A guest post by Tony Felice and Charles Wiedenhoft of Red Door Interactive.

The discussions at the recent SXSW focused primarily on how the digital landscape may take shape in the coming year. In this blog post, Red Door Interactive team members who attended SXSW summarize four key takeaways from the event regarding privacy and personalization, brand engagement through emotion, social responsibility, and game mechanics in marketing.

Walking the Line Between Privacy and Personalization


With recent stories regarding restricting the use of cookies and a “consumer privacy bill of rights,” it was easy to imagine that such discussions would percolate during SXSW. During the “How to Personalize Without Being Creepy” session, panelist Jennifer King from UC Berkeley, shared a story about visiting a maternity store, where the cashier informed her that she was already in their “system.” This was her first visit to any such store, prior to joining any baby registry.

Hunch’s Hugo Liu used that anecdote to highlight that relationships require trust---and that trust is built by setting and meeting expectations. Personalization has exponentially more value when it’s explicitly provided.  Noah Weiss, a panelist from Foursquare, suggested that users' privacy is reinforced when they are given explicit control over the data they provide and the way that data is used. King concluded the discussion by saying, “Advertising has been in a race to the bottom. We have nearly reached it and are starting to see legislation. Marketers should strongly consider auditing their current practices, so that they are prepared for the inevitable.”

Later, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley discussed further plans to personalize through data and how his ideas for Foursquare go far beyond badges and mayors. “We're trying to do something much larger---this big data play about things that are going on in the real world, and connecting people to things in the real world,” Crowley said. “If we can use some of the check-in data and present you with interesting options, interesting things that we think you would like, and then couple it with game mechanics and encourage you to do them---that's an interesting one-two punch.”

Useful, Usable, Desirable: Creating Reverence for Products That Surprise and Delight


Getting the experience right cannot be an afterthought for products to succeed in an ultra-competitive landscape where imitations and alternate options can surface within weeks (if not days) of market launch. Would consumers care if you stopped selling your product tomorrow? It’s a sobering question that differentiates desirable experiences from the mundane and easily replaceable.

With so many brands clamoring for our attention, it’s crucial to find new ways to stand out from the crowd. Where do you begin?

Robert Brunner, whose company designed the Barnes & Noble Nook eBook reader and Dr. Dre Beats headphones, suggested that brands should simply be themselves---and focus on doing that well. Without purpose and charisma, brands cannot establish an emotional connection with consumers. Therefore, products are easily exchangeable with comparable options.

Brunner also emphasized the importance of being disruptive. Target redefined big box retail by introducing a mass audience to the notion of product design. Such innovation isn’t possible without a tolerance for taking risks.

While it’s imperative that brands find unique opportunities to surprise and delight consumers, it’s equally important to get the usability right. Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think, shared his extensive knowledge of online user behavior and demonstrated how informal usability testing can drive major website performance improvements.

Krug blamed overly zealous and expensive usability testing plans and elaborate recruiting requirements as the most common reasons why companies don’t test their products with real people. Krug recommended testing with three users a month and controlling costs by cutting out detailed reports. The end goal is to identify usability problems and begin fixing them. No more, no less.

Building Strong Brands: Why Giving Just Makes Sense


On the final day of the conference, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie delivered an inspirational keynote presentation. He told a story about how his vision for improving children’s lives led to the company’s rapid ascent as a footwear apparel brand leader in a little more than four years.

Blake’s “One for One” brand story is quite simple. For each pair of shoes sold, TOMS donates another pair to a child in need. TOMS’ philanthropic approach reveals how a message of greater good that is baked into a company’s DNA can establish broad recognition and demand for a brand in a short amount of time. Plus, TOMS demonstrates how brands can develop meaningful relationships with consumers and position themselves favorably in a new era of heightened social awareness.

Being a champion of the greater good has allowed TOMS to rapidly scale the company’s internal operations and accommodate exponential growth. Not surprisingly, a commitment to making the world a better place has made it easier for the company to attract top-tier talent and retain its best employees. Now, with a strong foundation in place, TOMS is prepared to expand beyond a shoe company and become known as simply the “One for One” brand.

Are We Being Played? Game Mechanics in Marketing


While Foursquare popularized the check-in, it also introduced many to the idea of game mechanics in marketing, enticing participation with virtual rewards. Seth Priebatsch, founder of location-based gaming platform SCVNGR, formally opened the conference by describing his vision of how game mechanics could be applied to the physical world and create a so-called “Game Layer.” Priebatsch predicted that such a layer is a natural evolution.  “The last decade was the decade of social … the social layer traffics in connections.” In contrast to such connections, the Game Layer drives engagement, interaction and “will influence where we go, what we do, and how we do it,”said Priebatsch. As he addressed the crowd, Priebatsch asserted that the Game Layer could solve many of the world’s problems, including education and global warming.

Although Rick Levine from Conde Nast mentioned recently that the idea of placing a “game layer” on top of interactive content was becoming more and more prevalent, game designer Jane McGonigal  stepped away from the concept of “gamification” and referred to the essay “Pawned: Gamification and Its Discontents” by Sebastian Deterding. She suggested that brands take a very careful look at why they might want to consider using game mechanics as a marketing tool.

Final Thoughts


Perhaps the most poignant thing taken by the Red Door Interactive team at the 2011 SXSW conference was the lack of quality in the signal-to-noise ratio in today’s digital landscape. Consumers are bombarded with a landslide of apps, products and services, and are looking for guidance. Wise marketers will look for ways to present grounded and substantiated recommendations in front of their consumers. There won’t be one specific channel or platform that consumers will turn to, and those who see the highest return on objective will be those who maintain a consistent presence everywhere their consumers are.

Charles Wiedenhoft is the director of Business Planning & Optimization for Red Door Interactive, an Internet presence management firm in San Diego and Denver that manages clients' online presence by analyzing their unique challenges, advising them on Internet-based solutions and implementing strategies to help them profit from their Web initiatives. Email him at cwiedenhoft@reddoor.biz.

Tony Felice is the Senior Strategist at Red Door Interactive. Tony brings a deep understanding of technologies to clients and enables teams to craft and execute effective digital campaigns. Email him at tfelice@reddoor.biz.

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