Jump Into the Petri Dish

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What’s the proper armamentarium when it comes to healthcare marketing and digital?

Innovation reports? Transmedia projections? Paradigm framework event horizons? Phased plasma rifles in the 40-watt range?

All may play a role. But I put forward that the most important tool is a firm belief in a simple axiom:

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”

That’ll keep you humble. That’ll keep you honest. Most keen, that’ll keep you hungry. And there’s no better place to find out what you don’t know in digital—and be inspired by the new knowledge that comes with those revelations—than SXSW Interactive.

“SXSW”—South by Southwest, or simply “South by” to vets—is the biggest conference of its kind in the world. Held every March in Austin, Texas, this “geek spring break” is an active incubator for leading-edge concepts and emerging tech. Last year, 25,000+ programmers, educators, designers, bloggers, and influencers took part in 1,000+ presentations, meetups and workshops.

With a crazy variety of programming, SXSW has been called a “big picture analysis of the future.” And as tech entrepreneur Geoffrey Clapp notes, SXSW refreshingly provides a “healthy dose of technologists, futurists, and thinkers who don’t start the conversation with: ‘But the FDA will never let us do that!’”

That doesn’t mean pursuing a compelling trend in spite of regulatory concerns. Experience provides the proper filters and balance. But achieving the potential of our clients’ brands means being energized and active in this critical area.

How does this compare to your typical healthcare web conferences? Web consultant Ed Bennett calls out most of those events as “3 to 5 years behind the curve. At SXSW, I’m seeing 3 to 5 years out.” Me, I’ve always liked the angle of living in the future, challenged and exposed to new ways of keeping the neurons firing. Plus I dig the idea of owning a personal jetpack.

At Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, digital—laptops, tablets, smartphones, websites, apps or whatzits yet to be conjured — is the critical cornerstone for our next-gen biz. That’s sympatico with the words of web strategist Jeremiah Owyang: “With engagement experiments everywhere you look, SXSW is a petri dish of social and interactive behaviors, a bellwether of what could be…” I was never much good at math—but even I can multiply those two thoughts to see there’s enormous potential in being in Austin in March.

That’s why we’ve committed to participating in this “serendipitous living lab.” There’s a deliberate chaos at work that fosters connections that weren’t expected. Our troops on the ground are there to forge new relationships with digital stakeholders, garnering dynamic insights into what’s next—and exploring ways that our pharma and healthcare partners can take advantage. This is where we can hammer and hone our expertise, test bold ideas, and share thought leadership to the health and wellness discussions rising up at South by.

As evidence of that: SXSW’s highly competitive panel selection process picked not just one, but two of our presentations to be featured sessions at the 2013 show: Digital Primitives—The Anthropology of Social, by Brad Davidson and Rob Malouf; and Information Overload & Health Decisions, hosted by Joe Gattuso and John Nosta. Watch this space: they will be sharing details on these very interesting conversations in the weeks leading up to SXSW.

This isn’t an event for every agency. The buzz isn’t always accurate. The noise level can be overwhelming. Up against that, some marketers may conclude that the comfort zone of business-as-usual has an easy, “We’ve got this!” appeal. Until that buffer erodes—quickly—and hanging back becomes left behind.

That’s not a position we’ve ever been willing to take. That’s what makes our investment in SXSW so worth it. To learn what we don’t know. To debate possibilities. To level up. To make certain our contribution to each client’s business features the right piece of the future.

If your calendar doesn’t feature SXSW Interactive this year, don’t feel left out. We will be glad to catch you up—in person, or via WebEx. More than a recap, we can also make this about identifying opportunities for your company and brand at the 2014 show. Let me know and we’ll set it up.

And if you do find yourself in Austin between March 8th and 12th, shoot me a note, text or tweet. I can always use a good collaborator on getting that jetpack fired up.

Questions? Comments? You can contact the author directly at blog@ochww.com.
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