Give. Connect. Fail. Edit. Repeat.

Michele FeriaThere were many omnipresent themes at this year’s SxSW Interactive. With Julian Assange and Edward Snowden giving virtual keynotes, online privacy was the most palpable SxSWi 2014 theme.  Some of the other topics and emerging trends included: wearable tech, brand experience, big data, mobile first, health monitoring, predictive marketing, the way we work, and augmented reality.

This was my first time attending SxSWi and the thing I learned quickly was that each person has control over their experience. As a marketer eager to hear from my peers and industry partners, I wanted to immerse myself in this overwhelming, crowded, tiring and frustrating, but mostly wonderful and invigorating, experience. For five days I was surrounded by passionate and smart entrepreneurs, marketers, programmers, innovators and brands. It was amazing! I left the conference each day excited about what I would experience the next.

It was quite a challenge for me to narrow down my experience and takeaways from SxSW into one short blog. The following is a summary of two sessions that I found to be the most memorable and valuable.

My first session at SxSW was Gary Vaynerchuk’s keynote session, “How to Rock SxSW.”   This was the perfect way to kick off my SxSWi. As a Jersey girl, I had witnessed Gary’s evolution from wine seller to owning his own media company, and was familiar with his authentic and blunt-yet-passionate, East Coast speaking style. Gary is great at giving his audiences valuable and memorable tips. The top two for me:


“You all are #$@&%*! takers!” For the past few years at SxSW, Gary states, it’s been, “Hey, let me give you my business card,” “Download my App,” “Invest in my Startup.” As an antidote, he challenged us to start thinking about what we can give to SxSW, not just what we can get. Once you start giving to others (or teaching), you will be surprised at how much value you receive in return.


“Say hello to five strangers.” SxSW isn’t just about the sessions but it’s about connecting. As Gary put it, stop trying to meet who you think are the right people for you to meet and just start connecting with people – even if it’s the girl standing in front of you on the taco truck line. As Gary put it, “When you stop strategizing about people’s clout and start acting like a human being, you will win.” Putting that advice into action I ended up meeting and connecting with a film editor who, as it turned out, works with my creative agency and one of our top clients.

The last (and other standout) session for me was, “Getting to Why: Great Brands Create Great Experiences,” by Yahoo! CMO, Kathy Savitt.  I was lucky to get a seat at this popular session given that there was a line out the door 20 mins before her session began! Using examples from Yahoo! and other large brands, she shared her “Road Rules,” which aim to help guide brands in creating great experiences. The “rules” that resonated most with me:

Fail forward. 

“I think failure is one of the most noble things that an innovator can do…It’s such an important way of finding out what works,” Kathy stated. “Failing strips away the inessential.”  She went on to mention how as a culture we have become so afraid of failing that we end up stifling ourselves. Big companies are probably the most guilty of this – “in an effort to make the perfect decision on the most ridiculous of things” big companies become stuck. If you are going to fail – and you will, we all will – fail fast, and learn from it.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

“Great brands are just as much about what they don’t choose to do, as what they choose to do.” Kathy mentioned how time is such a precious commodity and that brands need to edit themselves and be more discriminating.  Don’t lose the ability to edit yourself.  Avoid doing things just to do them.

Serve millions, cater to one.

“The trick for all of us is to figure out how to tell individual stories – how do you allow users or customers to become part of the conversation and have a personalized experience?”  She went on to illustrate how Yahoo! is focusing on personalization technology. This technology allows for the product to become smarter the more it is used – essentially, allowing the user to become a part of the conversation.

If you’d like to read more about my experiences at SxSWi 2014, have a question, or have a comment or additional insights, please share and post it below. I would also love to hear about your experience at SxSW.  What resonated with you?  What were some of the key themes you noticed or that caught your attention?

Michele Feria is the North America Demand Programs Manager at IBM specializing in Account Focused Marketing. Targeting specific roles and accounts she develops and manages unique client experiences. A proud Jersey girl, now living in Austin, Michele spends her time enjoying a good red wine, traveling the world and searching for the best pizza and Cuban food in Austin. You can follow her on Twitter @MFeria.

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