If the city wasn’t here yesterday, it would almost be believable. In the view, everything is under construction—the type you would expect to find if Earth were suddenly colonized by really posh Martians who spared no expense when it comes to first impressions. The streets below are pulsing with hoards of lanyard-clad creatives, buttoned-down strategists, coders, celebrities, media moguls, musicians, politicians, filmmakers, monks, an AR space cadet troop, and an actual robot drummer. Of course it could only be SXSW 2018, and here we are again!

The SXSW Interactive Conference is where you go for the most cutting-edge ideas and tech in the digital marketing world. But even more than in past years, this year there is a sense of urgency. Tectonic changes to Facebook and the emergence of Augmented Reality (AR) tech and apps, as well as the most volatile media climate in recent memory, make this year’s conference particularly exciting. Content is the name of the game, and the rules just changed. What does this mean for businesses and brands? That’s what we’re all here to talk about.

Ideas that Bring People Together Change the World

For years now at SXSW there has been an emphasis on “authentic content,” and brands have largely interpreted this as “make your sales pitch sound like your audience.” But these suggestions from previous years, largely thanks to Facebook, have now become the law, and one of the hottest sessions from today was with one of the sheriffs—Facebook Creative Director Andrew Keller. The most successful technologies, according to Keller, are those that bring people together.

From taming fire to inventing the automobile to building the internet, the most fundamental innovations of our species are community-building technologies. Facebook itself is a virtual galaxy of interlocking communities comprising a billion monthly users worldwide, and the “tectonic changes” mentioned earlier (and in a previous CJRW blog) are all about how Facebook is redefining its communities and how they interact. In short, expect more dog videos from your cousin and way less content from brands and advertisers.

Facebook has changed its mission from “connecting the world” to “bringing the world closer together.” The social media monolith aims to give people the power to build communities based on “meaningful social interaction,” and passive entertainment from brands just got excommunicated. As a result, the single biggest issue in social media marketing at the moment is figuring out how to make brand content truly meaningful in the online communities in which they advertise. Keller had a few suggestions.

If brands want to have meaningful exchanges with communities, according to the Facebook insider, there are four paths. Inspire them. Celebrate with them. Empower them. Or entertain them in ways that actively bring them closer together. So, must all brands pretend to be philanthropists for the right to advertise to the world’s biggest and most accessible community? Not necessarily. Keller was quick to add that an idea doesn’t need to be noble to bring people together. Need proof? Remember those Budweiser “Dilly, Dilly” ads? That.

Increasing CTR with 1:1 Content Marketing

Count to two right now for dramatic effect. On average, people spend about 1.7 seconds with any given piece of online content. Not even twowholeseconds on something that took weeks and potentially thousands of dollars to create. David Godmans from The Coca-Cola Company, Johanna Murphy from Rag & Bone, Jeff Ragovin from Social Native and Kaitlyn Wilkins from Facebook came together to talk about how marketers are utilizing personalized marketing solutions across different industries to predict content relevancy and increase performance.

Content was obviously the main topic here. There were three overarching themes in this panel discussion. First, the panel emphasized that the goal should be to create great content, not a really good sales pitch. The vast majority of successful campaigns out there at the moment are successful because they are engaging. One reason they have the potential to be engaging is because the brand is not the focus. It’s the message that counts, not the messenger, as far as your audience is concerned.

Next, brands should be very aware of how audiences will consume a given piece of content, and having an effective plan as to where to post is just as vital as the content that’s actually posted. Wilkins shared that Facebook uses a 70/20/10 model for how people consume content, and getting the timing right to catch your audience at its most receptive is essential to making your content (and the users who see it) engage.

Roughly 70% of content is consumed on-the-go, so that content needs to be bite sized and grab attention in the all-important first 1.7 seconds. About 20% of content is consumed in what is called “lean in,” or longer durations, like users who check their feed on a short break. These users may engage if they can do so quickly. The final 10% is consumed in “lean back,” or when someone is at home and can consume without interruption.

Lastly, the panel discussed closing the funnel. Though not a novel idea, the imperative to reach an audience across every touchpoint possible is greater than ever. Using examples like WAG and Stitch Fix, advertisers can follow the audience through the entire path to purchase, communicating valuable information or perks along the way, always with the goal to create a seamless purchase experience from any angle. A solid customer experience is key in this space, and the best possible way to encourage customers to share that experience.

What Followers Want: How Social Evolves in 2018

Nine hours. That’s how much time teenagers spend on social media per day. Read that again and look shocked! How do you design a platform so engaging that it becomes a lifestyle? This panel dove into how social platforms, brands, and content creators can work together to create engaging experiences that drive business value. Rajni Lucienne Jacques from Teen Vogue, Gene Liebel from Work & Co., Josh Dickens from Instagram and Tutti Taygerly from Facebook were on hand at SXSW to discuss how social media impacts life.

It can’t be overstated these days that the goal behind social media is connection. Connection is the driving force behind the products created by platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Constantly building new features, they help creators tell their stories better or at least differently. Features like Stories and Live help tell a more authentic story as a creator, and as a consumer, these features create a closer connection to friends, family and people you follow.

As seen in previous panels, there is a huge shift happening in content creation. What is considered “good content” is changing from what is most aesthetically pleasing to what is most relevant, most driven by context. Creators need to go back to basic human needs like connection, friendship, a place to belong. When content can evoke an emotional response, it’s good, whatever the quality, at least to a point.

The Internet’s Screenless Future

What if “chin up” was the new “face down?” By 2020, about 30% of all web-browsing sessions will be done without the use of a screen. But what does the internet even look like without screens? You already know. In the next two years, more than 10 million homes will incorporate screenless devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo. Screenless digital time, for some, will soon eclipse digital screen time. At SXSW Interactive today Chris Ferrel, Digital Strategist for The Richards Group, explored what this change means and how brands can embrace the screenless internet.

We currently define digital marketing on screen-based ideas with metrics like “impressions” and “time viewed,” but if this prediction is true, all that could change. But what exactly is a screenless internet? It’s just that—any internet-based task accomplished without the use of a screen. An Amazon Dash for example allows you to click a button in your laundry room when you need more Tide. It’s already connected to your Amazon account with a preset quantity per order, so you don't even have to access your phone or device to make that purchase, and the kids can’t press it a thousand times and bankrupt you.

Today, mobile-first is our first priority. However, Ferrel referenced Benedict Evans’—of venture capital firm Andreesseen Horowitz—prediction that the next S-curve in technology is artificial intelligence, and that the adoption of voice search and screenless internet will change our internet mindset from mobile-first to voice-first. But why now? The answer is part technology, part human nature.

AI powered voice recognition software has been around for decades, but the frustrations that people encounter with that voice-recognition software is word accuracy rate. In 2012 the technology showed progress when Microsoft announced machine learning, and last year Google announced the ability to understand human language with 95% accuracy. Digital voice assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo are already changing the way we consume media. Andrew Ng claims that “As voice-recognition accuracy goes from 95% to 99%, all of us … will go from barely using it to using it all the time.”

Emarketer expects the adoption of voice assistants to out-pace smartphone users worldwide by 2021, with Amazon Echo being the early favorite in this arms race. While most may think early-adopters are the younger populations, that may not be the case for voice search. Older populations are taking advantage of the technology, skewing much older than most new tech. It’s also life-changing by allowing those with visual or other disabilities to enjoy the internet in new ways. Already, 46% of Americans have tried digital voice assistants, yet only 2% of marketers rank voice as a top priority.

Voice will become the filter of content we want to see, but screens will still play a role, and brand voice will take on a whole new meaning. This evolution means marketers will have important decisions to make about giving brands a personality such as voice type, accent, and speech pattern. Consider that Jeff Goldblum was Steve Jobs’s first choice for Siri. That would have given Siri and, therefore, Apple and its iPhone, a totally different personality.

The sale of products online will transition to selling by voice. Voice shopping is set to grow to $40 billion in 2022 from $2 billion today and voice search ads will be as common as text searches, because 50% of all searches will be voice by 2020. Radio ads will find new life in audio pre- and post-roll around content such as Amazon Alexa’s “Flash Briefings,” and the idea of building a voice app will be the new version of the building of a mobile app in 2007. The most successful brands going forward won’t silo voice search but will integrate it into everything they do.

The Takeaway from SXSW Day 1

Whether it’s the desire to ask for something rather than type it or the desire for brands to act more human, the big picture from Day One of SXSW is clear. Let’s make “interactive” more interactive. We have the technology! People want to act like people while they interact with digital content, and they aren’t taking no for an answer. Also, Mark Zuckerberg agrees with them and so must we all. From this moment on, there’s no such thing as a traditional brand. There are only winners and losers, and the rules of the game are still up in the air.