SXSW Interactive: How to Prepare for the Retail Revolution

Content26 dipped a toe into the frenzied whirlpool of the 2015 SXSW Interactive Festival. As the SXSW Music and Film Festivals come to a close, we’re still mulling over the many ideas and predictions we heard.

We attended three days’ worth of panels about ecommerce and the ongoing retail revolution. Despite the distractions of Austin’s weather (sunny and 70 degrees), the incessant parties, and the robot petting zoo, we came away with a more nuanced understanding of the challenges facing today’s digital marketing professionals.

Because our bread and butter here at content26 is collaborating with large marketing teams from Fortune 500 companies, we understand that even the best content strategies can be undermined by “too many cooks in the kitchen.” To hear how other companies were dealing with this problem, we squeezed our way into the jam-packed panel, “Are Brands Sabotaging Their Own Content?“, which was all about internal collaboration.

The four panelists–digital marketing experts from Target, The New York Times, Federated Media, and Team Detroit–agreed that the evolving form factor of the web, along with the growing amount of different channels a marketing team must address, means that marketing professionals have to wear more hats, step out of their comfort zones, and collaborate more intensely.

Seth Coffrin, a content strategist for Target, cited how Target’s top executives are now routinely approving internal marketing messaging by viewing it on their smart devices–something they likely wouldn’t have bothered to do two or three years ago.

And with the ever-changing platforms delivering the Internet to the people, how can retailers–in particular those that don’t have as much data as the Facebooks and Amazons of the world–make sure they continue to reach their target audiences? At “Mobile Tech and the Retail Revolution“, we got one potential answer: reach those audiences through music.

Daniel Danker of Shazam and David Van Epps of Mood Media explained how retail stores such as Office Depot are delivering in-store marketing to shoppers using digital audio watermarks. (If you’ve never heard of audio watermarking, here’s a good primer.)

You may not have heard of Mood Media, but you’ve definitely heard their music stream. They’re currently the largest distributor of in-store music streaming services. But they’re not just streaming music; they’ve embedded an inaudible digital signal in their music stream. This is where Shazam, the popular music discovery app, comes in. When a shopper in an Office Depot uses Shazam to identify the music that’s playing through the in-store speakers, Mood’s digital signal pinpoints that shopper’s location and delivers them real-time retail offers for that store. This reaches more shoppers than you might guess: an estimated 500 million users currently have the Shazam app on their phone.

Our last panel, the spookily titled “Ghost Economy,” brought the discussion full circle by reminding us that even the best marketing strategies are nullified when product inventory and shipping strategies aren’t nimble enough to deliver the goods immediately. Kevin Sterneckert, CMO of Orderdynamics, cited the statistic that today’s retailers lose a combined 800 billion in profits because they can’t deliver products fast enough.

To no one’s surprise, Amazon was cited as an industry leader because of its data mining combined with predictive shipping–the ecommerce giant has already learned enough about our shopping habits to stock items in their warehouse before we even know we want them.

The takeaway: inventory, marketing, omnichannel experiences, and data mining are too interdependent to be relegated to silos.

Even though we only scratched the surface of SXSW, it was difficult not to feel overwhelmed. True, the conference reinforced our core belief in the increasing need for consistent messaging customized to multiple channels. It even suggested that we are on the right path with containerless content. Suffice to say, we came away with boosted empathy for our clients: the manufacturers and brands trying to keep pace with the retail revolution. Hope to see some of you at SXSW in 2016!