SXSW-festival-interactive-austin-texas

Snapchat, instant messaging, and Donald Trump were all the rage in Austin this past March. Spafax’s Matthew Fox braved the crowds at SXSW and found out what was what in content production, digital campaigns, and social media marketing. He also ate many tacos.

Grown-ups are going to have to learn how to barf rainbows.

As young people gain purchase power, brands from NASCAR to Comedy Central are hoping to reach them through Snapchat—the it’s-happening-right-now-next-big-thing that’s proving to be notoriously difficult for adults to comprehend. The visually driven app and its hotly anticipated update (which dropped March 29th), came up at dozens of sessions, with social media enthusiasts encouraging marketers to adjust to a new world of under-30 audiences, where the content is risky and unpolished, created live, built natively, and distributed instantaneously.

This time, it’s personal.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram taught brands how to get into the social spheres of new audiences. But in 2016, marketing is getting even more personal. One-on-one platforms are now the spaces that customers trust and that brands covet. Or want to covet. Snapchat is the obvious example (see above), but it’s just the beginning. Kik now delivers restaurant services, Snaps customizes emoji keyboards for Broad City fans, WhatsApp has rich content-sharing services, and Dasher allows users to exchange money via chat. Instant messaging is evolving into a new kind of browser—one that places brands’ bots in the most intimate of spaces, ready to converse with customers using on-point slang and prompt customer service.

The last gasp of the apps.

With the aforementioned rise of instant messaging and the continuing evolution of mobile devices, many SXSWers predicted that the age of apps is drawing to a close. Smartphone users are growing frustrated with hunting through a mosaic of icons to find particular services. A clean, brand-agnostic platform could solve this problem in the West the way it has in China, where users already use WeChat to shop, order food, interact with brands, and search for information. But what platform could be all things to all people? Facebook is certainly trying. It’s now a live broadcaster, an instant messenger, a workplace communication tool, a video phone, and a newsfeed. The social giant is even playing nice with publishers; rumours about it killing organic reach have ended, and Instant Articles makes content delivery more seamless than ever.

Authenticity Trumps pretty much everything.

The value of “authenticity” in content marketing has been touted for years, but at SXSW 2016, presenters found the perfect metaphor for how it worked. Donald J. Trump’s head made it into multiple PowerPoints this March. The leader for the Republican presidential nomination sells himself against conventional wisdom by making his message consistent with his brand, and by making his tone echo the voice of his audience. The path to success in politics, as in marketing, is not necessarily being authentic, but rather appearing to be authentic to the right audience: have a point of view, don’t be afraid of being unrefined, and always respond to your critics.

Facebook will win the live stream war.

SXSW2015 featured a throwdown between two live streaming apps: Meerkat and Periscope. The latter appeared to have won, but, as with everything in digital media, nothing lasts forever. Facebook Live launched last summer, and by the time SXSW rolled around again, it had expanded to full availability and quietly become the favorite live-streaming platform of many marketers and publishers. Mashable has reached legions of new fans through Facebook Live, says CMO Stacy Martinet, because the platform “brings the reach” of a built-in fan base, while being easier to use than Periscope. Plus, Facebook allows the videos to be saved to a brand’s timeline, whereas Periscope streams evaporate after 24 hours.

BONUS! That’s it, we’ve hit the attention ceiling.

If you’re reading this, then one thing is certain: you’re not doing something else. This may seem obvious, but it reflects a new attitude among the content creators gathered at SXSW Interactive 2016. There’s no more attention to be found among audiences, only the splintering of the attention that already exists. Marketers, brands, storytellers, and everyday users are responding to this with ever-shorter bits of content, trying to claim their slice of the attention supply through densely messaged and blaringly captivating 15-second Instagram videos, 10-second Snapchats, and eight-syllable bot messages.