inspiration points from SXSW Interactive 2014. (These are not trends, mind you, just my personal journey and experiences.)

This is a photo of Gary Vaynerchuk taken by Tom Treanor giving a keynote on stage at SXSW Interactive 2014 in Austin Texas.
Photo by Tom Treanor (Meltwater)

Inspiration Point 1: NOW is the time.

My first inspiration came from attending Gary Vaynerchuk’s opening keynote on How to Rock SXSW and get the most out of the Conference that took place on Friday.  As a third year veteran of the Interactive experience, I wasn’t expecting to get schooled. I went along more to get entertained as Gary is one of my favourite entrepreneurs and public speakers. I go to check out his banter and swagger and hope that a little bit of that could rub off on me by just breathing the same air.  In his keynote he talks about why those young-bloods in the room there to hustle for VC were the luckiest mo-fo’s ever (and yes, he used the naughty word). He said there was no more perfect moment than this, where we the people are finally thinking with the devices and technology and it was convergence at it’s best. As a 17 year veteran of the internet, I had to clap my hands and shout AMEN!  Too true is it that now is the time to think about what the world needs – find a need and fill it first.

We are all now open, ready and full of possibility. His opening keynote inspired me with an idea that has now germinated and given me a new start up concept. @GaryVee will be given a few shares in the business for my indebtedness and gratitude. (Hat tip to Tom Treanor who wrote a great blog about this keynote which you can find here.

Inspiration Point 2:  Be Mindful, Open and Present

This is an image of Stephenie Rodriguez and Heather Vescent Schlegel
Heather Schlegel (Futurist) & I

On the flight from LAX to Austin, I queued next to an interesting looking gal with long blonde and purple hair. She was talking to someone on the phone about SXSW and in the spirit of openness that participation at the Conference promotes, I started a casual chat. We spent the next few hours on the flight in Row 2 on Southwest talking about ourselves, our businesses, and our SXSW expectations. She said for her this year was all about being mindful and present. Forgetting all the outside distractions and focusing on what was happening in the immediate – who you were listening to, what your gut was saying when you were hearing a pitch or a presentation, and remain open to the possibilities and potential that existed in everyone and everywhere. There were no “right” people to meet. Everyone was “right” in her eyes as there was something to learn and share in every single exchange.

I asked her about why she, Heather Vescent Schlegel was attending. She informed me that she was on a panel on the Monday and as a Futurist, it is important for her to network and stay on trend but she and those in her trio were really going to take the concept of intimacy and technology to a whole new level. Suffice to say Heather and I became fast friends and ultimately wound up rooming together and are now collaborating on my new project inspired by Gary. Her words aligned me to a level that from the idea that came about in Gary’s keynote, I was able to iterate and vet it with a Principle from Deloitte in San Francisco who then committed my first token venture capital on the new idea and gave me a commitment to mentor this new venture – in an MOU on the back of a napkin in a sushi bar in the Austin Convention Centre.

This is a photo taken of Melissa Ethridge singer songwriter taken by Stephenie Rodriguez at the Deloitte party at SXSW Interactive in Austin Texas.
Melissa Ethridge at the Hangar

Serendipity both personally and professional abounded simply everywhere, and I would love to make an augmented reality application that could show this. Staying open, mindful and in the flow not only brought me amazing new business connections, but also got me on stage at Stubbs for the entire Snoop Dog concept thanks to my AirBnb mate Veronica, one meter from the stage for an acoustic set by Melissa Ethridge at the Deloitte event, a personal moment on a lounge with Guy Kawasaki thanks to PayPal, a candid chat about marketing with the lovely Ekaterina Walter (author of The Power of Visual Storytelling) and a VIP invite to Lady Antebellum concert in Reno on the way home. I met the very lovely Australian Bille Whitehouse and discussed her wearable technology concepts at the DeCoded event at Wanderlust.

This is an image taken from backstage of rapper artist Snoop Dog taken at Stubbs venue in Austin Texas during the PayPal party for SXSW 2014.
Snoop Dog performing for PayPal in Austin


Inspiration 3: Market to Curiosity

As part of our internal SXSW by Proxy initiative, I agreed with my team to attend a session on their behalf. For our head Community Manager, Peta I attended Content Shock – The Future of Social Media – a presentation by author and strategist Mark Schaefer. In a future blog to be linked when it’s out of draft I’ll dish what I loved about it, but the big take away was the concept not trying to permeate people’s social graphs and spam them. We humans as of late have become experts in filtering marketing messages. What he recommended marketers consider which really resonated with me was not to try to penetrate the virtual igloo we have created for ourselves, but rather to draw potential customers to us. This is typical to what we refer to internally as “pull” marketing, but I got something more from it.

I realised that our job as marketers was much simpler and so incredibly profound.  Curiosity is one of the strongest emotive drivers of action. All that we do should simply make people curious. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, marketing to marketers is an incredible challenge. We’re a really tough crowd to cut through. We might see your banners and balloons, but we won’t care or share. If you make us think, feel and desire that is where the magic happens.

I saw this manifest as I patiently was one of those punters queueing up to enter the Oreo Experience where you could #eatatweet and watch a custom made 3d printed edible Oreo cookie be created which was then yours to sample at the milk bar. The legend is that this installation held two hours long queues for most of SXSWi, in the rain! People weren’t hungry for a damn cookie, they were curious. I was curious.

I saw a street team standing in front of the Samsung Blogger Lounge with a monkey on a lead and a small crowd gathering in the street.  Why? What? I stopped had a photo with it, and they included my picture in their tweet to me. I had never had a monkey sit on my shoulder. Curiosity roped me in.

A blank van appeared on a block and street team were asking for pedestrians to “vandalise” it – it had been transformed into a mobile white board.  Clever. I wrote the answer to the question I felt about soda with a bright orange fluorescent marker — “Soda is not better than water.” (Does anyone actually feel anything about soda? Was this a consumer insights piece for Coca-Cola? — one will never know.)

There is so many amazing experiences that happens at SXSW – from vetting suppliers to looking at new app technology, learning about emerging trends in digital marketing, having a beer with someone you consider to be a thought leadership and rehashing their inspirational talks, and watching the impact of convergence of many industries including media, music, art, and technology. I highly recommend making the time and taking your team.

If you were there, what were your key inspirations and take aways? Leave me a comment please.

About the Author

Stephenie RodriguezStephenie Rodriguez founded Mighty Media Group, a leading data-driven digital, mobile and social marketing strategy and solutions firm, in 2004 and is currently the company’s Chief Executive Officer. She is also the former publisher of Ocean Drive Magazine (Australia), a speaker and futurist on all aspects of social technology, an evangelist of engagement,  and has advised companies including SSP – The Food Travel Experts, Austereo, JR/DutyFree, Radar Group of Companies, Transfield, Allied Mills, Lincoln Indicators, Income Solutions, and Bayer (Berocca), Toyota, Mercedes Benz, and the UN FAO. You’re likely to find her Tweeting here @digitalgodess or presenting at events such as #SXSWi, #TFWA, #Tedx and #SocialBiz.


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