SXSW 2021: A New Era For Brands

After the pandemic changed the world and in-person events forever, South By Southwest (SXSW) had to pivot. This year, organizers debuted a fully virtual line-up and updated name — SXSW Online. Hundreds of virtual sessions and panel discussions, immersive experiences (if you had a VR headset), networking, a music AND film festival all jammed onto your laptop screen, which made this year’s event almost as vibrant as being there in person…almost.


There’s no question this past year has profoundly changed the way we interact with ourselves and the world around us, but through the significant health, financial, political, and personal challenges, we’ve transformed for the better. How? As many sessions at SXSW highlighted, empathy has been the crucial component to our collective resiliency and will continue to guide us through this uncertain future.


At its core, empathy is about connection and leads the way for our post-pandemic transformation. Now more than ever, people expect connection from where they live, work, play, and spend. SXSW Online offered important thought-starters for marketers and organizations on how to deliver on that connection. Here are the top three you should be paying attention to:


1. Collective Creation: People want interactive ways to consume. Creating content that people truly connect with isn’t just a push model but gets created together with the consumer. How we market or entertain must include collaborations with the intended audience to be most effective. Emerging XR technologies are the perfect vehicle for this type of co-creation.


2. Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk: The state of the world has left us looking for real, authentic, and value-driven heroes. Connection stems from authenticity, and brands and employers can look to create authentic connections and environments by not only ensuring every voice is heard but by also taking actions to do so. There is no longer a threshold for empty promises. People want to support organizations that offer tangible ways to drive change.


3. Real-Time Tracking: Disruption is happening so fast, and we need to be listening to signals in culture in order to know best how and where to connect with our consumers. As we plan for the future, consider focusing on preparation rather than prediction. 2020 has proven that no one can predict what is yet to come. As marketers, we can leverage this uncertainty to become more adaptable, innovative thinkers. Instead of asking “what if,” ensure your brand can adapt quickly for existential change.


As we move into the rest of 2021, let’s look to embrace consumers with empathy, leverage emerging tech, foster connection, and lean into disruption.





Image: Blake Kammerdiener via South By Southwest (SXSW)

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