Empower’s SXSW 2019 Cheat Sheet

Last week, Empower sent a crew down south to Austin, Texas for the SXSW 2019 Conference. Our team included:

  • Josh Flynn: Senior Director, Word of Mouth Marketing
  • Katie Ross: Senior Manager, Word of Mouth Marketing
  • Leigh-Ann Bortz: Associate Director, Social
  • Chris Ruberg: Senior Specialist, Social
  • Allie Snyder: Specialist, Digital Media
  • Evan Dulaney: Jr. Copywriter, co-host of Breakfast First
  • Andrea Book: Associate Designer, co-host of Breakfast First

After a week of talks, tech and tacos, here’s what we came away with:

One Thing You Can’t Wait to Share with Clients

Dulaney: As one of the “podcast people” here at Empower, I want to emphasize the best advice from Gimlet co-founder Matt Lieber regarding placing ads in a podcast: Ads should feel like they’re incremental to the listening experience. Don’t just throw ad money at podcasts because it’s the new hot thing. Put time and thought into producing ads and integrations that listeners will actually want to hear.

Flynn: How brands such as Lyft, AirBnB and Patagonia are navigating the political and social challenges where consumers expect corporations to have a position. The whole organization has to be on board – not just one department’s responsibility. “It shouldn’t feel like something you have to do.”

Book: Oh man! There’s opportunity for your consumers to PAY to get content from your brand. Some brands have taken the initiative to create editorial content that their consumers pay for. For example, Casper has the magazine “Wooli,” which has content surrounding better sleep, while Airbnb came out with a publication that celebrates humanity through travel. Brands can elevate themselves way higher than the products they offer.

Bortz: Facebook Pixel Sharing Opportunity. This allows us to partner with publishers on Facebook instead of looking into a black box when it comes to conversions on webpages that are not owned by the brand. Soon, we’ll be able to have a more holistic view into valuable actions on publisher pages. For clients that heavily rely on conversion-based metrics, this will certainly be a game changer.

Snyder:  Reminding brands that consumer emotional response drives behavior. Our messaging needs to be clear and elicit emotion. To really emphasize this, the CEO of Canvs AI wants to start buying media on a cost per emotion versus a cost per impression.

Ross: Leigh-Ann and Chris uncovered some great learnings from their time with Facebook that apply to our influencer work that I can’t wait to test. The influencer space within Facebook is finally advancing and will take identification and tracking to the next level. 🙌 

Ruberg: Being effective utilizing Facebook Messenger. There are some simple activations that can identify hand raisers for upcoming promotions who can later be targeted with offers. There are more in-depth activations that can assist with setting up appointments or utilizing QR codes to create unique, customizable experiences.

Most Reassuring Thing You Heard

Ross: So many companies want to become “lifestyle brands,” but are afraid to piss people off. We preach that in order to become a lifestyle brand, you have to have a life – an authentic, genuine personality that is cohesive across all marketing efforts. Patagonia, Nike, Taco Bell – they all have a voice and take stances to make themselves relatable. As humans, we learn to accept that we can’t please everyone, and brands need to do the same. You can’t become a “lifestyle” brand without having conviction and confidence in your story and what you believe as a company. This reinforced what we at Empower believe – plant the damn flag and make it personal, man!

Snyder: Many speakers stressed the importance of picking one KPI. We can’t solve for everything within one campaign, so you have to ask yourself, “What is the most important metric?” There are more and more data points available, so you must make sure you’re capturing data for the right reason based on your one goal. This will help avoid data overload.

Ruberg: Data is driving everything we do. We look at data holistically and make the majority of our optimization and strategy decisions based on data. One speaker mentioned many marketers just use data to influence one insight or recommendation and then toss it. We analyze throughout campaigns, quarters, and years to discover any trends that will inform our decision making.

Flynn: Everything with influencer! Went to multiple sessions and heard “Build relationships,” “Find the right match,” “Don’t look at followers,” “Find and celebrate your advocates,” and “Collaborate, don’t dictate.”

Book: We’ve been ahead of the curve when it comes to our stance on authenticity and transparency. Amanda Clark, Senior VP at Taco Bell, talked about the importance of remaining true to your brand. While consumers were growing more focused on ingredients, Taco Bell switched to free-range chicken and cage-free eggs, but never swayed from their “Mexican-inspired” beefy, cheesy goodness that keeps their audience coming back.

Bortz:  It was cool to see the Facebook’s best practice dashboard. When they pulled up Empowers dashboard, we were at 96% best practice utilization. Chris and I were patting ourselves on the back.

Dulaney: There was plenty of talk around authenticity and empathy when it comes to storytelling. This has already been at the forefront of Empower’s thinking, whether it’s the hero’s journey or consumer’s journey, in both creative and media.

Best New Thing You Learned

 Flynn: 95% of our decisions are made on auto-pilot with emotions influencing 70% of our decisions as well. We, as humans, are not as rational and mindful as we think we are.

Ruberg: Building off Josh’s stat, we scroll through 300 feet of content each day, while making about 35,000 decisions each day, most on auto-pilot.

Book: Robert Capps of Godfrey Dadich Partners led a session called “Can Brands Be Authentic Journalists?” He took a very interesting approach to presenting content to consumers by framing it as “what does my consumer want from me?” as opposed to “what do I want to give to my consumer?”

Bortz: We do more right than we give ourselves credit for. Transparency, authenticity and data-driven insights were common themes throughout the week, all of which are things Empower preaches daily. More often than not, I found myself “yes-and’ing” to what speakers were talking about.

Ross: I loved hearing about the future of technology in live event spaces like Staples Center. With things like increasing lens intelligence, 5G and ARCloud disrupting how we live our lives – the tech of tomorrow will form a digital stage on top of real life for marketers to play with.

Snyder:  I learned about an organization, the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM), which is a group of leading content providers, media agencies and advertisers. This group is on the forefront of innovation in audience measurement for television and cross-platform media. Their initiatives are great resources for my day-to-day work, so I’m excited to use them as a resource moving forward.

Most Inspirational Session

Flynn: Same thing that I want to share with clients. “Brand: The New Political Reality.” They were all doing things that didn’t feel like the boardroom term of “Corporate Social Responsibility”. They were legitimately passionate about everything involved and how they could make the world better and not just squeeze out more revenue.

Book: Evan and I went to a podcast recording of Roy Wood Jr. of The Daily Show speaking about his creative process. He emphasized finding what separates you from your competitors, or in his case, other comedians. When Wood Jr. was turned down for a spot on a BET comedy show, he religiously watched the show and kept tabs on the subject matter of each segment. He found the gaps of what wasn’t being discussed to see where he could capitalize by being different. His methodology is awe-inspiring and can easily be applied to the work we do at Empower.

Snyder: “Drowning in Data, Starving for Insights” was my favorite session. The speakers stressed the importance of combining experiential data with emotional data. They helped us take a step back and allow us to question how we are using specific data to target our consumers.

Ruberg: Kai Wright’s “Follow the Feeling: Creating Brand Value” session was amazing and insightful. Wright is extremely smart and presented a variety of unique ways to look at things like advertising, branding, emotion, and audio. He detailed how using buzzwords is actually hurting the message we try to get across to clients. If they cannot (literally) draw the word we are saying, then they do not understand it.

Bortz: Facebook Messenger School. It was awesome to see it come to life in a way that made sense, which is not something I often see. More times than not advertisers tend to force it. This was different.

Ross: “Why Women are Building the Brands We’ve Always Wanted.” There were a couple panels that touched on the importance of diversity of thought, but this was my favorite. Did you know that over 50% of male-consumed products are purchased by women, and this percentage is growing each year? Yet, only 28% of CMO’s are female. The impact women are having on marketing is what’s helping brands succeed, and representation in the C-Suite is helping to forge a new frontier for brands to prioritize being open, real and empathetic. To women in marketing, “rise up and reach back.”

Dulaney: Susan Fowler, the brave whistleblower from Uber who is now a staff editor for the New York Times, gave a stirring keynote recounting the last two years of her life. She left the stage with one resounding message for companies, politicians, and every walk of life: “Be better.”

Coolest Experiential Execution

Dulaney: The Daily Show’s Trump Presidential Twitter Library. Absolutely marvelous and hilarious execution.

Snyder: The whole experience reminded me of being at college orientation. So many people walking around (and seeming lost most of the time), the streets were shut down, and having to eat granola bars for lunch because our time in between sessions was almost non-existent.

Flynn: Surprisingly, the Real Beauty house was the most engaging. Instead of talking about what services they did, they allowed people to experience them from Botox to HydraFacials (which I experienced) and gave you something to actually talk about to your community. Everything else was just a wrap of a house that 3 other brands would do the same week.

Book: The Lululemon #SweatLife House. They outfitted a house with AstroTurf that routinely had different instructors putting on yoga and meditation sessions. They also offered guests a turn at their vending machine that was activated when the user tweeted they were at the #SweatLife House. The vending machine alone must have gained so many impressions.

Ross: One that comes to mind is Amazon Prime’s Good Omens activation, where several teams of actors grew the footprint throughout the conference in a cohesive and fun event.

Ruberg: The Good Omens experience was awesome. Seeing their experience come to life over the course of a few days was really cool.

Bortz: The Amazon Prime Good Omens experience. By far the most in depth and had dogs!

Best Eat in Austin

Snyder: Magnolia Café. Mag Mud Queso is amazing. I actually had queso with every meal. No shame.

Dulaney: Travel tip: When you first arrive in a new city, Uber Pool from the airport. Occasionally you’ll meet locals who know all the best spots. My Uber Pool companion nailed each recommendation, but nothing beat her Summer Moon Café suggestion. Their moon milk is out of this world.

Ross: MOON. MILK. Google it.

Book: The blueberry pie from Magnolia Café knocked my socks off! So much so, I took a slice with me through airport security. A big thank you to Emily from our Uber pool for all of the recommendations!

Flynn: Gus’s Fried Chicken.

Ruberg: Gus’s. Hands down. Amazing Mac n’ Cheese and accidentally had fried okra which was awesome. The freshest chicken I’ve ever had

Bortz: Gus’s Fried Chicken for sure.

Bird Scooter Review

Flynn: Enjoyed it! But they should absolutely be outlawed

Ruberg: Terrifying but cool. Should definitely be illegal.

Snyder: First time bird rider! Definitely the best way to get around town! But, on my third ride, I almost ran into Josh and saw my life flash before my eyes. After that episode, I got around town on foot…

Bortz: Experience on Bird Scooter: 9/10 (very fun, very scared, very dangerous). Thrill factor: 12/10. Nothing like turning out in front of three lanes of traffic and living to tell the story.

Dulaney: I logged almost 90 minutes on Bird Scooters at SXSW. I am one with the scooter.

Book: I used Lime for the first time, and it was terrifying. However, I made it to my final destination in one piece and made Evan take a picture of me to prove it.

Ross: 10/10 would Bird again. Evan was my Bird trainer and made sure I didn’t die – even after we shifted over three lanes of traffic on a bridge…

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