Austin, Texas was ready for another unforgettable South By SouthWest (SxSW) Festival this week. Flights and hotels booked, conference schedules set and presentations from industry professionals built. But here we are, sitting at home wondering what might have been. SxSW has always been an innovative gathering for like-minded industry leaders from all over the world to network, exchange ideas, and consume tons of BBQ fare. The diversity of backgrounds and perspectives from all around the world has made it a top-tier can’t-miss event on the calendar for nearly 15 years. But the rapid spread of COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, resulted in the cancellation of SxSW. The decision, while understandable, limits the collaborative opportunities from companies large and small to learn from each other. It has a massive economic impact on businesses and individuals of all kinds.
But instead of simply closing the SxSW chapter of our 2020 conference and networking calendar, revelation is using this opportunity to connect with leading marketing professionals who would have been presenting or speaking. Using our forum and channels to amplify their thought leadership, we present the “SxSW 2020 Replacement Series,” a week-long batch of features and Q&A takeaways from industry icons. Starting today, get an exclusive take on what they had planned on bringing to the stage this year:
James Gregson, Head of LEGO Social Studio
Here are some of the topics that James Gregson, Head of LEGO Social Studio, would have addressed… from purpose-driven brand marketing to delivering organic creativity through relevancy, plus some of our burning questions about his “building blocks” for marketing success:
“Ignore what you have heard. Organic Social Media Is NOT completely Dead.”
Back when social media experimentation was in its early stages, brand strategies, with regard to these fledgling platforms, were geared towards community-building and engagement with like-minded fans and followers to facilitate natural interaction via content. Consumers, advocates and digital users did not feel like they were part of some sort of artificial equation… one designed to drive link clicks, direct product purchases or boost conversion rates. Social media, however, is dynamic, ever-changing, and unpredictable.
With the evolution of social media came new social strategies. As brands began to build and engage a natural community of followers, they took it one step further with a second round of experimentation. Paid social advertising improved acquisition, introduced target audiences to new creative and became more transactional in nature. Gregson pointed out several examples of brands who are using paid media exclusively to boost creative, but doesn’t believe that this is the only path to success.
In a world where marketers are increasingly analyzing costs per clicks and ramping up their paid media spends, Gregson is here to argue, and rightfully so, that “Organic social media is not dead.” This is a theme that he generally uses in his discussions, and would have focused on in his SxSW presentation. In its simplest form, content is the bridge that connects a brand to, and builds a relationship with, its fans and customers, which holds the key to building loyalty. Good content connects. Great content converts.
Building an organic platform of followers requires a brand to position itself in a way that does not force or blindside a user into clicking a button. The basis and backbone of organic social lays in content. According to a 2019 study conducted by Social Sprout, 78% of consumers will unfollow a brand if they post too many advertisements or promotional content… if their feed does not engage them in a way that feels genuine, natural… Organic. According to Gregson, purposeful content is the “driving force” between gaining reach. “For this reason, it will forever be relevant, timeless and alive.”
“A Big Theme at SxSW Would Have Been About Purpose-Driven Content Marekting”
Before you rush to judgment, it is important to think about the desire for the authenticity that consumers crave. In many ways, a focus on transparency, responsibility and trust is how brands can re-establish a natural relationship with its followers – as opposed to, say, advertisements that force an action and demand a conversion. In addition to elegant, relevant content, Gregson believes more brands are focused on their purpose than ever before, therefore, understanding both, brand purpose AND the purpose of specific content, becomes an important distinction.
Sustainability, Diversity and Inclusivity: “Will Companies Get It Right?”
Gregson knows that today’s savvy marketer sees opportunities to connect with consumers around culturally-relevant topics, including those concerning sustainability, diversity and inclusivity. He believes that sustainability is one of the roots of purposeful marketing. Sustainability and corporate social responsibility have certainly been relevant and, in many cases, controversial topics of discussion, especially recently. Companies are racing to innovate their supply chains and make them more transparent, more favorable for the environment, and beneficial for stakeholders. While it is no secret that companies are beginning to implement better sustainability practices, Gregson expects companies to make “a lot” of mistakes when it comes to implementing their practices. Although this may require some trial and error, sustainable practices are certainly going to become a large part of future business strategy.
Sustainability is not the only theme that companies are increasingly building into their marketing and content plans. Brands are beginning to adopt more practices that celebrate diversity and inclusion (and rightfully so!). While discussing the topics of diversity and inclusivity, Gregson used his own company, LEGO, as an example of a brand that is continuing to position itself in a way recognizes and celebrates all of our unique differences. In doing so, he talked about initiatives that the Danish company launched (or will be rolling out) to celebrate Black History Month and Pride, amongst others.
“What I was Most Excited to See and Experience at SxSW This Year…”
According to Gregson, SxSW is THE networking event of the year. What he loves most about the event each year is the ability to connect with like-minded industry leaders. Connecting and speaking with a variety of professionals who share similar interests and perspectives “certainly creates an environment beneficial for generating ideas and creating opportunities.” Within this network of like-minded professionals, Gregson was most looking forward to speaking with others who work on the brand side of the industry (instead, he got us).
“Companies Can Learn From Each Other When Emotions Are High.”
Unforeseen events, such as the outburst of COVID-19, can have a domino effect on our culture, our business practices, our moral and ethical judgements. When discussing the potential impact that health and safety concerns may have on LEGO, Gregson asserted that at this moment March 13, 2020 (knowing this whole thing is VERY fluid) no brand should be looking to capitalize on global health issue, no matter how creative. Right now, we have a significant, less busy, more captivated audience, who are waiting to jump on a brand for saying/doing the wrong thing. Interestingly enough, he also related this point to the ethical dilemma of using death as a platform that elevates your marketing strategy. According to James, brands should be not be using death as a “marketing opportunity.” Instead, they should be using it as an opportunity to reassess how the content that they are posting will be perceived by the public, “especially when emotions and vulnerability are high and certainly at stake.”
As for what LEGO, a Superior Digital Marketer, Has Lined Up For in the Near Future…
The importance of building a complete brand ecosystem for existing and ideal target consumers is always top of mind with LEGO. Fans young and old make up their community, and LEGO is increasingly looking at ways to evolve the brand from a toy to an experience. According to Gregson, LEGO is doing a great job of building out it ecosystem from, mobile apps to a unique brand retail experience. And in the near future, LEGO will look to become even more than a tangible product. Stay tuned as it evolves into an experience that “elicits emotions, creates unique memories, drives an increase in overall brand engagement and audience retention” as customers find new ways to connect with LEG IRL. Gregson says that this experience should happen at every touch point – whether it be through an great Instagram Story or branded experience an event like San-Diego Comic Con. In fact, he even teased that, LEGO was weeks away from unveiling a new branded experience at SxSW. Not to add to your disappointment even more…
Organic and hyper-relevant content strategies, purposeful and experiential marketing, sustainability, diversity and inclusion are all topics that James Gregson would have brought to the table this year at SxSW.
Still curious about what other topics of discussion you would have missed out on? Stay tuned for the next couple of weeks to learn more from even more industry icons.