March 15, 2022

Intouch’s Top Lessons From SXSW 2022, Part 1

SXSW 2022

How do you remain inspired – and inspiring – when you’re living in 2022, with everything that means? Intouch took on South By Southwest, the conference that brings together tech, media, entertainment, and art into a singularity of creative verve in Austin, Texas, and found answers there. (This is only a peek into our insights. Stay tuned for more as we distill SXSW into actionable lessons … here on the blog, and also for our colleagues and our clients!)

The most popular tech word of the conference was “metaverse.” It’s not coming; we’re living in it; and a lot of the sessions grappled with what that means. From marquee futurist Amy Webb (hint: synthetic biology is important; NFTs are not), down through innumerable presentations, speakers across the board discussed how to conceptualize and navigate life in the metaverse.

What this looks like in our work: How does a brand compete for mindshare competition, where a patient may listen to their doctor for 10 minutes, but then spends hours scrolling social media for information that may be misinformation or disinformation?

Memorable Relevant Quotes

  • “What’s the metaverse? Let’s be honest: Every ****ing thing is the metaverse.” – @mcuban
  • “TikTok is the new WebMD.” – @aagya320
  • “We are increasingly living in environments that are observing us.” – @WalterGreenleaf, @Stanford

Truly top-tier healthcare speakers abounded, from Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, and spoke at length. They talked about the challenges and the vital importance of continuing to work for science and human rights to fix the deep structural problems that riddle our culture with polarization and inequity — and that leave us all feeling anxiety, distrust, and frustration. They discussed the importance of acknowledging the systemic failings that have come before; of listening without assumptions; of ensuring diversity at every level for better outcomes, not for optics; of working to ensure that (often tech-enabled) healthcare advances are available to all, not just an elite few.

What this looks like in our work: While personalized medicine may sound like a high-tech issue of genetic sequencing, often, personalizing care can be an “analog” issue, like making sure that a patient can get a ride to the doctor.

Memorable Relevant Quotes

  • “Science brings hope.” – @AlbertBourla, @pfizer
  • “Our healthcare system doesn’t work for everyone because it wasn’t built for everyone.” –@MyechiaJordan, @CareQuestInst
  • “Traditionally, technology has been done to doctors, nurses, and patients. It needs to be done with doctors, nurses, and patients.” – Dr. @gnayyar, @salesforce
American Revival: Rebuilding Public Trust through Connection with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Editor in Chief of the Texas Tribune Sewell Chan
How Will We Solve the Disinformaton Crisis. Pictured are Claire Atkin and Nandini Jammi from Check My Ads

The question is, though: how? How do we keep working on these enormous – and enormously important – issues? Entrepreneurs, artists, designers, scientists, political and industry leaders – they all brought up the question of how to keep going and do good work in a world full of worry. (Albert Bourla and his family watch Gilmore Girls: your mileage may vary). They acknowledged how ubiquitous the struggle is, and they sought to validate and normalize the idea that the need to “refuel” mentally is far greater than we normally permit. As one speaker put it, if a person believes their work is important, it’s the opposite of indulgent to proactively avoid burnout: it’s actually that person’s responsibility, so the work is done as well as it can be.

What this looks like in our work: From our healthcare professionals to our patients, to their caregivers, to our colleagues, this is an issue. (The week before SXSW, the American Psychological Association revealed survey findings of what they characterized as the “astounding” levels of stress Americans currently reported.) If a brand isn’t acknowledging and incorporating understanding of this reality into everything about how they work, they’re missing the mark.

Memorable Relevant Quotes

  • “It’s okay to have radical self-love.” – @lizzo
  • “Dopamine is the universal currency.” – Carmen Simon, @corpv

The joy and privilege of getting to meet in person with team members, industry colleagues, new acquaintances, and speakers from around the world was not lost on anyone this year at SXSW, as Intouchers hugged and some speakers choked back tears as they took the stage. We may live in the metaverse, but we’re all still human. (And so are all of the audiences of our work.) The isolation of the past two years has made it hard to be creative; made it hard to feel seen; and made it hard to remember that loneliness is universal. This, too, was addressed by speakers at all levels. They emphasized the need for authentic leadership that embodied confidence through the bravery of vulnerability, as well as the ability to build back relationships and trust through incremental genuine connections.

What this looks like in our work: The statistics on loneliness and its comorbidities are well known. How can our brands be fostering ways for our patients to feel not just informed but seen, understood, and helped? Relationship matters more than ever.

Memorable Relevant Quotes 

  • “Content is the first contact with brands. Not products, not the service, but what and how they communicate.” – @mairagenovese_, @mgempower
  • “Reputation: you lose it in buckets, but gain it back in drops.” – @AlbertBourla, @pfizer

What’s re-perception, and why should it be the theme of your year? Why does the concept of duality matter so much? And how can we hone our craft purposefully with these ideas in mind? Stay tuned for more insights from SXSW 2022!

Authors: Marty Canniff, SVP, Executive Creative Director; John Kenny, SVP, Managing Director, Head of Strategy; Sarah Morgan, Writer & Consultant.