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SXSW Interactive: Attempting to Digest Five Days of Awesomeness

Co-written by Andrea Dunbeck and Justin Hastings

What a week! Now that the panels, discussions, presentations, chats, serendipitous introductions and nightly events have concluded, we attempt to wrap our week in Austin into four central themes that we brought back for HB to make our work (and our clients’ work) more successful.

As a reminder, you can relive all of the action here.


Andrea spoke about this a few days ago. Throughout our time in Austin, we heard discussions surrounding the idea of audience trust and authenticity. Only when content speaks directly and honestly to the audience will a brand perform well – and this happens over a long, incremental period of time, not in short, sporadic bursts. With the right campaign, trust can be measured through speed and reach – audiences will make quicker decisions through a trustworthy relationship.

“Trust can be measured in speed and reach. Vendors can make things easier in order to solve a problem – therefore, you can work more efficiently and make more money. Reach comes from sharing stories with your friends.” – Liz Strauss, founder of SOBcon and Inside-Out Thinking, from What’s So [Bleeping] Hard About Social ROI?

In fact, multiple presenters talked about getting out of the user’s way, allowing for individual brand experience and exploration. Technology should be calm and unobtrusive, using clean, simple design and user experiences to communicate messages.

“Calm technology is in the background and relaxed. Actions become buttons or are triggered through invisible interfaces.” Amber Case, Co-founder, Geoloqi , from Ambient Location and the Future of the Interface.

Be Bold, Smart and Nimble

Panelists and speakers throughout all our sessions challenged attendees to break traditions, defy standards, go rogue and show change. Shifts in offerings and marketing strategies must become part of an agency’s (or brand’s) DNA, allowing them to act like startups to adapt to constantly evolving industries, media channels and technology.

“There needs to be resistance to hierarchy. Smaller, nimbler teams innovate faster.” – Rei Inamoto, Chief Creative Officer, AKQA, from Why Ad Agencies Should Act More Like Tech Startups

We often heard the recommendation to “fail fast” – testing new ideas, strategies or projects through user research and experimentation.

“Fail quickly. You learn more from what doesn’t work then you do from what does.” – Lance Weiler, Story Architect/Experience Designer,, from Multiplatform Storytelling: Frontline War Stories.

Give the People What They Want

It all boils down to this. Content strategy, development, distribution and marketing – it’s about getting your audience members what they want, when they want it and how they want it.

Brands are no longer just product and service companies – they are publishers who must provide meaningful, entertaining content to their users (even if the content does not directly tie to the product or service). These same brands must inspire their audiences through unique storytelling – gone are the days when copy, on its own, can create the same experience as a story involving visuals, videos, photography, and media from other platforms.

“What would our audience love to see? Don’t even think about the brand.” – Anthony Batt, President, Katalyst, from Entertain or Fail: Brands as the New Publishers.

The role of the content strategist thus continues to grow across brands and agencies that develop large amounts of content. Increasingly, people in this position will take the lead on new projects. A successful content strategy combines thoughtful workflow and governance (people) with substance and structure (engaging content).

“Nontraditional storytelling through visuals and interactive is becoming what readers want.” – Jill Abramson, Executive Editor, The New York Times, from The Future of The New York Times.


We all think Social is so special. Stop it – it’s not. Social is simply another marketing tactic like advertising or direct mail. So why expect special ROI measurements from social marketing? For many other marketing tools we simply ask, “are profits increasing?” We need not treat Social as an alien, but rather just as another strategy in your marketing toolbox.

“Aren’t we overcomplicating this? What’s the ROI of taking a guy to the golf course or out to dinner?” – Matt Ridings, Co-founder & CEO, SideraWorks, from What’s So [Bleeping] Hard About Social ROI?

The only real difference is that social media allows you to listen to your audience, rather than broadcast to them. So do it – leverage the opportunity to get to know your prospects and customers so all of your communication is spot-on for their needs and interests.

Oh, and “viral” is overrated.

Phew! The week in Austin surely filled our brains with plenty to digest, review and implement in the coming weeks and months. We look forward to SXSW 2013!

Read about the rest of our trip to SXSW trip at The HB Blog.

Books Business Culture Media Music Technology Video

Renting vs. owning: A shift in content consumption

From the HB Blog

A recent Google+ post from Jeremiah Owyang read:

“You for rent: I can rent your HOUSE with AirBnB. I can rent your CAR with GetAround. I can rent your TIME and EXPERTISE with taskrabbit, crowdflower. What else can we rent in the future? What’s left?”

Owyang focuses on a shift in user behavior over the past couple of years: people no longer require ownership of their content – just access to it.

That’s a long cry from Steve Jobs’s discussion surrounding the iTunes Music Store in 2007:

“People want to own their music.”

Only six years later, Apple now offers iTunes Match which allows users to stream their music from any device, assuming it’s purchased through iTunes or resides on a home machine. Similarly, Spotify offers a seemingly-endless supply of music to its customers for a monthly subscription fee.

On the tube

Likewise, the television and movie models are shifting their business model from ownership to rental. Companies like NetflixHulu, and Amazon provide content consumption without taking up precious space on your hard drive.

Even production companies are joining the fun. Without “ownership” of a cable box, folks can watch many of their favorite shows via a web site or app. The episodes no longer reside on a machine; rather, users stream content over the internet with relatively little setup.

On the horizon

Back to Owyang. What’s next? Magazines have slowly joined the movement, offering digital subscriptions – but mainly when the customer already receives a print version of the publication.

Instead of content, it’s commodities and services that are sure to see an uptick in “rentals.” Could there be a subscription-fee model for airfare? Or how about automobile maintenance? Will the book industry move to this model to service the millions of KindlesNooks, and iPads across the globe?

What do you think will come next in this world of renting?

Business Social Media Technology

What is Google+?

From the HB Blog

“You don’t even know what the thing is yet.” – Sean Parker, “The Social Network”

Much like Justin Timberlake’s line from the 2010 film, “The Social Network,” this Google+ “thing” has yet to find an identity since its launch in June of last year – and that’s okay.

The platform offers some of the same things as other major players Twitter and Facebook:

  • follow other users’ news streams,
  • share interesting content via text, links, photos, and videos, and
  • comment on others’ posts.

However, there are two unique offerings that help separate Google+ as its own platform.

The power of search

As we all know, Google dominates the search market. Google+ offers users and businesses the added bonus of search traffic to their accounts. Now, your bio, content, and posts are all searchable content. In fact, Google created controversy with their recent announcement regarding Google+ content appearing in Google searches.

Businesses can heighten their brand awareness efforts with engaging content on their Google+ pages that will accompany searches about their brand, product, or service.

Let’s hang out

The second unique feature comes from Google’s take on video chats. They’re called Hangouts, or impromptu video chats with dozens of people.

With a few simple clicks, you can invite certain people to private chats for collaboration and communication, or offer a public forum for topical discussion. I see great potential in Hangouts for businesses. Companies can offer previously impossible direct contact with their customers to provide support and recommendations in the hopes of extending the customer’s relationship with a brand.

Only six months into its life, Google+ sits in prime position to grow in 2012. Will you grow with it?


Media Technology

Netflix to Offer Netshows

Earlier this week, Netflix made a shocking announcement – they would license a TV show, distributed exclusively to its huge network of subscribers. The show, “House of Cards,” will be executive produced by David Fincher and Kevin Spacey and is based on a 1990s British miniseries of the same name.

There are potential game-changing consequences with this announcement. First, it invites studios and producers to distribute their content solely through digital channels. Other content-providers (iTunes, Hulu, etc.) may offer their customers their own exclusive content.

Secondly, there’s the major questions of advertising and money. How will these shows generate money? Will Fincher, Spacey, and their production companies earn percentages of Netflix subscribers? Perhaps “House of Cards” will have 1-2 title sponsors who’s advertisements will run during the show. Fascinating.

Perhaps even more fascinating is the effect this agreement (and future ones) will have on cable companies. With the advent of content-distribution tools increasing in popularity (Apple TV, Roku, etc.), combined with existing digital content providers (iTunes, Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc.), consumers are moving towards a model where content is consumed selectively. Imagine: rather than paying hundreds of dollars for your monthly cable bill where users receive innumberable channels, customers can pay smaller fees per channel, per event, or per show. We’re already seeing this with Apple’s recent iOS upgrade where Apple TV owners can watch NBA and MLB games without the need of a cable box.

In years past, customers craved as much content as possible for a flat rate (see Comcast, Time Warner, Xfinity, etc.). More and more, the same customers are looking for increased customization and value for their content dollars. Will “House of Cards” continue this trend or serve as an anomaly?

Books Design Technology

Hitting the Books

As a student, I read because it was an assignment (see: Wuthering Heights). As a young adult, I read becuase it was an adventure (see: Sin City). Now, as a professional, I read becuase it is a necessary part of intellectual and career development.

Trust AgentsLately I’ve made myself famillar with technical books, including A Book Apart’s HTML5 for Web Designers, CSS3 for Web Designers, and Sitepoint’s Create Stunning HTML Email That Just Works. My latest venture will be Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. This is a departure from the technical books I’ve been reading of late.

As I mature as a designer and creative thinker, it’s important to be both a technical master and strong strategist. With Trust Agents, I hope to broaden my knowledge into the non-technical side of creativity. What are you reading?