House Party takes Austin, 2015 edition

Every March, the SXSW Interactive Festival (SXSWi) greets the ever more entangled spheres of marketing and technology with open arms, hungry for those industries’ best, brightest and newest trends. Businesses will flock to any opportunity to better understand one’s consumers (and competition) and dive into a vast pool of possible partnerships — to the tune of nearly 35,000 attendees for this year’s Interactive portion of SXSW. Here are our team’s takeaways on the most noteworthy trends:

Meerkat, Periscope & live-streaming video apps
SXSWi has been the launchpad for many noteworthy apps (Twitter, Foursquare and Gowalla, to name a few), and 2015 was no different. Meerkat, a mobile app for streaming live video, was the all-consuming pastime in Austin this year. Meerkat had a subdued corporate presence but connected big-time with tastemakers like Guy Kawasaki, Gary Vaynerchuk, Bryan Kramer and even Jimmy Fallon,  all of whom helped drive meteoric user growth and press coverage. Many a smartphone was seen live-streaming panels, side conversations and walks downtown in Austin.

It’s no coincidence that just days before SXSWi, Twitter acquired rival app Periscope as a strategic move to position itself in the live-streaming space. Since SXSWi, Twitter cut off Meerkat’s access to its social graph API (and therefore network of connections), one of the primary methods fueling the sweetheart app’s growth. So while live-streaming mobile apps are all the craze, it’s unclear how they will affect longer-term media production and consumption habits as the early players jockey for position. Stay tuned…

Wearables & virtual reality  (VR)
The world of wearable devices is exploding, thanks to the insatiable consumer appetite for health and fitness technology. From fitness trackers and 3D-printed fashion to gear that mimics physical sensations during gameplay, this category is just beginning to evolve. With direct implications for the health & wellness, fashion and gaming industries, the motivation for brands to jump in is clear. What’s not clear is the degree to which the average consumer is ready to explore wearables without clear functional relevance. This is another aspect of our industry in full-development mode, needing to address value and hassle-free utility before large-scale adoption can be realized.

Virtual reality moved center-stage this year, as the SXSW Gaming Expo, the equivalent to Willy Wonka’s candy factory for games, made a return. VR technology at the expo included Facebook’s recent acquisition Oculus Rift, along with a growing number of consoles from Sony, Samsung, HTC and Microsoft. As many have speculated, while the gaming application of VR is obvious, it’s unclear how VR will help define the next major computing platform (after mobile). This may be years away, but SXSWi is helping put our eyes on that horizon.

Retail revolution & IoT
Retail continues to explore how best to move consumers from awareness and consideration to purchase, as quickly and seamlessly as possible. It’s apparent that in coming years brick-and-mortar outlets will have a growing set of touch-points to connect the digital and physical worlds. Directly related to the ongoing buzz around the Internet of Things (IoT), the use of iBeacons promises to become a ubiquitous form of communication with customers, as does the rise of improved methods of mobile payment, checkout and in-store digital interactive interfaces.

Cultural change
There was a new focus this year on how academics, sociologists and researchers are taking a hard look at the cultural implications of our migration to a digitally focused society. From Martine Rothblatt’s keynote on the future of artificial intelligence and envisioned immortality of conscience to Lizz and Michael Pietrus’s panel on ADHD and the implications of today’s media consumption on our brain structure, it’s clear that the digital revolution offers both causes and solutions for physical and psychological challenges felt on a societal scale.

Face-to-face interactions
Physical experiences continue to be the most valuable, loyalty-driving aspects of marketing (especially for us here at House Party). While technology is a warranted focus for SXSWi, a growing undercurrent of brands is focusing more and more on the value of the in-person brand experience. After all, SXSWi itself is a massive set of brand experiences. While often described (not entirely inaccurately) as a raucous party, SXSWi closely mirrors the experience of our advocacy campaigns, driving authentic conversations, relationships and recommendations. SXSWi might be a little larger than your typical House Party, but then again…they do say that everything is bigger in Texas.

Until next year, Austin!