First Take: Observations from SXSW 2016

Every year brings a new flavor and evolution of SXSW, and a new take on the market. This year represented a great step forward for making the conference relevant to today's possibilities while fending off the constant barrage of vendors who want attention and aren't willing to give much value in return.

Test and Test Again

On our panels at Mobile Saturday, and throughout the conference itself, constant testing and iteration was an extremely common theme. Part of this stems from the fact that most things at the show are in a very early stage in the market, and there is so much potential on display. While testing has been a theme for a long time in the market, this year marked a big step forward.  

As an industry, we now have much better tools and infrastructure for running tests (large and small) and iterating quickly on what does and does not work. This could be testing out an in-store robot that scans inventory, or testing a messaging strategy for your best fans or simply trying different ways to create a compelling in-venue experience for your customers. The thread that ties it all together, though, is quick and rapid testing of experiences for customers. Brands are constantly iterating, seeing what works, apologizing if necessary and learning from the experience.

Connecting Mobile with Experiences

While connecting with the world around us has been a pervasive theme for a while, this year represented a huge step forward in mobile customer engagement. As an example, I was deeply impressed by how much work the team at the Cleveland Cavaliers has put into making their in-venue experience best-in-class. Their "curb-to-curb" approach, with the app at the heart of the communication to users, speaks both to the possibilities that are within reach for mobile engagement as well as what can be achieved with a dedicated team who is constantly testing and refusing to accept the status quo.

The Future was on Display

While there are still examples of far-out point solutions on display, there are also pretty powerful experiences that are becoming part of our reality today. VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) were out in force. Walking down the street and seeing people on stationary bikes wearing VR headsets and doing city tours points to how rapidly much of this technology is being consumerized and applied to everyday use cases. Watching a small child play rock-paper-scissors with a robot was really impressive and shows how much of this technology is coming together at once.

And We’re Right There with Mobile Engagement

We're also in a world where ownership over experiences for our customers is changing. One of the other takeaways from our Mobile Saturday event was the discussion around status quo. Companies really can't sit and accept the way things have always been, given the unique possibilities that are out there — and that consumers are demanding from mobile customer experiences. Software and hardware platforms built in the past decade have truly changed the nature of the world around us and how consumers interact with brands on a daily basis, and it's incredibly inspiring to see how far much of this technology has come and how close we actually are to many of our mobile ideas becoming reality.

We absolutely can do it — and, at Urban Airship, we're honored to be a core component of this future. Stay tuned for recaps of each of the panel discussions from Mobile Saturday over the next few weeks!