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Mindshare’s Charlie Legg At SxSW: How Retail Can Connect Lifestyle And Tech

Demos of AI, VR/AR for brands at SxSW Interactive saw those technologies coming into sharper focus, says Mindshare's Charlie Legg.

As SxSW Interactive has wrapped up and while it’s hard to resist the jaded feeling of yet another year of attention-getting, if sometimes impractical, technologies, Charlie Legg, associate director, Planning, for WPP Group’s Mindshare NA, was able to come away with a sense of what is actionable for brands exploring the Internet of Things, virtual reality/augmented reality.

GeoMarketing: What were your expectations for this year’s SXSW?

Charlie Legg: I had established three criteria ahead of my travels to SXSW this year: leave inspired, informed, and more connected to our future.

One trend that I was eager to dive further into is the current state of VR/AR given some of the new platforms on the rise, including Oculus and HoloLens. And naturally, I was also expecting to hear about a wide range consumer behavior as it relates to media, particularly how they engage with the Internet of Things and the world of autonomous living.

How did what you see match those predictions?

To throw out my first cliché of this interview, SXSW “checked all of the boxes.”

One of the first sessions I attended was a keynote session featuring U.S. Senator Cory Booker. I was impressed by his ability to juxtapose his view away from the silos created by political affiliation. He spoke about love, and it being the only battle-tested solution for conquering hate, division, and segregation. It was inspiring and relevant as marketers remain challenged to reach audiences without infringing upon an individual’s personal point of view.

In regards to VR/AR, there was a wealth of opportunities to not only learn more about individual platforms and tech companies, but to demo / engage with them and dive deeper into the practical applications for everyday use. For marketers, the latter in particular is catnip. For example, National Geographic’s Base Camp had great activations that leveraged AR in bringing the imagery that they’re known for to life, and specifically a HoloLens experience that was on theme to promote a new programming initiative.

Another session that I went to focused on binge-watchers and time-shifting, looking at how to attract audiences to new programs and account for the changes in the way people are watching TV and consuming video content. There were some interesting takeaways in regards to the time spent weekly and monthly binge watching shows. And, how individuals seek out content to binge watch that’s familiar to them, often going back to series that they’ve already enjoyed versus trying to find new shows to watch. With that in mind, one of the network executives on this panel talked about their content approach in recycling talent in their shows to draw their viewers into new programs.

And finally, another interesting takeaway was a discussion around how Millennials consume live sports programming. The session indicated that they’re not as likely to watch a sporting event in its entirety; that they’re okay with time shifting as they’re more interested in going back to watch the key highlights / moments in post.

Was there any new startup or technology that particularly impressed you?

Naturally, AI was all the buzz with great perspective shared surrounding the introduction of cognitive systems into our daily lives.

It’s human nature to think of AI in the realm of science fiction, as machines rising up in Terminator movies to take over the world or substituting to human thought. But in today’s reality, these artificial minds are only serving to help us – not “terminate us.”

Many of the sessions I attended spoke to AI as an augmentation to human intelligence, and the systems where this plays into supporting the limitations of the human brain, rather than replacing it. In particular, this came together for me in a presentation delivered by Rob High, CTO of IBM Watson Solutions, who spoke to the technology behind the platform.

In terms of AR/VR, was there anything at SxSW that seemed to advance those technologies for brands?

Thought leaders at the Future of Sports and VR session brought up an interesting concept: virtual reality does not play a role simply as an experiential platform in sports, but has the most potential as means for impactful storytelling for the leagues. While it may be putting the cart before the horse, understanding the hardware challenges and current lack of scale, I found it interesting that thinking is already in place to take VR to the next level from a promotional tool to a consumption medium.

Specifically, this session expanded upon a partnership that was created between Oculus and the NBA to create custom, all-access content around the 2016 NBA Finals. It was intriguing to see how they introduced VR for the purposes of advanced storytelling and to consider the implications within the NBA ecosystem. The technology itself has the potential to change the way fans engage with content in the arena and to create a more authentic courtside experience at home. It’ll be interesting to see the impact on fan behavior as VR continues to scale up.

Is there anything you saw at SXSW that would be immediately actionable for a brand, particularly one that’s interested in driving in-store sales and improving their omnichannel strategy?

One thing that was outside the footprint of SXSW that captured my attention (perhaps because it was visible from my hotel window) was an interesting example for the future of brick-and-mortar.

Yeti has a flagship store in Austin that is designed around the lifestyle of the brand. Outside is a bar area with a fine assortment of craft beers and actual Yeti coolers for bar stools. Inside patrons are met head on by a 12’ grizzly, meat-smokers, and a bass fishing boat, surrounded by every product they have to offer under the sun. The venue also has a stage for concerts and allows you to customize your product with your favorite college logos or your name.

What fascinated me about this so much is that Yeti created a multi-purpose venue to not just sell product, but to cater to the lifestyle of their target audience. Bringing it back to the question of driving in-store sales, today there’s a big opportunity for lifestyle brands to capitalize on the experience of retail and the role that their brand plays at the point of purchase. While this is not necessarily new by any means, I thought that the execution for this brand was spot on.