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SXSW 2023 – What’s new in the world of marketing, technology, AI and more?

SXSW (pronounced South by Southwest) is a massive festival focused on technology, marketing, and the future, held in Austin, Texas. It represents an annual opportunity for tens of thousands to pause, meet, get inspired, and return with fresh knowledge, perspectives, new contacts, and perhaps even a leather hat brimming with ideas. This year marks our third participation – this time as a group from Devin Band companies.
To start off, more information and impressions are available on our podcast, which Maru, Martin, and I recorded on this topic. Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Pavol Perdík, CEO of Brackets by TRIAD, also wrote a superb blog post sharing different experiences and inspirations from the founder of Waze, CEO of Patagonia, his take on AI, and much more.
Devin band at sxsw 2023

Devin Band members: From left Palo Perdík (Brackets by TRIAD), Maru Mitlíková (TRIAD BA), Martin Woska (TRIAD BA/PRG), Marek Mrázik (Allfred), Peťa Jankovičová (TRIAD PRG), Martin Krajniak (Pros & Cons)

Web3 and the Metaverse Still Have Room to Grow

It surprised me to learn from a global marketing media source that the metaverse was last year’s most-read topic. Anything they published about the metaverse significantly outperformed other topics. Hence, SXSW showcased an endless array of talks on the metaverse. We marketers are essentially hype addicts. The reality is, we’ve yet to see mainstream adoption, nor is it remotely a strategic marketing plan for brands in the forthcoming years. Thus, it’s safe to say, everyone can relax. The true potential of the metaverse and Web3 is indeed exhilarating but remains distant, with no immediate concern necessary. Even Zuckerberg acknowledged that his substantial investment in the metaverse might have been premature.

The Metaverse Completely Overshadowed by AI

This year’s participation, our third, was notably special. When we booked the festival last summer, we couldn’t predict standing on the verge of a new technological revolution half a year later. A significant portion of the conference agenda was dedicated to artificial intelligence (AI), a term that seemed omnipresent.
Generative AI, design for the AI era, AI ethics, AI in journalism, AI and the metaverse, AI in creativity, arts, pharmaceuticals, HR, healthcare—you name it.
Furthermore, the concept of augmented creativity—creativity enhanced by AI—captured my imaginative heart. Currently, AI tools’ biggest value likely lies in acting as a co-creator in the creative process. They provide excellent support in some areas, overall accelerating creation without lacking originality.
As acclaimed futurist Amy Webb beautifully summed it up:

“Assisted computing is like being born rich.”
You just have an unfair advantage over everyone who doesn’t utilize AI tools.

AI as a Living Internet that Understands You

Among the festival’s highlight presentations was an interview with Greg Brockman, a co-founder of OpenAI, known for the ChatGPT and DALL-E models. Brockman shared that developing ChatGPT felt like creating a new, living internet that understands and assists you. He discussed OpenAI’s journey from an independent, non-profit venture co-founded by Elon Musk to its transformation into a commercial entity with recent investment from Microsoft. Brockman emphasized the paramount importance of security and ethical responsibility within OpenAI, sharing an amusing incident involving the ChatGPT model integrated with Bing, revealing deep secrets in a New York Times test. According to Brockman, these were “typical teething issues,” unlikely to recur in future iterations.
Interestingly, shortly after the interview, OpenAI released ChatGPT version 4.0. Kevin Roose, of the New York Times, tested it, only to find that it had matured past previously eccentric behavior.
This amusing yet chilling revelation by Roose coincides with a trend many SXSW speakers observed: the rise of virtual companions. The significant value of having someone who understands you and listens without judgment is evident in emerging projects like Woebot, aimed at improving mental well-being. This may also lead to fewer instances of inappropriate messages in customer service chats.

Les Binet on Brand Building from Startups to Scaleups

Les Binet, a leading marketing figure, presented his findings on digital branding’s effectiveness, conducted in partnership with META. Binet has dedicated his career to combating “short-termism”—marketing strategies focused solely on immediate results without leveraging brand-building tools. This approach is the antithesis of the strategy adopted by most young internet brands. Surprisingly, Binet’s research showcased how brand building serves as an effective antidote to the typical growth plateau experienced by companies post-initial hype.
Moreover, Binet highlighted how current attribution models overly favor short-term ROI, failing to recognize the longer-term value of brand building. This serves as a reminder of the challenges in accurately measuring marketing’s impact and the need for marketers to look beyond numbers and be open to innovation.

Ironman’s New Battle: Cybersecurity

Nobody expected Robert Downey Jr.’s involvement in a discussion on cybersecurity. Yet, his presence was profoundly impactful, detailing his investment in AURA, a company offering AI-based cybersecurity solutions. Downey’s lively participation highlighted a critical issue—the average American household connects to 25 devices, leading to a considerable amount in cybercrime losses. This underscores a global crisis that deserves more attention.
SXSW 2023 was as enlightening as it was captivating. Countless topics and presenters could extend the conversation endlessly, aided by a few AI tools. Austin’s vibrant and stimulating atmosphere only amplifies this festival’s appeal, making it a must-attend for anyone in the creative or tech fields.
Parting, I leave you with a treasure trove of future-focused materials by Amy Webb, a celebrated futurist of SXSW fame. Webb’s comprehensive insights, now branching out to a new SXSW venue in Sydney, are available via the provided link, offering a deep dive into the foresight for various industries. It’s whimsically called a Digital Swag Bag.

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