SXSW Pre-Commerce Summit Speaker Highlights

Written by Center for Social Commerce

Published on November 1, 2014

We’ve arrived in Austin, TX! The city is buzzing with visitors and locals excited for SXSW. Our first adventure here was attending W2O’s Preconference Summit, which included a stellar lineup of speakers and guest panel sessions. We’ve put together a brief recap of our favorite presentations.

Natalie Malaszenko – VP of Marketing & Digital Strategy, Omni Hotels – @NatalieMalas

Natalie Malaszenko provided a fresh angle on the power of data-powered storytelling during her talk at W2O Group’s SXSW Precommerce Summit. Three key takeaways:

  1. Never underestimate being first. Too many brands get stuck wading through the pros of cons of every business decision. Malaszenko’s message was clear: Don’t wait. Seize opportunities, even if that means taking a leap into uncharted territory. Leading companies take calculated risks to jump ahead of the competition.
  2. Become a brilliant storyteller. Results will follow.  While data represents a critical component of any strategy, the customers must remain at the core of every decision. Analytics can only take us so far. To best meet the needs of customers, companies must step back and listen to the conversations happening on all media platforms. By carefully monitoring and responding to trends, brands can build “stories” that resonate with customers and influencers. In advancing our capabilities in the realm of analytics, we must remember that content still matters above all else.
  3. Focus on local. Not all opportunities arise on a global scale. Sometimes it’s best to scale down and think locally. Although Omni owns hotels around the world, company executives ensure that each location is uniquely tied to the prevailing culture of its city. This “think global, act local” theme can be applied to many business models. It’s all about adapting and targeting broad ideas to specific audiences or markets.

Michael Marinello  – Head of Global Communications, Bloomberg – @mvmarinello

Michael Marinello’s insightful talk truly resonated with the Precommerce audience. A few salient points:

  1.  I were down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations. -Bill Gates  Twitter buzzed with retweets and commentary when Marinello highlighted this favorite Bill Gates quote. It brought to light an interesting concept: Publicity, audience engagement, and a strong social media presence are critical components of brand equity. PR is a multifaceted, strategic, and essential business function.
  2. Know your customers, clients, and audiences.  Knowing your stakeholders is about more than following them on Twitter. Insights gleaned from analytics can be enormously helpful in building “audience profiles.” Customer sentiment should play a prominent role in business decisions. How customers innately “feel” about a brand is too often overlooked by top management. By valuing customer equity over brand equity, a company can shed a “profit-hungry” image and focus on building lasting relationship with key stakeholder segments.
  3. Know where and how to show up.  Few ideas are “one size fits all.” To succeed in the marketing/communications/PR game, brand managers must have a firm grasp on what works for their company. Take risks, but make sure they are thoughtful and rational. This goes beyond knowing the most effective social media platforms to use: Be attentive to tone, cadence, and frequency of posts. Consider the “big picture” implications of your social media strategy. Keeping your brand’s distinct “personality” in mind will result in more creative and consistent messaging.

Kelly McGinnis – SVP & Chief Communications Officer, Levi Strauss – @kellylmcginnis

Kelly McGinnis’ presentation on her business lessons learned at Levi Strauss had a distinctly different theme than most other talks of the day, but her insight provided a unique perspective. Below are some key points:

  1. Be agile. Staying stagnant and sticking to outdated modes of thinking is not a winning strategy. Whether young or old, employees must embrace new ideas and be open to change. The marketing and communications industry in particular depends on constant innovation and thought leadership. Successful leaders embrace the fast paced nature of the field and roll with the punches.
  2. Teamwork makes the world go round. The best teams are ones that bring together people with diverse skill sets and capabilities at the right moment in time. Synergy is the “it” factor that can inspire individuals to fully realize their potential. Companies that foster open, collaborative environments see better results and happier employees. Furthermore, a little optimism goes a long way. It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of negativity and become cynical. We all have to take a few moments each to “step back,” take a deep breath, and keep things in perspective.
  3. Message matters.  McGinnis’ presentation reiterated a recurring theme: Define a consistent, relevant, and meaningful narrative from the get-go and push that story out on all media platforms. Building a brand is about more than just sound strategy and ROI– it’s about giving your brand a distinct personality. This all ties into the deeper theme of driving customer engagement through the power of social analytics.

Patrick Morrissey, VP of Marketing, DataSift – @PatMorrissey

The future is here. We have access to an unprecedented amount of data about consumer behavior at our fingertips, but do we understand its potential?

  1. First stop? Your social site. Users are visiting social sites first. Like it or not, social channels are an organization’s brand. Over 50 percent of users visit a brand’s social site first. Consequently, social is key to establishing first impressions. With this in mind, we need to stop thinking of social as an ancillary part of a brand’s conversation and prioritize it higher.
  2. One tweet, one million possibilities. Data drawn from social channels is extensive and can create a multidimensional picture of your customer. Although there are only 140 characters in single tweet, each yields over 400 pieces of metadata. A single tweet can reveal information on location, links, user tendencies and more. Using this data, we can better understand the wants and needs of a brand’s followers and offer them more opportunity to engage.
  3. Reap the rewards of social. Many businesses have yet to embrace social and the benefits it can bring the bottom line. Few businesses realize the potential. Recent figures estimate that there is nearly $1 trillion left untapped in the social world. Coupled with this, only 3 percent of companies report that they have seen “substantial benefits” from embracing social.

Kurt Heinemann, Chief Marketing Officer, Sysmos – @KurtHeinemann

We may be inundated with data, but that doesn’t mean we should overwhelm the consumer with messages. If this continues, we may isolate the very source of our data: the user.

  1. Two steps forward, one step back. Although we fancy ourselves to know “exactly what the customer wants”, we are giving it to them in the wrong way. For all of the vast potential data offers, we are using it reinforce old marketing models. We aren’t listening, we are broadcasting. The one-way model of communication is obsolete. We cannot simply gather information, determine what the customer wants and plaster ad after ad in their face. Data needs to be tapped for deeper insights.
  2. Users are shutting the blinds.  Banner ads, recommended links and pop-up videos are a ubiquitous part of the social experience. We see them everywhere. Increasingly, they seem to know everything about our lives. Data has allowed us to personalize ads and content to the highest degree, but when does it cross the line from helpful to creepy? Pretty quickly. Users are rapidly abandoning open social sites (Twitter and Facebook) in favor of “private” apps and sites like Snapchat and Whisper. Why? The user feels exploited and manipulated. If this trend continues, the very sources of data we rely on will disappear. We aren’t engaging, we are harassing.
  3. Seek out your evangelists from the flock.  Customers own your brand. They decide what to say, what not to say and whom to say it to. Social provides an open forum for this to occur. Out of your customers, there is a particular subset you should pay particular attention to: your influencers. These are your evangelists. They will buy, talk about and promote your product free of charge. Before developing any campaign, it is important to identify your influencers and leverage them

Virginia Miracle, Chief Customer Officer, Spredfast – @VirginiaMiracle

What do users want? An engaging, social experience. How can we provide it? Solicit feedback and develop relationships. What does this create? Shared commerce.

  1. If you build a social experience, they will come (and stay).  We call it social media for a reason: it ‘s all about making connections and forging relationships. Humans are naturally social creatures. Just as in the physical world, we crave social interaction in the digital world. In the end, great social experiences build lasting relationships. As a brand, if you create meaningful and custom content, users will return to the well over and over. A great example of a social experience is General Mill’s “Hello, Cereal Lovers” microsite. Completely devoted to cereal’s biggest fans, it allows users to post and share self-generated content. By doing so, users contribute their own voice to the brand. That is the ultimate brand-consumer relationship.
  2. What are your customers passionate about? That’s your brand. As stated in Kurt Heinemann’s talk, customers own the brand. Their purchasing habits, online behavior and recommendations tell the story of your brand. It is critical to discover and understand what they are talking about. Analytics software can assist the effort. However, brands must understand that consumers not only buy a product for the product, rather they make decisions based on the “why” behind it. The “why” is where consumer passion is found.
  3. Test, test and then test some more. In the age of analytics, we have the ability to measure a myriad of social metrics. There is no excuse to not try bold ideas, measure success and adjust as needed. The most successful brands are not afraid to go this route. It is the only way to discern value and learn. Furthermore, it shows agility and a commitment to customer feedback.