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The shadow of Twitter (and Foursquare) loom large over SXSW. These two apps found their first public breakthroughs at the festival (in 2007 and 2009 respectively), and are now on their way to world domination.

Everyone start-up wants to be known as “SouthBy’s breakout app” and the key seems to be encourage usage, rather than awareness – a tactic followed religiously by the makers of Hashable, a location-based personal networking service.

The makers of Hashable stayed home, choosing instead to send 20 ‘power users’ to Austin to “hash” as many people as they could in 5 days. They pretty much ended up networking the entire town.
A group of young Aussies also made the trek to SXSW this year to launch their mobile audio tour-guide app called iTourU, setting up a presence at the Trade Show with assistance from Austrade, but relying mainly on enthusiastic users, who created almost 50 custom tours of Austin on the platform in the first few days of the conference.

Other notable launches included LiveShare (private group photosharing), GroupME, (private group messaging), Acts Of Sharing (private group lending your DVDs and stuff) and Neer (location-aware reminders, that could probably be configured for private groups, if that’s what you’re into).

I spoke to lots of these people, and more, in the podcast interview “12 SXSW elevator pitches in 12 minutes”

Need to rewind? Catch the previous episode, where Ad Agencies learn “How not to pay for anything @ SXSW”

Stay tuned for the next episode when ad agencies learn “How to Throw A Party (Like You Mean Business)”

This video is part of the video blog series  “10 Things Agencies Can Learn From SXSW” presented by Barrie Seppings, Creative Director at Ogilvy Sydney.

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Google has certainly copped a lot of flak for its corporate motto “Don’t be evil” and some of the criticism has merit, but I still love the simplicity of the phrase and the boldness of the sentiment.  It demonstrates a lot of respect for the intelligence of the employees and a willingness to give them room to make their own decisions. Also, it’s a very instructive example of the difference between guidance and rules.

We’ve been working towards a guiding philosophy for the sort of marketing we do (or at  least, the sort we’d like to do) that gives us enough room to make decisions while providing a clear direction, or reference point, to check that we’re making progress.

And the closest we’ve got so far is this: “Be useful”

If truth be told, it started out as “Don’t be useless” which we liked as a both homage and self-directed threat. But we had a bout of the positives and tried to make it more about what you should do, rather than what you can’t.

But what does it mean? Take a look at a lot of traditional marketing (the ads, the catalogues, the mailers, the webpages and emails), and try to measure it’s usefulness. How much simpler does it make your life (or just your day)? How much did you learn from it? How much more do you know now than you did before you read or listened to that piece of marketing? What can you do now that you couldn’t do before? How much time or effort has it saved you? If you had to pay for that piece of marketing, how much would you be willing to hand over?

FWIW, I think this is particularly important when answering briefs that describe the audience as “Time-poor” (ands that’s just about everyone, as far as I can tell). If they don;t have much time for anything, they certainly don’t have time to spend on stuff that isn’t useful to them.

These are pretty tough questions for a piece of marketing collateral to answer. But what if we stopped creating marketing and started building something else on behalf of our clients? Something that helped people, that gave them information, or a tool or an experience, or wisdom? Or anything really, as long as it was useful.

We’ve been playing at the edges of this for a while – our Live Event Matchmaking effort for IBM’s Pulse events was a step, but we believe we’ve moved even closer with a recent campaign for IBM’s sponsorship of the Australian Open 2011 tennis tournament. We took a look at all the data that IBM generate  from the action on the court, married it up with all th open-source data that fans generate on the web and presented it back as a data-powered window on the Open experience:

Yes, it is marketing, but we’re hoping that it is useful marketing. And we’re going to spend a lot more of our time trying to figure out how to do more of it. Let me know if you’re on a similar path.