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POSTED BY: Pat Dugan

Texas-size digital marketing trends from SxSW


Recently, I made my first trip to the almost mythical “South By” — short for South By Southwest or SXSW, an annual conference that compels thousands upon thousands of creative-types in various industries to descend deep into the heart of Austin, Texas in search of the next big things. While many were there to discover new indie bands or blockbuster movies (there were several world premieres), my mission was only slightly less glamorous: To visit the leading-edge of interactive and digital marketing. And eat as much barbecue as possible doing it.

While it’d be impossible to distill all that I learned down into one blog post, there were some high-level digital marketing trends that emerged over the course of the five days I was there. Here they are…but for a truly authentic SXSW experience, please wait in a long line for 45 minutes before reading each.

The world’s more impatient than ever.

It’s no surprise that the internet and smartphones have eroded attention spans. But today, they’re at all-time lows. And everyone in advertising needs to adjust…probably more than you think. People don’t want to have to (heaven forbid) open another app or website to get the info they need — they want it now, wherever they already are. That’s why social media platforms like Instagram are adding more and more functionality, so their users can do more and more within their apps — like get pricing and information about products just by clicking on their pictures.

And as people idly thumb through their social feeds, you’ve only got a second to capture their attention — literally. The first second of a promotional video on social media is critical. It’s called “the hook shot” because it’s got to hook your audience immediately. Then, you have the next four seconds to keep them on the hook…so make sure you make them care within those first five seconds. Oh, and do it without sound, because most people watching on their phones won’t be able to hear it. (Hey, nobody said this would be easy.)

Mobile messaging is the new social media.

If you’re under the impression that social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat are in-demand among marketers, well…you’re right. But even hotter? Messaging apps, like Facebook’s Messenger and the iPhone’s default Messages app. These are the apps most people check first when they open their smartphones…even before they get to their social media apps. They’re seen as a place for more personal, important conversations. So naturally, marketers are doing everything they can to be a part of them. Right now, that means bringing new features like branded emoji keyboards and sticker packs to your messages, but in the near future, expect videos, games and other functionality to appear.

 Are you ready for something truly eye-opening?

Now you are, right? Just by asking that question, I’ve psychologically primed you to be more welcome to new information. That was the subject of one of the most interesting sessions at this year’s SXSW: The Art of Pre-Suasion, featuring social psychologist Bob Cialdini and marketing guru Guy Kawasaki. The session was all about how to create a “psychological funnel” that readies your audience for your message, making them far more receptive and open to what you’re selling.

One of many examples that Cialdini provided: A furniture retailer tested two different home page designs. One featured a subtle “fluffy cloud” background. The other showed rows of pennies. Those were the only differences — everything else, including the copy, was the same. The result? People who bought furniture after viewing the fluffy cloud background were far more likely to buy comfortable furniture…while people who saw the pennies background were more likely to buy less expensive furniture.

Your audiences want to peek behind the curtain.

Think about all the time, energy and money that go into producing a slick television spot, print campaign or video. Getting it “just so”….with perfectly mixed sound and careful color correction. Well, you may (and still should) care about those little details, but your audience — especially on social media — wants it a lot rougher, rawer and more “authentic.” Today, people want BTS (behind-the-scenes) digital content that makes them feel like they have “insider access,” especially on social media channels — and there are plenty of audience engagement statistics to back this up. For example, Victoria Secret’s latest Fashion Show extravaganza got twice as much of an audience with its behind-the-scenes social posts than the actual primetime broadcast received!

Is that an article, an ad…or both?

The old days of “special advertising sections” poorly masquerading as actual newspaper and magazine content are pretty much over. Thankfully. But some of today’s most respected news organizations are taking that idea to a new level, with “branded native content” that leaves their journalistic integrity intact.

The New York Times recently partnered with Netflix’s show “Orange Is The New Black” to produce a legitimate, in-depth article on female inmates that became one of the most popular pieces of the year. While it was clearly marked as a “paid post” from Netflix, it never even mentioned the show. Orange Is The New Black benefited not just from awareness, but by the air of authenticity bestowed by the connection to real, respected investigative journalism.

Those are just five of the emerging digital marketing trends I brought back from SXSW. Ready or not, here they come. Now, if only I could have convinced my wife to let me bring back some cowboy boots…

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Pat Dugan
Executive Creative Director
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