The SXSW 2018 Interactive Festival was a whirlwind of a week, with brands, agencies and other companies flocking to Austin, TX to share the latest advancements in innovation and technology. With the week’s activities, activations, panels and sessions officially wrapped up, it’s important to look back and reveal the biggest trends of this year’s conference. We’ll review the three big themes from SXSW 2018 that we think will continue to shape the future of digital marketing.

 #1. Anything that can be automated, will be automated

At the workshop RTA 101: How to Sound like a Programmatic Pro, Cathy Novelli, Global Head of Corporate Mktg at Quantcast argued that AI has the potential to radically impact every customer experience, every company and every industry. While this is a bold claim, in all honesty, she’s probably right. When new technologies are introduced, we tend to overestimate their effect in the short run and underestimate their effect in the long run. However, this may not be the case when it comes to AI, considering it was all the hype at this year’s SXSW Interactive Conference.

While AI won’t completely replace humans, at least any time soon, the technologies in the adtech space are becoming advanced enough that certain aspects of marketer’s jobs are being replaced. After attending panel after panel, this seemed to be a large fear among most panelists. However, in reality, this isn’t something we should fear. Rather, it’s something we can and should embrace.

Take programmatic advertising as primary example of this. When looking at it, automation and machine learning makes the entire model possible. Automation makes getting an ad to the right person at the right time and the right place a reality.

AI and machine learning enable platforms to have the ability to do the heavy lifting of data computing and crunching. This technology gives marketers more time to focus on mining insights and creating data-driven digital marketing strategies rather than wasting hours crunching numbers and manually optimizing campaigns. AI isn’t replacing marketing and advertising professionals; it’s streamlining the industry.

#2 Authenticity is the number 1 driving force for holding onto customers

When looking at connecting with customers on social platforms and through content, Emily Wood, Editor-in-Chief at Google’s The Keyword noted during the panel “Driving Audience: If you Build It, They Will Not Come,” that the most important things your brand can bring to a piece of content is human connection.

Many brands make the mistake of thinking that in order to drive this connection, they need to insert themselves into all of the latest trending topics, when in reality, this most often leads to a lack of authenticity. “It’s like going into a therapist’s office and lying to them,” Rick Webb, COO of Timehop noted during the same panel.

Brands shouldn’t try too hard to stay relevant. Inserting your brand into the right conversation is far more beneficial than joining all of the conversations. Not all brands are sexy, and brand storytelling isn’t always glamorous, and that’s OK! Brands must tap into their authenticity to drive the right content to the right audience at the right time.

Instead of capitalizing on trending topics, brands should instead search internally to find their interesting and revolutionary selling points and tap into those or even develop unique and relevant takes on trending topics to add unique spin to the story. When a brand doubles down on what’s core to their business rather than trying to insert themselves into unrelated trending topics, it creates a more real and authentic experience for the customer and builds authority in the correct space.

#3 Data is king

It’s no surprise that data is becoming more and more essential to the creation and execution of successful digital marketing strategies. While many SXSW panelists touched on the rise of big data, it was the general consensus that the majority of brands have more data than they know what do do with and don’t know how to best use their data.

This creates a huge opportunity for digital marketers to step in. While big brands may not have the time or resources to examine these data sets to better understand what their customers want, when they want it and why, this is something that agencies specialize in. Brands must start leaning on their agency partners to utilize their data to inform digital marketing strategies from the inside out.

While only time will tell if AI takes over the world or if companies will ever be able to understand how to use data to better connect with customers, we foresee that marketers will be at the forefront of the technological revolution that we’re currently in. Until next year, SXSW!