SXSW Interactive: T3’s Top Takeaways

by Sean McCornick

SXSW has come and gone, Austin traffic is even more manageable than usual (great timing, UT Spring Break!), and I can stop asking myself if everything is a brand activation. Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to reflect on a few key themes that surfaced during SXSW Interactive.

Let Data Guide You

“We like to be data-informed, and not data-driven.” —Jim Bankoff, CEO of Vox Media
Featured Session: Jim Bankoff and Soledad O’Brien

Data should not drive our creative decisions. Is it helpful? Absolutely. We need it to help understand our audiences better and prove out (or disprove) hypotheses, but we’re still talking to human beings. We’re all guilty of blindly following what the data says, but it should never be one size fits all. Media formats and consumption habits are constantly evolving, and data should guide the direction we take when building out strategy—just don’t lose sight of the fact that people have emotions, beliefs and ultimately, need to feel a connection with the creative.

Further Your Story

“In the end, it’s all about storytelling and making the product work for people.” —Tinker Hatfield, “The Architect” at Nike
Featured Session: Tinker Hatfield with Scott Dadich

It’s time to stop with the fluff. Brands should build things that are helpful and useful for consumers, and that’s something that many of us have lost sight of. We tend to generate content or create something flashy for short-lived attention that the public doesn’t really need or care about. It’s time to get back to basics, strip away the excess, and be useful to people while furthering what we stand for.

Fight for Gender Equality

“Not all women are empowered the same. We’re all shaped by different experiences.” —Sara Bordo, Founder & CEO of Women Rising
Return on Inclusion: Generations of Women at Work

Companies with gender diversity are 21% more likely to generate revenue, yet only 23% of C-Suite and Senior Executive positions are held by women. At our current rate of progress, it would take 108 more years to close the gender gap worldwide and 165 years to close it in North America. Although we’ve come a long way in the last few decades, there is still a lot of work to be done, and that begins with women empowering other women in their positions, embracing femininity as a strength rather than a weakness and tapping on male allies to further empower women in the workplace.

Take More Risks, Together

“We’re the crash test dummies for those coming behind us.” —A$AP Rocky, Rapper/Actor/All Around Entertainer
Featured Session: Using Design “Differently” to Make a Difference

Stop fearing failure. Easy to say, not so easy to do. The common thread that joined speakers at SXSW was not recklessness, but conviction, and trust in their own abilities. They’ve failed, all of them. But they learned, observed, and tried again. Their gut instincts and passion ultimately pushed them through, and as Tinker Hatfield put it, The team that makes the most mistakes wins,” so why not collaborate and fail together?

Be Accountable

“Business etiquette and social etiquette have been thrown out the window.” —Tanya Tarr, Founder of Cultivated Insights
Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation

Too many people, brands and corporations are making thoughtless decisions without fear of repercussion—when did that become acceptable? That question was raised frequently at SXSW 2019. Thankfully, many panelists and speakers addressed this or pointed to the need for accountability, including T3’s Connections Group Director, Angela Yang. Whether it’s social network harassment, irresponsible decisions made at the C-suite level, or cultural appropriation in advertising, consumers are demanding change.

What’s my biggest takeaway from SXSW 2019? Embrace your humanity.


Sean McCornick

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