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- 22 Mar 2012
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4 Big Ideas from SXSW & the Implications for Luxury


Elizabeth Canon of Fashion’s Collective shares four key insights from 2012’s South by Southwest festival and explains how they will shape fashion and luxury

South by Southwest is a maze of presentations, panels, parties, meet-ups and meetings, or at least the interactive portion is anyway. Interactive lasts for a full five days and, at any given moment, there are a multitude of activities occurring simultaneously. There is no debating that fashion’s presence at SXSW is stronger than ever before, and this year many of the industry’s leading brands sent their teams to take in the wealth of knowledge presented. In this article, we discuss the key takeaways.

It’s impossible to attend all of the events during SXSW, and luckily, many of the presentations and panels will be available as podcasts within two weeks on the South by Southwest website. Attendees are meant to decode titles for each module in order to decipher which is the most worthy of their time. And it’s quite a gamble. Some unassuming topics proved to be incredibly insightful, while other seemingly important discussions were less than luminous.

Though there were more than any other years, few of the fashion panels presented all-new information to those of us already in the industry. Instead, it was the less obvious topics outside our industry that proved to be the most thought provoking. They also contained many implications for how fashion and luxury might interpret the ideas presented. Here’s what we found to be most interesting, with our line notes for possible conclusions on fashion and luxury.

 Europe is often overlooked while brands focus on emerging markets like Asia, India and Brazil 

1. Culture Connect

Social Media in Europe covers the same platforms, but the cultural differences in behavior compared to the US are significant.

Culturally, Europeans separate their work from their private lives. Peak usage times vary, as do expectations of brands on social platforms. For example, when asked what the circumstances would have to be to warrant interaction on Facebook, 42% of Europeans reported that they would only engage with a brand if there was a customer service issue. Contrastingly, in the US, a whopping 40% of people claimed that they interact with the brands that they purchase from and have an affinity toward.

Fashion and Luxury implications: Europe is often overlooked while brands focus on emerging markets like Asia, India and Brazil. However, since the platforms are the same (Facebook as opposed to Weibo), it makes sense to learn how to use the same sites in modified ways to speak more directly and effectively to the European audience.

2. Digital Values

Value doesn’t need to be defined and then communicated digitally; rather, digital can be used to identify new values.

Andrew Wilson, VP of EA Sports, was quoted as saying, “It’s not about the hardware; it’s about the hardware that facilitates action.” Today’s technology is available not just to convey value to customers, but to find new ways of elaborating and expanding upon that value.

Fashion and Luxury implications: Our industry has long been hesitant online, for fear of jeopardizing the notion of exclusivity. However, the trick is not to cheapen the brand by offering it to all through technology, but instead to leverage technology to offer more value to customers, exclusively online.

 The trick is not to cheapen the brand by offering it to all through technology, but instead to leverage technology to offer more value to customers online 

3. Data is the Future

Whether regarding mining specific geo-location data on your smartphone to locate other users (as popular festival apps like Highlight did), or about using insight data on customers’ apparel preferences online to influence buying decisions (like Gap is doing), there is no question that data is the future. Facial recognition software presented like or microchips in our brains like Ray Kurzweil spoke about, make data much more human and personal.

An interesting thing to ponder is the implications of information as extensions of us. Currently, we have instant access to data through our smartphones, but how will this impact the way we view this data and our own intelligence? Will we separate information we access from our own intellectual thoughts or adopt it as a product of ourselves?

Fashion and Luxury implications: In our industry, there is a constant focus on the image, whether the brand persona, the actual visuals or the appearance of exclusivity. However, it is the real data that will help inform us and drive business forward. Rather than start with the image, if we start with an understanding of information that tells us more about how users interact online, higher return on investment can be achieved, along with a more customized user experience.

4. Doing Good

The future of marketing is philanthropy

Biz Stone was quoted saying, “Doing well by doing good; the future of marketing is in philanthropy.” We can’t help but agree. Cause-based marketing and purposeful, responsible company practices make for successful, viral, sustainable business.

Fashion and Luxury implications: While many brands have strong philanthropic divisions, their marketing rarely focuses on these aspects. Using the power of digital to mobilize a brand’s following for the sake of social good is an area offering potential improvement within our industry. To quote Biz Stone again, “No matter how many awesome things we build, change is not a triumph of technology, it’s a triumph of humanity.”

It would be impossible to capture all of the rich, deep insights and quick, tactical quips from SXSW. We urge you to share your favorite pieces of information below.

Further Reading:

- Critical Considerations for Luxury Brands Launching eCommerce
- How Luxury Watch Brands are Innovating Digitally
- Calculating the Risks of Not Participating in the Digital Revolution


Fashion’s Collective is a resource focused on digital marketing for the fashion and luxury industry. A team of contributors experienced in global strategy for the industry’s top brands advises on digital brand positioning, social media, mobile marketing, ecommerce and relevant consumer insights.