Tuesday, March 12th, 2019 | 8 min read
A quick followup on what I opened with yesterday. Seeing things like this ^^ on TV (pretty nice photo, right?) makes me realize just how much there is to not see at SXSW. A-listers are swooping through to tout their new releases, while I’m ambling through a downtown hotel, trying to find the right conference room.
Just another illustration of how it feels like I’m both involved in the madness and just watching it from afar.
Number of breakfast tacos consumed this week
Hoping to double that before I leave.
The power and mystery of language
Yesterday afternoon I dropped into a power-packed 15-minute session delivered by Mbiyimoh Ghogomu, a Copywriter and Content Designer at IBM. During the presentation – titled “Linguistic Kung Fu: How to Disarm Weaponized Words” – Ghogomu examined why many people find the word “moist” so repulsive.
“What is it about this word that makes people cringe?” he asked. He cited research which found that the aversion wasn’t due to the sound of the word itself, as evidenced by the fact that respondents didn’t react to similar-sounding words like “hoist” or “foist.”
The issue, Ghogomu, explained, is that people conjure up certain things when they hear a word. When “moist” was paired with words related to foods – such as “cake” – respondents had a positive reaction.
However, when the m-word was paired with words like “sticky” or “damp,” people, to put it in technical terms, tended to be pretty grossed out.
Ghogomu also dived into how language shapes how we interpret the actions of others. He discussed a relatively depressing study that analyzed tens of thousands of military job job performance reviews.
The study found that reviewers were far more likely to give positive descriptors to men than women, and noted that when reviewers did use positive adjectives about women, the terms tended to be non-reflective of military leadership – such as “compassionate” or “understanding.”
He urged attendees to examine the words they use when describing people. For example, even though “bossy” has a negative connotation, it can reflect the same qualities as “confident” or “assertive.”
It’s mid-way through day 5 and not gonna lie, I feel a bit paneled out. My brain is brimming with new ideas, and I have an ever-growing list of new strategies and tools I want to try once I get back to normal life. Those are obviously good things, but I’m curious to see how much room I have left up there.
I’m sensing a similar feeling from some of my fellow attendees. Whereas over the first few days, everyone seemed locked in, hanging on every word of a panel, today I saw several conference-goers walk into a panel, find a seat, and proceed to scroll on their phone for the duration. As your trusty correspondent, I would never do such a thing (for the most part).
School spirit for the digital age
An interesting – but not necessarily surprising – thing I’ve noticed down here is the prevalence of universities promoting their tech savvy and innovation. The other day, on the exhibition floor, we watched a UTEP-built robot create a beautiful piece of pottery using real clay. The chipper student volunteer explained the technology behind the robotic potter (ropotter?), I nodded as if I understood and then shuffled off.
On the main drag between the convention center and the hotels, Texas A&M set up an installation called the Power House. Inside were immersive VR setups that touted the school’s research prowess and its international do-goodery. And, of course, there were free beers, spurring me to wonder if the A&M alumni base knows where their donations are really going.
In a packed-to-the-brim conference room, four marketers who moonlight as standup comedians offered a sometimes raucous look at how they channel on-stage strategies to be stronger marketers.
Alexandria Love, a media specialist for the City of Albany, CA, observed that while many brands and comics try to brand themselves as edgy or unique, those attempts fall flat if they haven’t built a credible story yet.
Love also talked about the importance of embracing who you are, both as a comic and as a brand. She mentioned the hilarious example of Jack in the Box – a go-to spot late night grub spot for the, erm, addled – creating a fried food special called the Merry Munchie Meal and giving it a price tag of, drumroll please, $4.20.
The Jack in the Box brass may not be thrilled that its biggest fans are also, well, you know, but they were smart enough to let the brand do something shrewd, funny, and relevant to its audience.
Marcie Rogo, Head of Marketing at True Link Financial, discussed the challenges that comedians face at at time when standup is so widely available on YouTube, Spotify, and countless other platforms.
To make people actually show up in real life, she’s taken unique approaches such as putting on a show called BYOD – Bring Your Own Dog Comedy. So far, every single show has sold out.
Rogo also stressed the importance of reading how your audience reacts – whether you’re a comic or a marketer. “Talk with your audience,” she said. “They have a voice too.”
Sara DeForest, a marketing consultant (and, full disclosure: a close friend of mine plus a former classmate and colleague), discussed how the process of joke writing can bolster one’s ability to write marketing materials.
One piece of practical advice: “Stay away from boring questions that will lead to boring answers.” She listed some more compelling questions that she uses with clients to find the all-important pain points, including:
DeForest said she uses a similar process when writing a joke. Faced with a challenge (thin walls and annoying neighbors with a loud industrial fan), she identified the resulting pain points (anger, lack of sleep, buying a white noise machine, etc.)
With this range of material to work with, she ultimately landed on the following standup bit:
“The walls of my apartment are so thin, I bought a white noise machine to drown out my neighbors’ white noise machine.” The quip drew a hearty laugh, and capped an insightful and entertaining look into the creative process – regardless of whether you’re on stage or staring at your computer.
DeForest also drew a parallel between bouncing new marketing material off coworkers or trusted customers, and trying out new material at an open mic. Both are methods of testing out new bits in a safe space. Everyone is going to bomb, she said, and it’s best to get it out of the way before you’re playing to a larger audience.
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