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Key Takeaways for Forward Thinking Brands from SXSW 2016

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SXSW is a breeding ground for innovation and creativity. Check out the ins and outs of retail, VR and AR, and more in this two-part content series from passionate Rocketeers who were on the ground in Austin for SXSW 2016.

The future of retail and how Millennials prefer to shop

Tony Gauthier, Business Development Executive

As a kid back in the late 70’s, I remember going to the department store with my mom early Saturday mornings to get first dibs on the highly sought after sale items [and stopping] at the candy counter after a long grueling morning of watching my mom power shop. The ease and convenience of online shopping are replacing the days of all day shopping sprees at the mall or indulging in luxurious department store experiences – and Millennials are at the core of this trend.

“Millennials are leading a change in purchase trends,” said Rodney Mason, global vice president of marketing at Blackhawk Engagement Solutions. “It’s incredibly important for retailers and retail marketers to understand how to appeal to this demographic. Millennials are savvy shoppers, and many have come of age in a post-recession era, and…this group routinely comparison shops on mobile to get the best value and shopping experience. The market, however, has not yet capitalized on those habits.”

In 2015, Cyber Monday revenues topped more than $3 billion, setting a record for a single day of online sales. According to Adobe, mobile sales reached a sales volume record over a five-day period over Thanksgiving last year, with $799 million of online spending coming from a smartphone or tablet.

At SXSW, a major topic trend detailed how retailers can effectively reach and influence millennial shoppers. In a panel of four industry experts, most agreed that change is inevitable and that retailers must be willing to invest heavily in technology to maintain healthy profit margins. Panelist Michael Schrage from MIT Center for Digital Business introduced a bold idea: the future of retail is not truly about retail, but about the future of shopping in general.

As this trend grows, Michael claims that shoppers will focus on the overall user experience and less on specific products or price points and successful retailers need to strike a balance between emerging buyer behaviors and how they want to sell. Michael also stated that the use of in-store beacon technology along with machine learning continue to transform the retail space. Finally, cognitive conversational engagement based on detailed analytics and will lead to a huge cultural shift in shopping habits.

It is clear that the influence of Millennials and how we engage in the retail process is quite real and here to stay. Over the next 5-10 years, retailers that adjust to the market by investing in forward-thinking technology and provide highly intuitive mobile friendly shopping experiences combined with quality products, fast shipping options, and fair prices will find themselves firmly positioned at the top of the retail game. Those unwilling to change and invest in technologies that allow shopping where and how consumers want will likely lose – and lose big they will.

Reality at SXSW: virtual, augmented, and data-driven

Karin Grant, Business Development Director

As many expected, SXSW was bigger than ever this year. Battling a mixture of 60-degree rainstorms with 85-degree sun and humidity, the crowds at SXSW Interactive still came in swarms.

The immediate trend, unsurprisingly, was the overwhelming presence of Virtual Reality (VR) installations. Attendees could barely turn a corner without being presented with a Samsung Gear VR experience or similar platform. Depending where attendees wandered, they may have even spent the wee hours of the night being whisked away by an interstellar psychedelic bus containing live music and a light show. IBM Watson continued their efforts to prove out the value of their human computer, which provided tailored cocktails based on the user’s personality. The trend of talking less about collecting Big Data, but applying it to practical use.

One of the panels that I had a chance to be a part of – From Apps to Obsession: Sparking Enviable Fandom – embodied a multitude of these trends by showing real world applications of Big Data use, as well as how brands can supplement a live experience with one that is Virtual or Augmented. As a die-hard sports fan myself, I found myself blown away by some of the work by the Cleveland Cavaliers and what they have been doing to embrace digital, mobile, and data to serve their users better.

The Cavaliers’ VP of Digital, Michael Conley said that they have converted 99% of tickets and parking to digital. That percentage is HUGE. This allows the Cavaliers’ to create behavior profiles for each attendee and serve up geo-targeted messages based on prior behavior and where fans are in the arena and potentially upsell them.  Digital interactions are used to create better experiences for their customers including using their digital parking passes to let fans know what lots are full and what lots have open spots with real-time accuracy. Real-time engagements like this are a great demonstration of digital data used in a way that is extremely useful to fans who wants to get inside quickly and avoid the absolute circus that stadium parking can be.

The other panelist, FanDuel, discussed playing (yes, pun intended) in a different space. One of the focuses FanDuel’s Product Director Dan Melinger talked to was the passion FanDuel players had for their drafts and how FanDuel could make that experience even more immersive. This included examining the creation of multiplayer drafts in a VR world, where friends sit across from each other and draft in an environment of their choice, but from the comfort of their own home. These environments allow fans to choose from life-size replicas of the players standing in front of them. From there, Aaron Rodgers can do a championship-belt celebration three feet in front of the fans once they have selected him to QB their team in their quest for The Shiva. Sounds pretty compelling to me.

It was great to see the focus on execution, rather than just talking the tech. Companies are starting to apply and use data / digital power not as a gimmick, but in a way that adds value to the user.

Brand stories on Periscope and Meerkat

Diana Moffitt, Account Manager

Companies like GE, Mashable, and BMW spoke about using Periscope and Meerkat as a social platform for their brands and provided a lot of relevant insights for businesses striving for two-way communication with their audiences.

GE discussed how they will use Periscope during the Olympics in Rio to show how their technology is helping the city’s infrastructure as well as what they are doing to help with the Olympics. Everything will be filmed in real time with their drones and broadcasted on Periscope.

BMW shared their experience using Periscope to launch their first ever e-commerce experience for the BMW i3 Shadow Sport. It was their first ever live adventure completely controlled by their viewers. As a result, they received 5.3 million impressions, and it was a low marketing expenditure. This was their first time using Periscope, and they learned that they need to understand their target audience before adopting a new platform. They also discovered that the platform shouldn’t dictate what they are doing, but serve as an enhancement of what they are currently doing. In the end, BMW realized they could have gained more visibility if they leveraged their other channels to promote this live stream and they are looking forward to incorporating more live events as much as possible.

Mashable provided insight on how Meerkat took over SXSW Interactive in 2015. In the Mashable House set up at SXSW last year, they had live streaming panels and took people to live events. They stressed the importance of getting on these platforms early to establish a base and to learn how to use new channels to reach a brand’s target audience. They strongly believe that video is the next big wave of content marketing and video is how people are consuming more content. There are also huge benefits of using live streaming technology as a marketer because it offers a lower production cost.

Overall, each company agreed that Periscope and Meerkat are cost effective but they are still determining its value and how to incorporate it to provide a powerful experience. However, the challenge is to become more comfortable with the inability to control the platform and that it’s a live broadcast. Also, since it is live, it’s difficult for them to connect with people who are commenting in the moment.

Make sure to keep your eyes peeled to our blog for our second SXSW blog to learn about emerging trends and technologies.


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