A Brand-Builder’s Guide to SXSW

Dangit! I can’t make it to SXSW this year and I’m mad as hell. Well, maybe not that mad – but looking at the schedule of sessions and knowing all the cool people who will be there, I’m pretty disappointed about having to miss it.

If you’re going and you’re looking for brand-building insights and inspiration, the following are the top 10 sessions I recommend you don’t miss.* If you attend one of these sessions and would like to contribute a recap, I’ll feature it on my blog – just let me know (contact me at mail [at] deniseleeyohn [dot] com.)

And if you’re not going, you can still tap into the learnings by following SXSW on Twitter (@sxsw), searching on the #sxswinteractive hashtag, or following the individual hashtag listed for each session.SXSW-2014-Logo

1.  OMMA: Should Brands Be Part of the Real-Time Convo?

Friday March 7 11:00-12:00

Companies now have the extraordinary ability to engage with customers directly and in real-time, but few have figured out how to do it well. This session features social media execs from Dell, Whole Foods Market, Capital One, and McDonald’s Corporation. It should provide some interesting fodder on the what, why, and how of customer engagement. #brandtrend

2.  The New Digital Age

Friday, March 7 12:30PM – 1:30PM

I wouldn’t miss this chance to hear about new developments and trends in digital from Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, and Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas#NewDigAge

3.  Workplace Redesign: The Big Shift from Efficiency

Friday, March 7 12:30PM – 1:30PM

I have learned so much by reading works by John Hagel, including the best-selling business book The Only Sustainable Edge which he co-authored with John Seely Brown. He’s informed my thinking about how organizations work and thrive. In this session he will discuss a innovative approach to organizational capability and design, a talent development ecosystem – fascinating! #WPRedesign

4.  Decoding the Cult Brand Genome

Friday, March 7 5:45PM – 6:00PM

Having just keynoted and spent a remarkable day at The Gathering, a conference about and celebration of cult-like brands hosted by the Cult Collective, I highly recommend this session by Cult’s CEO Chris Kneeland. He will share insights about how brands such as GoPro, Urban Outfitters, and Red Bull have inspired followings of fans and created cultural movements.  You’ll find a lot of similarities between Chris’s ideas and the principles in my book, What Great Brands Do#cultideas

5.  Yes, and… A Human-Centered Design Workshop

Saturday, March 8 9:30AM – 1:30PM

A workshop on design thinking by the folks at IDEO and the Stanford d.school!!! Do I need to explain why this would be so instructive and informative?! #learnhcd

6.  Growth & Identity: A Dialogue with Burning Man

Saturday, March 8 3:30PM – 6:00PM

This session is intended to discuss how to stay true to your organization’s identity and founding intentions while your participant base grows exponentially and defines your culture out in the world. It’s the classic growth dilemma and something I address in my book with the principle, Great Brands Commit and Stay Committed.  It seems like the executives at Burning Man would share the naked (pun intended) truth about how they’ve navigated the challenge. #BRCculture

7.  The Passion Conversation & Word of Mouth Marketing

Monday, March 10 12:30PM – 12:50PM

John Moore is passionate about passion and he’ll teach you how to cultivate and unleash the passion for your brand. He’s the author of the book The Passion Conversation, Chief of Wahoo for Brains on Fire, blogger and thought-leader Brand Autopsy, former WOM enthusiast for WOMMA, former marketer at Whole Foods Market and Starbucks…his credentials go on and on, but most importantly John has been a role-model and advisor to me. I always learn (and laugh) a lot whenever I hear John Moore speak. (Check out my interview with John and write up on his book.) #PassionWOM

8.  I Sing the Body Digital: The Quantified Self

Monday, March 10 5:00PM – 6:00PM

Digital health and fitness will be a big topic at SXSW (no other sector has as many sessions devoted to it). How better to learn about it than from a panel of executives from companies including Jawbone moderated by Sarah Robb O’Hagan, President of Equinox (formerly of Nike and Gatorade)?!  Everything Sarah gets involved with seems to be a hit, so I wouldn’t miss this one. #EQXdata

9.  The C in CMO Stands for Cojones

Tuesday, March 11 9:30AM – 10:30AM

Indeed, the role of a Chief Marketing Officer today involves taking risks, influencing others, and envisioning the future. John Ellett is the author of The CMO Manifesto and host of The Cojones Awards, recognizing marketers who have “disrupted the status quo and who embrace the role of the modern marketer.” So he’ll certainly have helpful insights to share about what it takes to succeed as a CMO. #cojones

10.  TOMS & the Future of the One for One Movement

Tuesday, March 11 3:30PM – 4:30PM

We’ve all heard about TOMS and how it gives a pair of shoes to an impoverished child for every pair of shoes it sells. Here’s the chance to hear TOMS founder, Blake Mycoskie, talk about why he conceived of such an approach (which perfectly exemplifies the principle in my book, Great Brands Never Have to ‘Give Back’) and introduce the next development in the One for One movement. I’m sure you’ll walk away inspired to make a difference with your brand.


Bonus: #11.  Getting to Why: Great Brands Create Great Experiences

Tuesday, March 11 12:30PM – 1:30PM

I just couldn’t get away with only 10 recommendations, could I?! This last session caught my eye not only for its subject matter but also for the speaker, Kathy Savitt, CMO, Yahoo. I think it will be fascinating to hear Yahoo’s take on brand experience because Yahoo isn’t really known for its experience. So I’m recommending this session not because I’m certain you will glean great brand-building insights – rather, I’m sure it will be enlightening on some level. #Get2Why

* My sincere apologies to friends or colleagues whose sessions I didn’t include here. Narrowing down hundreds of awesome sessions to only 10 was a daunting task. Give me a virtual slap on the wrist by letting me know about your session and let me make it up to you by posting a tweet to promote it.

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