By Ming Yee

Emerging Technologies Takeaways from SXSW 2018

By Matthew Stanton, Senior Strategist, Emerging Media and Technology

Over the past several years, technologies such as virtual reality have been introduced with much acclaim, but eventually, they evolve to become an ancillary portion of branded activations. Technology has hit an inflection point where we are no longer “wowed” to the extent we once were by innovation and are now focused on how these technologies will actually impact our daily lives for the better. The expectation for immediate gratification continues to be apparent – just walk the halls of the Austin Convention Center or monitor any of the branded or agency activations. There is an urgency amongst technology companies, brands and consumers to make these technologies “useful” today and not a dozen years from now. There are three specific technologies that aim to serve a greater utility for brands and business alike: voice, automation, and audio focused augmented reality.

Takeaway #1: Voice is the Gateway

How did voice play out at SXSW?

Voice will be a major technology component of our lives moving forward. At SXSW, the Google Assistant Fun House showcased how voice can be used in both a creative manner and as a vehicle to streamline daily tasks. Through this exhibit, voice was the gateway to the connected house. Google organized the house to be light-hearted and socially shareable. The team behind the activation included a lowrider with Google Assistant installed into the speakers. The car would come to life when commanded. This demonstrated how such a technology can be integrated into existing creations, a new product does not have to be envisioned in order to use Google’s Assistant. Additionally, Google integrated Assistant into the lawn via a connected sprinkler as well as other connected tasks throughout the space. Google’s dedication to promoting Assistant and voice is a major indicator of their priorities moving forward and their willingness to go head-to-head with Amazon’s Alexa for dominance in the voice market.

Why voice matters?

Google and Amazon have placed a strong emphasis on voice to be the consumer entrance of their Internet of Things initiatives. These two massive companies, along with Apple, are the leaders in rolling out voice activated central commands for the home. Other companies, such as Spotify, have begun testing native voice search with users over the past several weeks. Utilizing voice activated commands is a business priority for these major companies that have a dominant presence in many consumers’ lives.

What does voice mean for brands?

Consumers are becoming more normalized to integrating voice search into their daily activities. It will be essential for brands to optimize for voice search moving forward and make sure they have a strategy to hedge against the decrease in traditional text-based search engine usage.

Takeaway #2: The Acceptance of Automation

How did automation play out at SXSW?

Automation was a prominent theme throughout the floor of the Austin Convention Center. Two particular companies caught the attention of the crowds, especially international attendees. KUKA, a leading German manufacturer of industrial robotics, showcased their dancing robot, Rotanza, to the delight of the audience. Moving forward, connected intelligent robotics will be a major disruptor in manufacturing as well as entertainment amusement parks. Briggo, an automated specialty coffee experience based in Austin, captured the attention of crowds as well. Automated coffee machines currently exist in market but the unique branding of Briggo machines and the ability to see the machine craft the coffee through a transparent exterior provides a sense of cleanliness and security to the consumer. It was particularly intriguing to see audiences gravitate towards this exhibit, which leads one to think we are at the forefront of the acceptance of consumer automation.

Why does automation matter?

Populations are coming to a point where automation will be an accepted component of consumers’ daily lives, especially once we identify specific use cases in which it will optimize tasks. Companies such as Briggo and Zume Pizza, which recently raised $48M Series B, are two companies that could disrupt their particular food verticals. Branding, messaging, and cleanliness will be absolutely essential for these companies to grow.

What does automation mean for brands?

Brands should do a full analysis of how automation can potentially disrupt their particular vertical as well as identify how automation can optimize their supply chain or various business processes. It is essential for companies to anticipate and plan for the impact automation while have on their business. Positioning themselves ahead of this trend and educating audiences via succinct messaging is an excellent way to hedge for this disruption.

Takeaway #3: VR & AR… Do they check the emerging technology box?

How did VR & AR play out at SXSW?

A component of VR & AR had a presence at many branded events throughout SXSW 2018. Brands are trying to find their voices in the emerging technology space, seeing how they can tell their stories through VR as a medium. A lot of VR integrations felt forced, brands included VR to check the emerging technology box, with no actual use case for their business to tell a story around the technology. There were a lot of unused headsets at the various activations. The general consensus around VR was that no particular branded activation, aside from Ready Player One, left a lasting impression amongst the crowds. However, brands such as Sony and Bose are attempting to carve a niche in sound as it relates to VR & AR, respectively. Sony’s Acoustic Vessel ‘Odyssey’ brought spatial audio technology to audiences in a tunnel like room. A major criticism of current VR is that the sound does not emulate the experience, as technologies like Sony’s spatial audio evolves, it may enhance the VR experience for consumers, leading to more adoption.

Lastly, Bose broke into the AR space at SXSW 2018 by unveiling their augmented reality glasses. They demonstrated Bose AR through an augmented reality tour of restaurants along an Austin street that was guided via an audio experience. Bose AR takes a divergent strategy to augmented reality compared to competitors, focusing heavily on audio. Bose is heavily investing in audio AR, having announced a $50M fund dedicated to building out this business initiative in partnership with startups.

Why do VR & AR matter?

Consumers have had a mixed experience with VR since 2016. High price points and a lack of ground breaking content has deterred consumers outside of niche technology circles from adopting the medium. Global companies such as Sony are attempting to enhance the VR experience through sound, while graphics companies such as Nvidia are enabling ‘cinematic-quality’ graphics in the near future. These additions may lead to the emergence of a piece of VR content that turns the tide in favor of mass consumer adoption due to technological advancements in sound and graphics. The tide will eventually turn on VR, but until these progresses are made, it will continue to be a technology catering to niche circles.

Bose’s unique stance on AR (through sound) is not simply a test run. With their $50M fund they are fully dedicated to building a presence in this technology market. According to Hypebeast, “The company (Bose) is partnering with brands like Yelp and TripAdvisor for app development as it courts the likes of Warby Parker and Ray-Ban as potential hardware partners.” While release dates have not been formally announced, we may be seeing this technology in the hands of consumers by the end of 2018. Above all, it is interesting to see companies outside of the massive tech giants (Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook) leverage their unique skillsets towards advancing AR and consumer experiences.

What does it mean for brands?

Brands should monitor technological advancements in virtual reality and keep a careful watch on consumer adoption. When telling a branded story through VR content, the experience should not feel forced and it must authentically tell the brand’s narrative in a 1-to-1 capacity. For augmented reality, brands should begin strategizing how they can leverage AR as it relates to sound. There are several items to consider for a brand leveraging AR sound experiences, such as 1) the audio a brand wants consumers to hear when looking at a product in their retail location (i.e. Petco helping a new dog owner purchase the right food for their particular breed) 2) how a brand can educate consumers (i.e. The North Face provide AR audio experience to enhance a hiking trail). It will be very exciting to see how a brand such as Bose can carve out a niche in the AR space and carve an opening for companies outside the traditional technology giants.

About Edelman Digital

Edelman Digital is the digital advisory and integrated marketing arm of the world’s largest communications marketing firm. Our global staff, in over 65 offices worldwide, is built to manage the complexity of modern marketing and online reputation, using a data-driven social-first storytelling approach designed to deliver real-time business results. We believe in exploring future-forward technology to advance the stories we tell. The output of our work delivers experiences that transform culture, reputation and relationships to inspire real-world action between brands and consumers.