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Pre-SXSW: Three Trends and Tracks That May Impact Your Marketing Plans in 2016

As I prepare for my second pilgrimage to Austin, to immerse myself in all that is emerging and mind-blowing in our industry, I thought I’d curate some of the information the organizers are now sending to registered attendees. There are three very important customer engagement trends, or “tracks” as SXSW calls them, that every marketer will want to evaluate.

The evolution of wearable technologies
An emerging trend last year will become even bigger this year, as more products enter the market. In 2015, Samsung and others showcased smart watches, VR headsets, fitness trackers, sensor clothing and so on. The Apple Watch launched post-event (their rumored SXSW pop up shop never did appear) and many, many other companies released products in a move towards a future where “quantifiable self” becomes a “thing”.

This year the big evolution seems to be a convergence between fashion, technology, art and other cultural influences. Within the SXStyle Convergence Track sessions and events, I’m hoping thought leaders answer a pertinent question for marketers everywhere, “What branded experiences are possible with emerging wearable technologies and what useful data can I collect to enhance my relationships with customers who have them?” Creatively, considering these devices as inputs and outputs for campaigns ushers in a brave new world.

And if you consider, as you should, that wearable technologies form part of the connected devices ecosystem that is the Internet of Things, then you’re already prepared for the next trend …

The potential of the Internet of Things
Ever-higher speed connections are creating opportunities for devices to converse with each other through the Internet. IoT means smart cities; connected cars; sensor and wearable technologies; connected homes and appliances; and so much more; speak to each other and can make decisions on our behalf. The on-going conversations about Artificial Intelligence, even in something as user-friendly as Google Now, also fuels conversation on IoT.

“The Internet of Things is nothing short of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” – Jamshed Dubash, “Marketing and The Internet of Things: Are you Ready?”

The big data created can, theoretically, be used to create enriched experiences between brands and customers. Figuring out how to wield the data to do this, though, is very difficult … honestly, marketers seem to have given up trying to get their heads around “big data” as a topic and have moved on to IoT––hoping this will help make the real world applications of information more obvious and easier to get their heads around.

Brands taking advantage of third, fourth and fifth screens in fridges, cars and watches … building in unrivaled relevance and usefulness, will win the engagement game in the near future. I hope the sessions focussing on IoT help us all get our heads in the game. Speaking of games …

The explosion of VR and AR
360 content is everywhere, already. You can see it in your social feeds; on YouTube channels; through cardboard viewfinders and soon on gaming consoles. Global brands like Samsung are building technologies like the Gear VR headset and Gear 360 camera; Microsoft is waiting for the right time to launch their Augmented Reality headset, the Hololens; Facebook-owned Oculus Rift made VR accessible to everyone and days ago (at Samsung’s Unpacked event in Barcelona) Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed the growth in popularity will be exponential … his presence reinforced original statements made when they spent $2 billion when buying Oculus.

“This is really a new communication platform … We believe this kind of immersive reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.”

So if you’re a brand built around an experience not easily replicated on a website, or in a showroom or through a telephone agent, VR content can create immersive experiences that genuinely offer a window into a world that your customers could live in. Harte Hanks’ David Chandler offers insight into how brands can harness VR effectively in this blog post.

Of course this doesn’t even consider the notion that the pure entertainment value of great advertising could be enriched with VR. Will someone be brave enough to create a VR Super Bowl LI commercial next year? I hope so.

So. There you have it. Just three trend tracks I’ll be engaging with in Texas. There’ll be more to follow from me, post-event. And a whole lot to keep your eye on over the next few years!

Are you planning on attending SXSW this year? Tweet us at @HarteHanks and let us know which tracks you think will draw the biggest crowds this year.

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