SXSW: Designing for the Fringe

The majority of discussions at SXSW Interactive 2014 focused on concepts, ideas and apps for the everyman. But Evan Carroll and Virginia Ingram’s open-conversation topic Fringe Design: Tackling Disability and Death posed an interesting question. Could true innovation and game change come by focusing on the fringe groups?

Cameron Friedlander, Executive Director, Creative Technology North America, recaps the discussion for iMedia.

The Secrets Behind Addictive Storytelling

Secrets Behind Addictive Storytelling
By Sarah Whalen, Creative Director
Reposted from our coverage of SXSW on

While this talk did not share the magic recipe for creating addictive content, it did offer some interesting points on the psychology of sharing.

People share content for one of two reasons:

  • To participate in a community
  • To build their personal brand

The idea of community is one that has come up in nearly every talk I’ve attended at SXSW. As developing and growing relationships is an inherent part of human nature, sharing content that interests us with other people who too may find it interesting, seems only natural.

What I struggle with is sharing content that builds your personal brand. Not because I don’t see the value in it, but because it may not be authentic. We are invited to create the best version of ourselves through social. Jonathan Perelman, the GM & SVP of Buzzfeed, spoke about the high rate at which people share hard hitting news articles before reading them—projecting a version of themselves that may not be entirely accurate. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it seems to go against the primary reason for sharing—participating in a community of truly like-minded people.

So as content creators, it only seems right to create for the community driven consumers, and those concerned with their personal image, can hop on if it’s right for their brand.

Social Goes Visual

Post by Brian Mitchinson, SVP Marketing

Sight gags, eye candy, and baby pics have transformed the use and design of all our screen spaces. Do new formats change the rules for brands?

Even newspapers look like websites now. It’s a sea change—as social platforms mature and a second wave of platforms reaches maturity, even printed materials have evolved from text hooks to visual hooks. Pictures and videos are the new baseline, and often the main feature. Not to mention that beautiful point of synthesis so beloved by so many: the animated GIF.

Facebook’s image-centric timeline and Twitter’s increasingly seamless integration of photo and video, as well as Twitter’s Card format to attach media experiences to tweets, means that the cool kids—and the cool brands—exist as media grids. And then of course there’s Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr, all three of which have earned their place in more and more brand marketing toolkits—and all three of which are about beautiful pictures.

The changes won’t stop here, as Twitter is still planning on doing more with “Twitter Cards” that display more information within a specific Tweet.

Community manager 1.0 was a lone writer fresh out of college announcing sale events in 140 characters or less. If that was done, social media was ‘done’. The visual era warrants dollars, predictable budgets, and resources to create not only quips and quotes, but inspiration boards, scrollable galleries. It’s media muralism. Brand associations are inked with music, video, and photography. We are no longer simply two-sentence writers and complaint-handlers. We are museums, galleries, and curators. Are you with us?

Omni-Channel Mindset

For brands to gain ground in the multi-channel age, we have seen success with clients that start with the mindset. A way of looking at the world. It’s already expanding beyond the retail environs where it came into being—it will flow to (through) your brand in a way that’s organic and unforced. Be ready for it, that’s all.

A recent Ad Age article that appeared to be about social marketing featured this very telling quote from Wendy Clark, senior VP-integrated marketing communications and capabilities at Coca-Cola: “No single medium is as strong as the combination of media.”

Like a welded seam is stronger than the middle of a sheet of metal, Clark says that no strategic plan should be social or television or mobile or experimental: “It’s the combination of owned, earned, shared, and paid media connections… that creates marketplace impact, consumer engagement, brand love, and brand value.”

There you have it. The heart of it all, the place to begin. Welcome to the age of omni-channel.

Say Yes to Insight

Most digitally active brands still struggle with mastering metrics, insights, and optimization (except retailers). Once you unify the internal machine, unify and standardize a learning from the experiences created by that machine.

For well over a decade, retailers have carefully watched cart abandonment patterns, conversion rates, and average days to repurchase. They make scores, spot patterns, and tweak to optimize. They’ve extended this zeal to the omni-channel world, and it’s a case-in-point for all other industries. To present a seamless omni-channel, follow their lead.

Create a machine—people, tools, processes—that tracks interactions across the full network. Measure to identify the effect of behavior, tactics, life stages and seasons, channels, pricing, participation, and positioning. Experiment and watch response rates change. Integrate that insight for the future. Ask Amazon—they’ll tell you. Optimizing works.

A brand strategy designed for digital has to be both strong enough to sustain a high degree of access and contact, and flexible enough to open up the airwaves for experimental play (that’s casual-speak for tweaking and learning). Your brand’s universe should appear to customers as so universal that your company has one ‘department’. Theirs. Your brand is just always high-personality, ease, and delivery. Backstage, the underpinnings of every metric, budget, and line of seniority should be devotedly omni-channel. The latter creates the former.

Doing this takes streamlined processes and data analysis, but before that, it begins with the answer to a simple but vital question: how does the unique purpose and value of my brand intersect with my audience? We call this connection point the shared ideal. Know it and know your own brand’s pulse (and the pulse of the people who appreciate it most). It could be assumed that Patagonia’s audience, on-paper, may share a kindred appreciation for rock climbing and back-country skiing. But what’s underneath that? What else does Patagonia tap into as a brand? Adventure. Environmental activism. Endurance.

Your understanding of your customers’ ideals—and your projection of your brand’s ideals—is just as optimizable as any other element of your omni-channel approach. The more you pay attention and integrate that attention, the more you’ll know.

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