Separating what’s cool from what’s useful in emerging tech and digital media

Walking around the South by Southwest (SxSW) conference and festival  is like stepping into the future – a very busy and energetic future. Set among a landscape of free food, giveaways and parties, everywhere you look is a hive of activity, whether it’s an ambitious start-up fighting for the attention of venture capitalists or big established software companies  jostling for this year’s most innovative platform.

Given it’s probably the only place on Earth where you will see someone wearing Google Glass while taking cash out of a Bitcoin ATM, the event is a unique preview of the future, presenting the technologies the mainstream will be exploiting, employing, owning and wearing in the years to come.

Of the wealth of ideas to come from the event, each year there are some clear highlights which in all likelihood will become the framework of the digital reality of our future.

From the 2014 conference these are my five key takeaways and highlights:

Wearables and their privacy issues

Clearly this year’s biggest and most exciting topic. Wearable technology attracted a lot of attention at SxSW in the past couple of years.

Interestingly, in 2014, while many people continue to focus on the capabilities of new devices, many more were focused on the privacy issues that may come to define these devices. The reality is that a lot of experimentation is being done and nothing is scalable yet. Google Glass for instance is still two to three years from hitting the mainstream.


UX and QA mature as practice areas

Did you know about 56% of time or budget wastage in digital projects originates in the requirement or briefing phase? With so much more of a marketing department’s budget being shifted to digital, the SxSW team responded by opening up discussions about user experience (UX) and quality assurance (QA) on the main stage. This deserves a topic of its own, but the mindset for your next digital project is to ‘Shift Left’ whenever possible and to be guided by simplicity, mobile-first design and QA across all phases of digital project.


Smart data: size doesn’t matter

If big data was on centre stage last year, in 2014 data analysis and actionable Insights (smart data) has taken its place. Subsets of ‘data’ were discussed including interpreting users intention (intention to purchase, intention of churn), emotion rather than sentiment and personality characteristics and traits.

I was impressed with the level of innovation in this field. From IBM being able to discern 57 personality traits for a person based on their last 200 tweets, Semantria and its ability to predict intention from a social footprint and data-mining and profiling web users based on their Facebook Graph.

When it comes to reporting what all this data means and converting it into actionable insights, the art of storytelling should be your first port of call. Go to and watch one of the videos from the statistical ‘Zen Master’ Hans Rosling and you will understand what I mean!


Content and social media

Content generation and governance is a global challenge for marketers. Most enterprises have a challenge integrating marketing efforts across the organisation and it’s becoming harder and harder to build scale in content production and governance.

A logical solution is to apply proper technology to control and nurture the process with business delegations across departments. As the content discipline evolves we should see more of trends like, local targeting, workforce and consumer involvement in content creation, real time and events triggers.



Beacons are a low-cost piece of hardware – small enough to attach to a wall or table – low-energy Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or prompts directly to a smartphone or tablet. They are believed to be the next gadget to transform home automation systems and how retailers, event venues, enterprises, and educational institutions communicate with people indoors. The case of MLB Stadiums in the United States became the case in point for usage of this technology.


As marketers, it is fundamental for us to recognise the difference between what is cool and useful and to distinguish between strategy and execution as many of these new technologies offer awesome opportunities for creative execution, but may lack in business relevance.

I often get asked about the benefits of new apps, social and mobile technologies. While many of the latest fads – like Snapchat – may well provide some good tactical marketing opportunities for certain brands, asking if they collaborate to the bottom line or improve processes is key. If we look to the past rather than the future for a moment we can see that not all emerging digital tools and technologies will turn out to be the next big thing.


Lucio Ribeiro is strategist at Online Circle Digital, helping business to navigate between cool and useful in digital.

Lucio Ribeiro
BY Lucio Ribeiro ON 10 April 2014
Lucio Ribeiro is lead strategist at Online Circle Digital in Australia. Tweet him @lucio_ribeiro.