Every spring, hordes of interactive professionals from all over the world -from marketers and advertising executives to venture capitalists, software developers and start-up founders- converge in Austin, Texas. The reason is SXSW Interactive, the most influential and biggest Festival of its kind, which, this year amassed more than 30.000 delegates.

By Dannos Tsakalos, Marketing Manager, Thinkdigital Group

Being famously known as the event that helped Twitter and Foursquare come into prominence (in 2007 and in 2009 respectively), SXSW is regarded as a breeding ground for new ideas and creative technology. The problem is, though, that with more than 1.000 scheduled sessions, no matter how well prepared you think you are, you’ll end up a bit overwhelmed, a bit lost. And the same goes for those “following” SXSW through Social Media, where around 1.2m conversations took place. “Choice paralysis” in full swing.

Therefore, since we didn’t get the chance to travel to Austin this year, we decided to write a post about emerging trends on SXSW ‘13 with a little help from our friends who did. So, drum roll please to introduce (and thank) Nicolas Roope, Executive Creative Director & Founder of Poke London, Nikolaos Kakavoulis, CEO & Founder of Daily Secret, Eleftherios Hatziioannou, Founder of Peopleizers and Christoph Bornschein, CEO & co-Founder of TLGG -and if you'd like some background music while reading the post, try these.

Thinkdigital: “What’s the key marketing learning you took from this year’s SXSW and you are definitely going to share with your colleagues/clients?”

Nicolas Roope: The main thing for me is, understanding how Social needs to take the lead in digital communications. Search has been such a core driver for a brand's digital presence. However, as Social becomes a stronger influence in Search, as well as a potent channel in its own right, it makes sense to structure and solve Social first, as Search will be mainly solved as a consequence. It gives me some confidence that, as businesses realize this, we'll find it easier to sell clients the story that creativity combined with a strong sense of purpose are the keys to establishing a strong presence, rather than tactical, structural initiatives that rarely build any real traction.

Nikolaos Kakavoulis: My single greatest takeaway from this year’s SXSW was that online and offline are merging like never before.  We’re just now beginning to see a return towards tangible experiences using the very same technology that removed many of those experiences from our lives in the first place. Not only is this pretty amazing to witness as a cultural trend, but this is also a huge opportunity for our clients when it comes to their marketing initiatives. They’ll be able to use digital media, for example, to trigger tactile offline experiences in not only efficient but also incredibly creative ways. We’ve seen this trend at SXSW and it’s beginning to catch on among some of our bigger clients – and I don’t think it will be long until others follow suit!

Eleftherios Hatziioannou: There has never been a better time to be a marketer - if you ask me: we've got the technology and tools, we've got the data. Now it's time to listen more and then act in the right moment, in the right place, in the right context, with the right message. How much more precise can Marketing become? On another level, we are moving from “Push” to “Pull”. Brands become publishers. Publishers become dynamic storytellers -At least the ones who win. Forget your annual marketing plan, say hello to real-time Marketing. Fun times ahead!

Christoph Bornschein: For me there is nothing like the one key learning that I took away from Austin this year (as opposed to last year) – it’s more the impression and general feeling that a lot of stuff that we’ve been talking about for a while, like local web, people discovery and personalized serendipity, is now coming to maturity and mainstream. Like Smileage, the quantification-tool that Google developed together with our client Volkswagen, which is another proof that traditional marketers are now finally able to use the “trends” in their traditional products and integrate “digital” in the core product. So, what I basically took away from Austin is that it is about time to build up branded products that use features that so far only start-ups and innovators used.

During SXSW, the word “Innovate” was mentioned 3.681 times in Social Media. In your opinion, which was the most innovative technology this year that could bring a revolution/significant change in the Communications and/or Marketing industry?

Nicolas Roope: If there was a single story, it would be the Ouya open source gaming platform that brings the rich game content from the casual mobile and tablet gaming world back into the immersive home TV environment. It's a revolution for gaming and will provide a very interesting new open platform for advertisers in time.

Nikolaos Kakavoulis: Hands down, the technologies that are leading the wave are those that are surfing on ‘big data’. In today’s data filled world, these technologies are creating an immediate feedback loop for both consumers and brands based on contextualized, real time data. This has huge implications for the Marketing industry.  We’ve designed a few campaigns in the past few months where we’ve helped our clients provide our members the right info, at the right time, in the right context - capitalizing on a consumer’s motivation right in that moment. There were quite a few emerging technologies showcased at SXSW that are making this possible and (dare I say) easy. We’re excited for them to fully emerge and the trend to continue.

Eleftherios Hatziioannou: I would not say that we've seen a lot of new stuff at SXSW- we've just seen more mature trends that have prevailed in the past months/ years, e.g. mobile becomes the new default: don't even think not to go mobile with your next campaign; big data are used to improve services/products and, of course, marketing decisions; location based services become hyper-local services combining geo data with other services. What I found really surprising was that Foursquare becomes a data company. Their CEO mentioned that their data (billions of check-ins and millions of locations) are available to the public and developers can use this as a local lawyer for their platforms. Something to watch for countries with high twitter usage is a startup called Nestivity. It allows you to talk with your Twitter following and not just at them. It allows you to dig deeper into your following and create more engagement and discussions which you can then manage collaboratively via a dashboard. Sounds cool, ey?

Christoph Bornschein: Following my first answer, I have to say that it’s not going to be a totally new technology that will bring change to Marketing. Change in traditional industries will come through the adaption to technologies that, up until now, were only used by startups. Take as an example the hack-a-thon that American Airlines and AT&T held up in Austin –dynamic, young thinkers just hacking the API of AA already brings change. For me, it’s not about a new technology this year, it’s about a change in embracing “old” technology and using it in traditional contexts.

What’s the insight that stuck out to you? Are you going to attend SXSW in 2014 either as a delegate or, even better, as a speaker? Well, if the latter is what you aim for, you’d better check out this presentation, which was delivered by N. Kakavoulis in –wait for it- Austin and SXSW 2013!

P.S. Some interesting stats and facts about SXSW:

1) One of the co-founders came up with the “South by Southwest” name, as a play on the name of Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary film “North by Northwest”.

2) Last year, SXSW Interactive had an attendance of 24.569 from 72 countries.

3) 51% of the 2012 attendees answered that their combined household income was over $100.000.

4) Compared to 2011, this year the number of tweets sent about #sxsw almost doubled (a staggering 1,17m tweets in total).

5) Grumpy Cat got 13.931 mentions during the week –more than any speaker, including Al Gore.