SXSW Recap: Top Event Branding

SXSW Mophie Rescue
Today I’m over on my lifestyle blog, Fearless Captivations, recapping the top event branding features I saw at SXSW. I went into SXSWi with my marketing mindset and was enthused by the ways companies presented their brand to stand-out and create buzz.
Want to read my other SXSW Recap posts?

SXSW SouthBites Recap: Food Criticism Today

The second SXSW SouthBites session I went to was Food Criticism in the Digital Age with Alison Cook, restaurant critic at The Houston Chronicle; Helen Rosner, features editor at Eater; Jonathan Gold, food writer at the Los Angeles Times; and Moderator Evan Kleiman of Kcrw Good Food.The panel started out with the question: “In this age of Yelp, is everyone a critic or are we all just sharing our opinions?”
Gold mentions the phrase “glorious noise of specialists” to describe the online reviewers and bloggers that write about restaurants and food. The “noise” is just an amplified version of what was already there. It’s a new avenue to express opinions. Instead of snail mail, platforms were created to give consumers a different kind of voice and snail mail has become email.

Another big subject was food bloggers vs. food critics. The panel stated that their wealth of knowledge and context is different. Backed by the legacy of their publication, critics have a way of doing things that includes visiting the restaurant at least 2-3 times and going under a fake name. Critics put chefs, restaurants, and food movements into context. They know the know the cultural, socioeconomic, geopolitical, agricultural backgrounds behind the dishes they’re eating. As Gold described, he knows how the current weather conditions would have on a croissant and how it would look differently. The big difference is that critics pay for all their meals. Cook argued that when you’re given free food, you’ll post something nice with no critical content and there isn’t a value framework there.

Take a look at these statistics about online reviews from a recent study.

  • 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • 57% of consumers will visit a local business website after reading a positive review
  • 85% of consumers say they read up to 10 reviews before they trust a business

Personally, I may analyze a number of things before I visit a restaurant. I read critic reviews, I look at their menu, and I scan Yelp reviews, though I tend to go with what’s new and “hot” and what’s recommended to me by close friends. I like to think that consumers are smart enough to figure out truth from slander and do their own research when they make decisions on where to eat. That said, I think there’s a place for food bloggers. As long as food bloggers are very honest about receiving complimentary tastings and about the content they publish. Sure, bloggers may post something nice but I don’t think they would – and I would truly hope they don’t – post or write something because they feel obligated after accepting a free meal. I think that’s an understanding among food bloggers.

Lastly, the panel discussed the effect that photos and photo-based apps like Instagram have on the future of food criticism. The consensus was that yes, photos are great but nothing can replace the written word. Even photos have captions! You can view a pretty photo but the words will describe the flavors, the movement and the creation.

What do you think? How do you see the role of food critics and food bloggers today?

SXSW Recap: Importance of Team

One common subject I heard in multiple SXSWi sessions was about how important the team was to the success of a company. Here are some of the quotes from different sessions:

We (social media) don’t stand apart from the newsroom. We’re part of it.
Michael Roston, Sr Staff Editor Social Media, The New York Times; Social Media: Breaking News or Fixing News?

Find people who want to be a part of the magic and see your vision.
Chris Wink, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Blue Man Group; Using Brands to Create Cultural Identity

I have a bigger goal than the food. It’s providing creative challenge and financial success for employees.
David Chang, Owner/Founder, Momofuku; The Future Role of Tech in Dining and Food

When you’re a medium start-up, it’s no longer all about you. You also have to think about users, employees, investors, media and competition. You deeply care about the interests of these people and try to align the interests.
Culture is more important than the product. The product is the product. Culture is the next hundred products.
Phil Libin, CEO, Evernote; Be Epic: The Art of Bold Decision Making

Family comes first. A great team translates to happier customers.
Success comes from the team and the idea.
Surround yourself with smart people.
Jessica Alba, Founder, and Brian Lee, CEO & Co-Founder, The Honest Company; Inc. Presents: The Honest Company

Diverse teams make better products. You have to create your team before a product.
Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer, US Office Of Science & Technology Policy; How Innovation Happens

It’s not a new idea that the team and company culture are what drive the success of a business. A quick search will give you numerous books, videos, and articles about the subject. Choose the right people; get their buy-in when it comes to company values, mission, etc; take care of your team. Treat your people well and they’ll treat your customers well, which brings your company success. I think this is why so many companies are going the way of Google and Facebook – flexible hours and vacation, free food, reasonable if not more compensation – when it comes to providing for employees and creating a company culture.

SXSW SouthBites Recap: Technology in Dining

This was the second year for the SXSW SouthBites program, which connects food artisans, the food industry and technology. Basically, it’s to talk about the culinary industry! One of the sessions I went to was The Future Role of Tech in Dining and Food with David Chang, the owner and founder of Momofuku and Matt Buchanan, the editor of The Awl.

David Chang started his session out with a bang, claiming the Internet is what killed food and that chefs are losing their individuality. Ideas, restaurant reviews, and recipes are shared widely on the Internet, changing the way we think about food, experience restaurants and judge our experiences. I can definitely see what Chang means by this. Before I step into a restaurant, I know how cool the restaurant is supposed to look, what dishes I’m supposed to order, and how many stars my peers are giving it. I have increased expectations. I’ve lost some of the spark in the experience. We may have had this naturally by word of mouth, but the Internet has expanded it. Chefs are copying each other based on what’s hot. (Remember the cronut craze?!) I think the Internet is great for getting new ideas and expanding on those ideas. Whether or not it’s affecting chef creativity? I can see how that could be but I don’t have enough knowledge to be sure. What do you think?

In discussing how tech can help restaurants and the dining experience, Chang asked: how can restaurants collect data better (i.e. have their own data instead of using a third party like OpenTable) and how can tech make waiting in line disappear (referencing Franklin BBQ, its consistent line and how amazing it is). Great ideas and I have a feeling tech in the culinary industry will grow to make culinary experiences better and operations easier.

I didn’t know anything about David Chang before this panel but I’ve enjoyed treats from Momofuku Milk Bar. Throughout this panel, I felt he was very genuine, honest, team-focused and forward-thinking. He knows what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, although to him, it looks like he’s figuring it out as he goes. He said he got into the business to cook and that it wasn’t about the money. That’s why he’s opening a small fast food fried chicken restaurant soon. Because he likes fried chicken! He also said that some restaurants, like Franklin BBQ, are better because they care. They’re meticulous about the process and the product. And lastly, he’s humble in saying that he’s made a lot of mistakes along the way and it’s a bummer the Internet is changing how we do things. It’s taking away much of the trial and error. I’ll leave you with this inspiration from Chang: “Out of the ashes, something awesome could happen.”

SXSW Recap: Brands & Cultural Identity

I was excited to attend SXSWi through work and have had so many reflections and thoughts on the ideas I heard in keynotes and panels. I’ll be sharing what I learned at SXSWi, focusing on specific themes, over the next couple of weeks. To begin the recapping, I’d like to share the key things I took away from the session ‘Using Brands to Create Cultural Identity,’ which was led by Chris Wink, Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer of The Blue Man Group, and Jarret Myer, GM at Woven & CEO of UPROXX.

What is branding?
It’s the combination of employee buy-in, the product, the marketing, and the performance of the company over time.
Your product must live up to the vision. Find others who understand your vision and are willing to work with you to bring it to life. Find pieces of evidence of progress and share them. Take your journey seriously because eventually others will too. Make sure everything is authentic.

Success is stretched between audacity and humility.
Audacity: “I want to be the best.” Humility: “I will work hard to be the best.” You have to have both to succeed. Success, creating a brand doesn’t happen without hard work. This quote by Martha Graham was mentioned:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”

Give people stories so that they can create their own persona.
People like being a part of something, like the audacity of The Ramones starting a revolution. Help people see themselves and what they could become in your vision.

Remember your why.
They reminded me of this great TED talk about how great leaders inspire action. Check it out:

Stand-Out Swag at SXSW 2014

Having been on a SXSW street team and designed swag pieces for clients in the past, I’m interested and analytical in the swag companies hand out during conferences.

I didn’t pick up much this year but I’m enjoying two pieces I received: sunglasses and a car phone charger, both picked up at the Samsung House.


Branded sunglasses are a common swag piece but as someone who wears these freebies instead of designer sunglasses, it works for me. The ones from Samsung are unique, as you can see from the photo, which draws me to them for my collection, but I would probably wear these less often.

The other piece, the car phone charger is something I’ve been wanting and needing for months. I’ve already used it multiple times and it’s always with me. Branded and most importantly, useful.

Other pieces I saw:

  • T-shirts: I recently donated a huge bag of branded shirts I never wear to Goodwill, so I stayed away from collecting shirts. There are always takers for free shirts though.
  • Re-usable bags: These are great for Austinites because of the no plastic bag law. The re-usable bags are especially great giveaways when they have a bbq sandwich inside, as Lithium found out from giving them away from a roaming bus.

As I waited in line on a rainy Saturday, I wondered if any brands were handing out branded umbrellas or ponchos. It would have been a one-time use item unless it made it back home, but it would have helped many getting drenched.

What standout swag did you pick up at SXSW this year? What would you recommend to companies in the future?