SXSWi, also known as the annual technology spring break, is now behind us. Yours truly is both exhausted and inspired; technology moves at an unrelenting pace and SXSW is not immune. That said, there is a lot to discuss and initiate. Getting back into the swing of things, I have a few observations and notable differences from 2011 and 2012 to share; startups, marketers, developers, and investors, get inspired.
Content rules. Online and offline. Although not new, 2012 was chock full of sessions highlighting trends around branded content, brands as publishers, and commerce and content. These discussions offer brands, media, and entrepreneurs fodder to think seriously about the value and development of content. New to this year’s schedule were discussions around offline activities, i.e. events, serving as new platforms to content creation and building communities.
A huge wave of fashion and tech. 2012 was the breakout year for fashion and technology at SXSWi. There were a wide range of topics, events, and speakers. The Fashion & Tech Brunch and Panel Event, hosted by Fidoo, kicked off a series of panels around commerce and content, fashion and the taste graph, fashion technology, and social shopping, amongst others; and representatives from fashtech startups (e.g., Lyst and Poshmark), luxury brand consulting (e.g., Business of Fashion and FashionablyMarketing.Me), and fashion brands/retailers (including Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus) were brought together for discussions on the digital “state of the art”.
Also, SF’s very own Stitch Labs won “Best in Show” at TechCocktail’s #StartupLife competition. For those keeping count at home, the highlight of 2011 was a fashion meetup and a session titled “Fake Luxury Fashion and DIY Copies”.
The physical and digital collide: Disruptive technology isn’t always the sexiest and we all know that companies love to announce technology to change the world only to fade away months later. But to touch on a few that are changing how we purchase and interact, both in-store and digitally: NFC, QR codes, augmented reality, mobile payments, and video displays were a few technologies highlighted across sessions on retail and virtual worlds. And as I write, PayPal is showcasing their new digital wallet, which changes how we view money. Whether or not all of these technologies will be widely available/implemented this year, the discussions and technologies are definitely ready.
Video platforms. In our 2012 predictions, video was one of our top trends for 2012. Apparently the folks running SXSW read our post –we joke – because video-based startups were pitching their way to prizes at the SXSW Accelerator sessions. A few sessions also offered tips and tricks on video success. Mobile video platform Condition One stood out from the pack. But seriously, brands and advertisers are clamoring for video platforms that enable video viewing and shopping. Basically, video is hot, hot, hot.
Strong brand presence. Based in Austin, TX, SXSW has always had the truly alternative feel –a throwback to the alternative 90s? or maybe just super Hipster-y. No matter, SXSW was off the beaten path and everyone loved that part of it. But with success comes the large brands: Amex sponsored Jay-Z’s concert, GE hosted GE Garage with partners Makerbot, Quirky, and TechShop, and Nike hosted a playzone to promote the FuelBand. Their presence makes sense from a marketing and social media standpoint, but this is startup territory. I’m repeating what I’ve been hearing, but is SXSW getting too big?
What This Means For The Fashtech Space
Relevance and content. Content is king, but the cost of generating content is dropping. As a result, it’s more difficult for consumers to find the content they want and producers to be heard. The fashion space is not immune to this challenge. Frog Design tweeted it best:
Consequently, the best companies and initiatives are those around solutions to better manage and filter content for the most relevant experiences. This means that companies that can deliver the most relevant content, or companies that can help other companies, deliver the most relevant content are ones to watch.
Branded experiences. Brands are creating their own content to maintain their voice and style. So keep an eye out for tools to help them manage content on their own sites. Or, if you’re looking for startup ideas, find specific pain points around content development, branded content, multiple content platforms, video, so on, and create a business around them.
Offline and online. In a digital world, it’s interesting that offline is back. That’s right, community building is online and face-to-face. But that’s not all that surprising given the success of SXSW we suppose. In any case, brands need to pay attention to both, building an online and offline community. Companies or tools that can drive and manage both are interesting plays for acquisition or partnerships.
Think big(ger). Attending SXSW allows you to see, hear, and speak to companies pushing the next big thing in media, entertainment, data, platforms, mobile, you name it. And many of them got their launch (or traction) at SXSW. This should be no different for fashtech companies. There are plenty of opportunities to promote and expose, especially with the growing interest from investors and accelerators for fashion and technology. If we push hard, think big, start small, execute well, there’s no end to how we can disrupt and change the industry.