Simple and Human: Lessons From SXSW

Hi, my name is Molly, and I love podcasts. *cue response from Podcast Lovers Anonymous, “Hi Molly.”* Most nights, I fall asleep listening to the smooth tones of Bill Kurtis, the jocular tenor of Brady Haran or the Irish moroseness of Barry Glendenning. I listen to podcasts when I drive, when I get ready in the morning and when I wash the dishes at night. I love the simplicity of downloading, the relevance to my own interests and the sense of community. You probably didn’t expect my blog about SXSW to begin with an ardent love-letter to podcasts, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t either.

Sitting in the Innovation Fatigue: Tech Content in A Noisy World panel, I was shocked to hear Stephanie Losse, the Head of Content at Visa, say that the most consumed media right now is podcasts. While I can’t definitively say that they are, the 2018 Infinite Dial Study by Edison Research and Triton Digital® does indicate that the number of people who listen to podcasts each year is steadily growing.

At SXSW, there were live tapings of popular podcasts and several of the different Brands & Marketing panels I attended advocated the inclusion of podcasts as part of a company’s overall advertising/marketing mix; the Beyond Ads: Become Entertainment panel dove deep into GE’s recent podcast The Message, and Fox Sports soccer correspondent Alexi Lalas, who chaired the panel The World Becomes the World Cup, launched a new soccer podcast February 1 as part of Fox Sports build-up to the Men’s World Cup in Russia this summer.

While I’m not advocating everyone go out and start a podcast right now, I do believe that podcasts’ strong presence at SXSW is indicative of some of the deeper themes this year. As the world becomes more complicated and tech-based, the majority of sessions I attended advocated simplicity and keeping content innately human.

Over and over again, I heard the message to simplify – whether it be an individual ad, an overall campaign or even your career path. In The New Age of Story: Marketing for a Visual World, Amy Balliett from Killer Infographics argued that images with small amounts of text are preferable over text-heavy ads, as audiences are only reading 20 percent of content delivered with more than 600 words. In essence, she advocated drilling down to the simplest and most direct form possible.

In Science of Art: Using Data to Create Viral Moments, Jean Ellen Cowgill from Atlantic 57 promoted simplification of brands’ overall messages by holding up the Atlantic’s cover stories as an example of the difference between featured and standard campaigns. Following the Atlantic’s primary focus on just 10 covers, Cowgill advocated for brands to choose a handful of their most important products to feature while giving other products more standard treatment.

Outside of the Brands & Marketing panels, Ta-Nehisi Coates in his Keynote defended his stance as a journalist first and foremost. While others hope he becomes more of an activist, he argued against dilution and over-complication of his lifelong work and focuses on journalism first. Basically, as I was running from panel to panel in an effort to try to see, hear and experience everything, everyone around me was telling me to pare down, focus and choose wisely.

At a session about marketing for tech companies, I learned that one of the three keywords of Slack Technologies, the company behind the messaging platform of the same name, is “human,” and they are not alone in their focus. As the market becomes increasingly saturated by the most innovative technology imaginable, we must not forget to create content that is intrinsically human. While the virtual reality soccer at Sony’s WoW Studio was ridiculously cool, I immediately turned to the rest of my MCC cohorts, and we discussed how we wished the experience was more lifelike. Well, perhaps this was after we figured out who scored the most goals. (Spoiler, it was me.)

Making sure to keep the human element at the forefront of marketing/advertising operations can only improve perceptions of a brand – whether it’s customer support on Twitter or even how human-seeming the voices on the self-checkout machines at a grocery store are. No matter what content you create or message you promote, make sure to remember your audiences and that they will always look for content that is clear, simple and fundamentally human.

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Molly works as an associate digital campaign strategist on the Digital Campaigns team at MCC, where she helps implement, analyze and optimize digital media programs for clients. Prior to MCC, Molly traveled the world for two years and worked as a gender inclusion contractor, an au pair and an office clerk. She graduated from Oklahoma Christian University with a bachelor of arts in English and minors in mathematics, finance, and social sciences. In her free time, Molly enjoys reading, spending time with her family, listening/playing music and planning her next big trip.

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