SXSW Proves Consumers are in the Driver’s Seat: Our Commerce Takeaways

VMLY&R COMMERCE believes life intersects with commerce everywhere. Global events like SXSW 2021 can be powerful indicators of how those intersections evolve. Consumers are now able to define their own relationships with the shopping experience: SXSW 2021 showed us that brands who treat shoppers as partners are growing almost 70% faster than those treating them as traditional marketing targets.

Consumers now expect an always-on, omnichannel, no-dead-ends commerce experience. Winning brands should take the opportunity to see the future through four distinct, powerful and complementary commercial lenses: Consumer, Content, Company and Capitalism. Read on to learn more!

Lens #1: Consumer

Brands are now partners - not drivers - on the path to purchase

Legacy “shopping” rules have been disrupted by digital transformation with point-of-purchase now everywhere. SXSW 2021 proved that companies must assist consumers’ new path by committing to partnership. That means messaging, footprint, products, etc. no longer “belong” to the brand alone – they are part of a collaborative toolkit facilitating consumer action. SXSW offered a rich array of partnership examples, opportunities and prediction.

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I want to experience:

Consumers now expect to preview in-person shopping experiences before physical retail visits. Companies like FourSquare are helping brands by curating and delivering real-time data on crowd sizes, queues, product availability, and more. Anticipation generates insight.

I want it wherever, whenever:

Physical and digital experience further entwine. IBM and Unity Technologies believe that mobile AR for trial and digital object recognition will soon be table-stakes for almost all categories. Technology and experience design co-evolve to meet the demand for an omnichannel remote sampling experience. The need for greater creativity intensifies.

Photo via Shutterstock
Photo via Shutterstock

I want to shop while I game:

Mega gaming platforms like Fortnite and Blizzard represent fully digital social communities where consumers increasingly expect to make in-game/in-experience purchases. Whether to improve in-game experience or shop for products, IRL is now an everyday brand challenge.

I want to be a participant with control:

People now expect brand experiences to be multi-sensory, interactive, and more bespoke than ever before. They must also offer competitive entertainment value. SXSW’s demo of Amazon Live - a shopping experience that features participatory live streams, influencer engagement, peer purchasing data, and real-time panel discussion for products - highlights this.

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Lens #2: Content

Shoppable media as a canvas for loyalty and conversion

The accelerated growth in shoppable content formats is enabling brands to hold consumers within their messaging ecosystem. ASU Professor Cheryl Heller notes that brands today have explicit permission from society to provide innovative, legacy-making content. Consumers need ingeniously supportive content to navigate this weirdly wonderful, 24/7 shoppable world they are helping to shape. CMO David Sandstrom calls this “the new answer to QVC.” Content innovation will make brand engagements more active and turn “funnel nudging” into QVC 3.0.

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Active Immersion:

Wave XR and Strangeloop are bringing what’s next with stronger MR content that allows consumers to blend the real world with the virtual without complex hardware. Imagine shopping for Chanel on a Barbados beach with Beyonce while sipping cocktails from your living room.

Active Discovery:

Spott AI can turn any video into a shoppable tutorial and Amazon Live Creative lets you easily set up your own shoppable live stream. Soon people will be able to re-watch Guy Fieri and buy everything from what he wears, experiences and eats.

Photo via Shutterstock
Photo via Shutterstock

Active Socialization:

Social media platforms are evolving the definition of content at the speed of now, with participatory entertainment injected with commerce opportunity. Take Dance Fight, the world’s first competitive dance platform that hosts and judges dance-offs and even rap battles with direct link to purchase – a great way to activate engagement with the TikTok generation by merging commerce with social media.

Lens #3: Company

Brands are no longer preaching purpose, they are living it

SXSW 2021 featured success stories of companies driving purchase and loyalty by purposefully putting brand values into action. Whether it was in national advertising or hyperlocal moments propelled to national scale by consumers – Covid has ushered in a new era of human-centric branding for companies.

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Turning purpose into action:

The creation, communication and experience of a brand’s purpose is as important as the purpose itself. SXSW panels saw discussion on how to use creativity to drive real impact, turning the passive, such as observation and intention, into action. The creators behind P&G’s “The Choice” explored the powerful message of the ad, and how it directly applied to their company culture and forced stakeholders to review their own relationship with race and privilege to get it made.

Turning purpose into product:

Author and former Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly observed that pursuit of purpose expands a company's addressable market. Best Buy in home tech drove them into the senior healthcare space, delivering age-friendly tech setups for safer home life.

Photo via Shutterstock
Photo via Shutterstock

Turning purpose into culture:

Consumers are demanding that brands live their values internally, and companies are working hard to change to meet these expectations. The Foundry Group’s Brad Feld and Opportunity Hub’s Rodney Sampson argued that inclusivity is not “inclusive” created in a vacuum with the expectation that people will come along for the ride. Companies must live their purpose inside and out, stretching from top down, bottom up and everything in between.

Lens #4: Capitalism

Sustainable brands as a force for good

Consumer demand is reaching critical mass, with “social capitalism” replacing the idea of corporate social responsibility. Company’s can no longer do good in their spare time as they accumulate financial wealth. Social and/or stakeholder improvement must be central to both mission and action. Consumers have vetoed the role of being a revenue source and are looking for partners in a larger effort to improve the world, putting people and planet equally alongside profit.

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Standing up for change:

In the session “The Refoundation of Capitalism”, author and professor Hubert Joly articulated that the pandemic forced businesses to re-evaluate their role in driving change across social justice, environment, and industrial reform. Third-party partners like continue to be powerful tools for brands to use, but more and more companies are creating owned channels for social action. P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard, for one, dived deep into P&G efforts to battle racial injustice and spoke to the power of offering up resources to learn, engage, and donate directly via the P&G website.

Standing up in times of crisis:

Stepping up and innovating across commercial operations to drive meaningful change is not just good for business, it’s good for society. This year we saw Ford Motors create PPE masks, distilleries manufacture hand sanitizer, and 3-D printers take a step to end homelessness.

Photo via SXSW
Photo via Shutterstock

Standing up for economies:

Commerce is a force of progress providing health, wealth and development. It also bears great weight and responsibility in terms of eradication of destructive consumption habits and business practices. Ranked as the happiest country in the world, Finland shared sustainable solutions it is activating in an effort to create more resilient, sustainable and equitable economies of scale.


Jessica Russell

Account Executive

Ezra Kuz-Dworzak

Account Supervisor

Ben Rackl

Account Director

Pam Morrisroe

EVP, Managing Director

Andrew Zipparo

Strategy Director

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