SXSW 2023 – The trends that matter

Social commerce. Web3. Metaverse. Generative Al. Ketchup Moment. And the lines are back.

SXSW is back and, compared to the previous years, it’s busy. We are back at 70-80% of the attendance before the pandemic. And plenty of the key SXSW trends were there for them.

The only difference this year is that companies such as Samsung, Sony, Dell and many more have invested way less. Therefore, the conference was really only about the talks and sessions this time, unfortunately. I found myself missing the tech innovation display that is normally found happening outside the main conference building in the city.

Nevertheless, it was still worth going as the line-up of speakers has again been great. It was a mix of technology gurus, creative thinkers and niche experts, alongside celebrities, all focusing on the critical societal issues of the future.

The major topic was Generative AI, not just as a trend, but taking the overall view that it will have a fundamental impact on our economy and society. And it comes with a ketchup effect, according to John Maeda, and he is right. AI has been around for a while, and we kept shaking the bottle, as we do with ketchup, for ages, hoping something comes out. Now it’s dropped out all over the place. We, as humans, have to work out fast how we tackle this from an ethical, legal and societal perspective.

It is hard to summarise such a variety of topics. And so, this year, I’ll contain myself to just mentioning my highlights.

Trend 1: the internet as we know it is done

Every year, “Quantitive Futurist” Amy Webb is the reason that people queue in line for hours. They’re desperate to listen to the newest Emerging Tech Trends Report.

And she made one thing very clear: The Internet as we know is gone – we just don’t see it yet.

She also made it pretty clear that AI will become part of our digital daily life, and it will happen fast. The biggest issue is that we are not prepared for it yet.

The impact of artificial intelligence, especially generative applications, is predicted to transform most industries and occupations. That includes knowledge workers like lawyers. While it offers advantages — such as the elimination of tedious tasks like summaries — its disruptive effects will be significant.

Trend 2: web3 as a customer experience tool

And then the “unstoppable” Sandy Carter highlighted the central focus of web3 in improving customer experiences and how companies have to prepare for it organisationally. This new generation of digital interaction is closely linked to key marketing ideas that prioritise customers, such as the idea that control of digital identities and consumer data is a basic human right.

Customers are the driving force behind the revolution, and brands must provide value in exchange for customer engagement. For me metaverse / web3 is not just another Second Life; it will be a part of our first lives.

Trend 3: emotional robots

Then there was Disney actually bringing a robot to life, which triggers an “instant emotional connection”. For me, it was the first time that a robot didn’t behave like a robot. Rather, it behaved like a child. This is made possible by “using high-performance materials, and taking advantage of mechanical scaling effects — so she’s dynamic and tough” and “motion capture data because we (Disney) want to make performances that have emotion embedded in them”.

Have a look at the video… it is amazing:

Trend 4: Making profits for good

Most inspirational was Patagonia Inc CEO Ryan Gellert, who shared his insights and experiences after founder Yvon Chouinard gave the $3 billion company away to two nonprofits. He also committed $100 million of its annual profits towards fighting climate change, back in September 2022.

Now it is Gellert who has taken over the transition mission of the company to its new ownership. During the SXSW keynote, moderated by journalist Katie Couric, he elaborated on the move to a new non-profit ownership and the company’s future, which includes a push into the food industry. Patagonia recently acquired its first company in more than two decades. It’s called Moonshot, a startup that makes crackers and snacks with a low-carbon footprint.

It is always great to see how this company is a role model for changing the business mindset of a company towards sustainability, with shareholder value no longer being the top priority. Yet, Patagonia remains “an unapologetically for-profit business”.

Echoes of NEXT

Last but not least, our own Nick Law, Creative Chairman Accenture Song, once again delivered his speech about how only deep simplicity can fix the complexity crisis. But as most of you attended NEXT conference last year, you know this already. 😀

Christian Barth is Managing Director ASG at Accenture Song

Photo by SXSW