It’s only been a few weeks since we said bye-bye to SXSW, yet the insights we gleaned will stay with us for far longer. Between our four representatives, Hothouse attended more than 52 sessions, heard the word “innovate” at least 650,000 times, put on a half-dozen VR headsets, saw one very Grumpy Cat and ate our collective weight in barbeque. Oh yeah, and we learned a few things. Here are our top 5 takeaways from the city that knows how to keep it weird.

1. Proximity rules.

Beacons remain a major player in the location-based tech space, powering many large brands including Rite Aid. The brick-and-mortar retailer has installed more than 4,500 beacons, making it the largest deployment in a retail setting to date. Locations such as airports, tourist attractions and museums are also seeing an upswing in usage, given that discounts, maps, transportation tips and more can be delivered on the spot. Even your home is poised for proximity marketing. Brita has released a WiFi-enabled pitcher that automatically orders replacement filters through Amazon Dash. As long as brands continue to personalize or enhance the experience, reduce friction or reward the consumer, there may be enough utility to proximity advertising that consumers start to not only expect it, but demand it.


2. Live streaming is here to stay.

First, there was Meerkat. Then, Periscope. Now, there’s Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Amazon Twitch, StreamUp—the list goes on and on. But users and brands alike are finding new ways to put the technology into play. YouNow, a popular live stream platform with 13 – 24 year-olds, has become an online stage for independent musicians. Fans watching their broadcast can utilize a virtual “tip jar” to put money directly in the pockets of performers, who get to keep 60% of what they earn during a show.

As a result of its skew towards entertainment, America’s Got Talent used YouNow to hold live streaming auditions for its upcoming season and garnered 120k views for each hour of auditions held. Though it’s hard to promote live content in advance, those brands that master push notifications and audience targeting could find themselves ahead of the live streaming game.


3. Authenticity breeds connectivity.

Jim Bankoff, CEO of VOX, noted “marketing is most magical when it’s not visible…and to do so, it must match the form and function of the platform on which it’s being consumed.” We all know BuzzFeed as the perfectors of this model and their new ad product, Swarm, which debuted at SXSW simply solidified their position as leaders in authentic content. Swarm offers brands the option to run campaigns with a heavy emphasis on targeting and content value.

It’s not designed to be an everyday ad product, but instead will be done in short bursts for things like movie premieres, TV shows and sporting events. NBCUniversal has already heavily invested in the new platform with an alpha test for Amy Poehler and Tina Fey’s release, Sisters, which distributed native content for the film across BuzzFeed’s Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube channel and dot com.


4. Demo it.

SXSW is filled with opportunities to try, test and experience everything from new technologies to yet-to-be-released products. We strapped on VR headsets for Samsung and Six Flags’ 360-degree thrill ride. We played rock-paper-scissors with a robot. We passed on the Anti-FOMO energy pills brand ambassadors were distributing (thanks, but no thanks). Even the panelists used demonstration as a way of proving their points. Dan Chuparkoff, VP of Product for Civis Analytics, led the discussion on “Everything You Know About A/B Testing is Wrong” and revealed that he landed on the topic after running an A/B test on Google to see which SXSW title and speech content would be most popular. Talk about a real world application.

In another lively presentation, “You Know What? F*ck Dropdowns,” Golden Krishna of Zappos and Eric Campbell of Rdio created an RSVP form that broke every UX rule in the book. The first and last name dropdowns contained every moniker listed in the last U.S. Census. Clearly, sometimes the best way to help a consumer understand your topic, POV or brand is to put them in the driver’s seat.


5. Analog is making a comeback.

Amidst the digital explosion in Austin was a quieter sort of revolution—one of the handmade variety. American Greetings opened the doors of “Analog,” their house for the Interactive portion of the conference, which invited attendees to “get back to making real connections with ourselves and those who matter most.” Visitors could live-stitch a selfie, practice hand lettering and design original monoprints without ever touching a computer screen.

O&M London creatives, Ran Stallard and Max Maclean also emphasized a return to handmade as a way to break through the clutter of consumers’ very full inboxes. Average open rates for a marketing email versus a hand-addressed envelope are 16.8% and 99% respectively. Their belief is that it’s due in part to the lack of emotion found in digital and pointed to Moleskine’s campaign celebrating National Handwriting Day, which encouraged Twitter users to handwrite their tweets. One handle captured it perfectly stating, “Emails all look the same, but friends’ voices can be heard in the written word.” Chick-fil-A’s cell phone coop, MOO business cards and even the vinyl revival are just a few more examples of how disconnecting can make us feel more connected than ever.