SXSW is the world’s premier conference for trends and innovations in marketing, technology and future topics. Each year, visionaries and decision-makers meet in Austin, Texas, to immerse themselves in a dynamic fusion of industry insights, forward-thinking perspectives from leading companies, and cutting-edge trends. Attendees can anticipate a vibrant array of offerings, including hundreds of lectures, conferences, panel discussions, and trade exhibitions.

From George P. Johnson Germany, our colleague Heidrun Scholten, Senior Director Strategy & Marketing, has been onsite. See her personal insights and ‘best of talks’ of those five days she stayed in Austin. Thanks to the SXSW organizers, for making those sessions available for a wider audience to also appreciate and learn!

> All the highlights have been added with a link to a related Panel Session or Talk about the specific topic

#1 AI – Here and Now
In the talk with Peter Deng, VP of Consumer at OpenAI, one thing became clear: to avoid being left in the wake of progress, we need to change our mindset toward AI. Instead of seeing it as a threat, we should consider it an ally and ask important questions. How can AI bring about new and engaging brand experiences? What innovative business models could emerge? See Peter Deng’s talk about the future of AI

„We are all part of a big transition!“ says Amy Webb, futurist and annual star speaker at SXSW. Unlike past revolutions like the industrial or internet age, which had one defining breakthrough, now we’re seeing three powerful forces merging: the connected ecosystem of things, biotechnology, and artificial intelligence. This combination is leading us into what she calls a „Technology Super Cycle.“  See Amy Webb’s fascinating analysis of the technology super cycle

#2 – Spatial Computing
Spatial computing, which involves working with 3D data to create immersive experiences, offers storytellers a powerful toolkit. With tools like Meta’s Quest and Apple’s Vision Pro VR devices, storytellers can now craft narratives that deeply engage audiences in new and exciting ways. Ola Björling’s insights highlight that spatial computing isn’t just about tech, it’s about crafting experiences that seamlessly blend with and adapt to our physical surroundings. Listen to Ola’s insights

#3 – The Future is Female
On the first day of SXSW on International Women’s Day almost all the speakers on the main stages were women. Even though SXSW already concentrated on female empowerment the past few years, it even has become more important this year. The festival and participating companies did a great job of bringing female focused topics to light in addition to inviting inspiring women to share their stories and expertise. See the Keynote Session ‚Breaking Barriers, Shaping Narratives: How Women Lead On and Off the Screen‘

# 4 –  Immersive Experiences and Activations in Brand Houses 
At SXSW, you’ll find „Brand Houses“ sponsored by different companies, adding energy to the festival scene. Take, for instance, Porsche’s compelling “Porsche Full Service” presence at Brazos Hall this year. Ayesha Coker, Porsche’s VP of Marketing, has been in a panel where she discussed the execution and impact measurement of live event activations. She talked about how Porsche ensures their experiential endeavors deliver tangible results, elevating brand influence in the process. Listen to the Panel: the Power of Brand Activations

# 5 – Focus on Well-Being
Many sessions at SXSW focused on „Well-being,“ covering mental health, trauma, depression, and new treatments across over 85 events. The SXSW Wellness Expo also gathered people interested in healthy living and companies in the growing wellness industry. Check out the panel discussion titled „Mindfulness Over Perfection: Getting Real On Mental Health“ to hear experts discuss the importance of flexibility in mental healthcare, overcoming negative self-talk, and embracing vulnerability.

The ‘fascination’ of SXSW
But where does this ‘fascination’ SXSW come from? Why does it have such a huge community all over the world? What makes this event different from other events?

The special atmosphere also comes from the location in Austin as well as from the fact that SXSW has grown slowly – without any advertising, but only through its community. And the idea of community is extremely important at SXSW. There are few events with such a large ‚fan base‘. 

As SXSW contains the three festivals Tech, Film and Music there is a different mix of audience that complement each other very well and fosters the exchange of different ideas.

The choice of consuming content is huge. Starting with the really big formats and names through to workshops, meet-ups, side events, coaching sessions, brand houses, privately organized meetings and networking events. 

Also the concept of Brand Houses have its origin at SXSW and you can now increasingly find them at other events as well. It is a takeover of companies from a complete or part of a house with sometimes very professional and sometimes more handmade branding. It is a great opportunity to present yourself to a professional audience. Awareness at its best!

Everywhere you turned, there was a huge sense of optimism. Just a year ago, ChatGPT was still a novelty, and we were just beginning to understand what it could do. But this year, it was crystal clear: AI is progressing rapidly and expanding into countless areas. According to Amy Webb, AI is set to be as revolutionary as electricity, the steam engine, and the internet. That means we have to adapt to change! It’s a wake-up call for us to embrace experimentation, stay curious, and be willing to take bold risks.