SXSW 2015: The Next Big ‘Platform’ Is a Movement, Not an App

Guest post by Chad Latz of Cohn & Wolfe.


This is a guest post by Chad Latz, president of the Global Digital Innovation Group at Cohn & Wolfe.

It seems that 2015 was the year to renew faith that SXSW is fertile ground to launch blockbuster apps: you weren’t able to attend a single session without mention of Meerkat. And while some are already heralding its demise, a completely different “platform” has grown in prominence and promises to be a theme for many years to come.

The Maker Hacker Movement was a topic that permeated all corners of the SXSW campus during the 2015 festival.

For context, The Maker Movement, which began to gain momentum following the launch of Maker Faire in 2006, is a peer-led grassroots movement of DIY artists, engineers, industrial designers, manufacturers, technologists, hobbyists and educators who look for ways to bring together materials and innovative technologies as well as traditional crafts to create new products and services. From this approach many entrepreneurs have been able to launch businesses and create their own market ecosystem.

For example, Hacker kits on the expo floor allowed visitors to connect sensors to just about anything, and open data from apps like Mapillary and Placemeter help publics address city infrastructure concerns. We heard from Mark Hatch about the rise of maker spaces like TechShop and the support of the movement by President Obama, who notes its impact on revitalizing cities, employment numbers and the larger economy. There were even sessions on biohacking your DNA with community labs like Genspace.

So what does this growing, 10-years-in-the-making trend that reflects the convergence of art, technology and manufacturing really mean? And what does it mean for brands?

In so much as innovation continues to be a relevant buzzword and a desirable trait, large organizations seek lean methods to push the envelope for the products that they bring to market. Mr. Hatch and White House Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation Thomas Kalil discussed organizations like Ford Motor Company that acknowledged that supporting the maker movement in Detroit not only addressed the business’ need for more high-quality patents for their automobiles, but also infused opportunity into a struggling community.  Big brands are simply not equipped to iterate quickly, but having adopted this approach, in 18 months Ford realized a 100% increase in high quality patents coming the company. While all companies have labs, process gets in the way of innovation.

Brands in the Maker Movement stand to gain marketing and reputational value. We’ve found that the brands most respected by consumers are the ones that are authentic (like those mentioned in our 2014 Authenticity Study) and those that engage makers for the benefit and the community alike can certainly bolster that perception.

While the buzz around app launches at SXSW can be infectious (yes, I downloaded Meerkat), movements have momentum. I, for one, will watch closely with anticipation as more brands and makers come together using SXSW as a platform to promote this perspective.