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SxSW Saturday Takeaways: Destroy Labels, Know Yourself

Saturday at SxSW was much more interesting than Friday. I had the pleasure of attending a very wide range of panels. The topics included strategic communications, Dad bloggers, enterprise social media, the future of mobile wallets, a comedian/activist keynote, and a look inside Joss Whedon’s head. The panels were a mix of both aspirational visions and cautionary tales.

The sessions were all great learning experiences, but they present something of a challenge. How do you blend parenting lessons from Leviticus with social analytics and loyalty programs? While many of these sessions merit their own posts (and will likely get them in the future), I wanted to focus on overarching themes that I noticed.

I would say there were two key takeaways from these sessions.

  • Destroy the labels
  • Know who you are

From the Mmbile wallet to NFC Chips to Dad bloggers, people and companies are too often failing to reach their full potential because they are succumbing to easy labelization. Don’t get me wrong, there is immense power in the study of groups and flocking, but if you too quickly group someone, you may come to the wrong conclusion or miss opportunities. I saw that time and time again today.

This is particularly insidious when it comes to Mom bloggers. Mom bloggers are too often defined by who they are rather than who they write about. Very few “Dad” and “Mom” bloggers blog about parenting. They are parents who blog. A mom blogger who writes about beer or food, should not be lumped in the same category as one who writes about technology or parenting. I personally have seen too many companies make this mistake. The lists created by influencer tools may serve as a good start, but influencers are not Oreos. Each is unique and needs to be understood and communicated with in context.

The same lesson applies to the mobile wallet. First of all, there is a blurring between mobile wallet and P2P payments and this line needs to be clearly understood.  It also applies to enterprise social media when “employees” are lumped together as one audience as companies roll out solutions. Some of the best advice from IBM today was to understand what your corporate culture is like and what tools employees use to work and to communicate, and enhance those existing tools rather than make everyone conform to new tools. If you try to force people to do something they do not want to do, you will end up with an empty wiki, upset employees and wasted budget.

The second point is to know who you are. If you have a niche, carve it out. Just don’t let others put you in that niche.

Isis in the digital wallet space seems to clearly know this. They understand that in order to convince people to move away from contactless cards and Mag Stripe they need to offer more to retailers and merchants. They are betting their success on the premise that bringing loyalty cards and coupons into an integrated whole to provide consumers savings and convenience; and providing retailers a chance to impact consumer purchasing behavior before a transaction will push them over the edge. (That and retailers being penalized by the issuers if they do not adopt NFC by 2015).

I am not sure I agree with them completely, and I know not everyone in the audience did. Consumers have shown amazing willingness to stay with what works. As one panelist pointed out, 10 years ago the cover of Card Transactions was “Mobile Commerce is Ready for Takeoff” and we are still discussing its pending rise today. Additionally, consumers have shown a willingness to have multiple loyalty cards and apps, and there are other alternatives to impact pre-shopping behavior today (such as eGiftcards – technology from a client of mine – and location based deals).

The audience definitely did not all agree about the easy path of NFC. My most popular tweet of the day was “NFC being positioned as the Borg. Do not resist. You will be assimilated.”

Knowing who you are also helped many companies in the first panel I attended of the day. The reaction to Zappos’ data breach was much less negative than most breaches of its type. That was because Zappos quickly communicated in a way that was appropriate for its customers.

This post is getting long, so I want to wrap it up with the five most quotable observations of the day:


  • Before you make a critical business decision, ask yourself – what would John Stewart say about it?
  • Great ideas are not always great and not always well received.
  • Bloggers have more influence over purchasing decisions than traditional celebrity endorsers do
  • 48% of B2B CEOs say social media helped generate qualified leads
  • Voice of customer research is not for validation, it is for discovery
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Mark McClennan

Mark McClennan

Senior Vice President at MSLGROUP

For the past 20 years, Mark has led teams working with innovative technology and healthcare clients for MSLGROUP. He is also the national chair-elect for PRSA.

Mark McClennan

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