In the midst of one of the most important technical conferences in the world, SXSWi, it seems that what people are really looking for is a little more eye contact, and a more personal experience.
The digital revolution has been a boon for productivity, but sacrifices have been made in the connections that are necessary for people to achieve their full potential.
While evidence has shown that video conferences are more productive than phone calls, businesses are banking that interactions with eye contact produce better brand interactions, even if that eye contact is with a hologram.
For example, 3M is welcoming exhibit visitors with a virtual mannequin, a new product that they are promoting. While the video for the virtual mannequin is looped, it’s possible that they can build in interaction and create an even more lifelike interaction. 3M is betting on the appeal of a more human experience by applying video content to a human shape.
What about actual personal contact?
A dominant use of smartphone technology at SXSWi has been to get to real events to interact with real people. One session for example, highlighted the successful cat video film festival held at Open Field by the Walker Art Museum, which how an internet meme taken into the real world. Similarly, the city was practically vibrating with the buzz about Mashable’s Grumpy Cat photo opp. Mashable placed a bet that an interaction with a cat made famous online would draw a crowd, and they were right. The line that stretched down the street to take a picture with Grumpy Cat proved that no matter how much exciting technology is available, a real experience is hard to compete with.
The desire to feel connected, however, doesn’t necessarily require eye contact. Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live is one of the best testing grounds for socially interactive television. In the early years of interactive TV, there was speculation that ecommerce would be the ideal use of television interactions. For example, NBC is actively investing in an ecommerce platform that empowers users to purchase goods on their mobile devices and share those purchases on social channels (fueled by Zeebox.) It should be noted that NBC Universal owns both NBC and Bravo Television.
Is that really want people want from TV?
Not really. People don’t want to buy what they see on TV – they want to talk to what they see on TV. Watch What Happens Live has built social media into its DNA, and their viewership is going up as viewership for similar shows in similar time slots lose audience. By creating a more personal experience where viewers can speak directly to the host and guests, submit questions, vote on polls, and see their names on screen, Bravo has captured the essence of social media’s potential for television. And it’s rooted in the intense craving for personal connection with media.
It’s no coincidence that this desire for a more personal connection is on the rise at the same time that consumers are demanding authenticity from brands. Marketers will be challenged to simulate personal connection on a mass scale. Everything from technology, modes of interaction and interface design to data management, CRM systems, and data capturing mechanisms are implicated.
Making interactions personal and scalable is not a new challenge, but as evidenced here at SXSWi, the ante is being upped as consumers look for brands that they can connect with – brands that feel human.