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Op-Ed: Confessions From a SX Virgin

sxsw2014

We will conclude any and all SXSWi 2014 coverage with this final installment from Randall Stone, director of experience innovation at NYC-based brand strategy/design shop, Lippincott. Here’s yet another view from the grounds at the event in case you missed out on the affair. Take it away, sir.

Wow. “South By”, as I quickly learned to refer to it as, was a true experience. And, why shouldn’t it be? It combines intelligence and brilliance with casual unsophistication. It is a dynamic event unlike any other – an intellectual party of sorts – most definitely not a conference, yet way more substantive than drinks with strangers. It uniquely combines relevant and just plain interesting insights, the Austin backdrop and thousands of people who care about what you do.

You don’t “do” SX. It’s too big, too sprawling, too diverse. You experience it. You have to come to Austin, let go, and hand yourself over to friendly people with whom you enjoy talking. You can’t attend. You have to participate. And, isn’t that what any great experience is? A two way encounter of surprise and delight. Our world is not siloed or linear. We like liked-minded people, but none of us are exactly alike.

Despite running on empty, you keep running. And, why not? Inspiring sessions from the most unlikely sources keep you stimulated, unique brand experiences keep you on your toes, food trucks keep you satiated, Lone Star keeps you hydrated and the parties and networking keep you social and awake. At SX, be prepared to be entertained to the point of feeling guilty and to embrace a spirit of sharing, networking and learning unlike any other.

Yes, there was constant chatter of the festival growing too large, too unwieldy and too corporate. But several elements broke through the clutter and made an impact on my time there:

- Unique Experiential Branded Moments – From high production pop ups like the Nespresso dome which caffeinated my morning – to the unexpected delight of a brownie vending machine at A&E’s Bates Motel – to the Funny or Die house on Rainey Street – a diverse range of brands transformed spaces into meet ups, immersions and pop up parties. They differentiated meaningfully and tapped into the passion points of some of today’s earliest adopters.

- Inclusive Community spirit – It seemed like everyone at South By was there to genuinely meet people and share ideas – whether that meant swapping strategies on how to find an available taxi, sharing perspectives on the convergence of digital and healthcare, or wandering into the Snoop Dogg concert via a backstage door making me feel like a teenager again. People leave South By with a new or expanded community of people formed over a drink, a song, a talk, a walk, a ride or a happy accident.

- Insightful learning – Whether directly relevant to what I do or just plain cool, I genuinely enjoyed attending the sessions. I got a glimpse into what SXSW was and how it all started (Oral History of SXSW), saw the future of wearable technologies, learned how the brain impacts engagement, discussed the new currency of loyalty programs, and saw just how interesting my DNA is.

Other standouts included:

- The Samsung Studio which provided an engaging, fun, and pleasant access to their new music service, Milk, as well as other product and services through experiences like ordering a drink, making a Vine video or even designing a t-shirt.

- The mobile {RV}IP Lounge that roamed the streets of Austin as a moving karaoke party picking up South By goers along the way. (Disclaimer: Lippincott had the opportunity to party with the {RV}IP crew to design the experience on the bus.)

- The visualizations of key sessions via ImageThink, the official graphic recorders of SXSW 2014.

- Free and friendly rides in the many Toyota Venza’s lined up around the convention.

- The MRY party featuring Rev Run, DJ Ruckus and enough confetti to last a lifetime.

SWSX Interactive is about interaction – personal connections, meaningful brand experiences, exposure to new ideas, two-way dialogue and a spirited community wanting to share, have fun, and get wild. It’s as big or small as you want it to be. As professional or personal as you need it. As corporate or disruptive as you can tolerate. Now that I have stopped running, I realize just how unique and fulfilling the South By experience is. Will I be back? Absolutely! But, never to attend. Now I know what a pilgrimage feels like.

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