SXSW: learnings on design, brand and storytelling

Image Credit: Marion Michele

Interested in hearing the correlation between design, brand and storytelling? This article is for you! I’m sharing learnings from my favorite interactive panels at SXSW 2018.

1. Create a Purpose-Driven Brand by Design

AJ Hassan from R/GA and Todd Kaplan from PepsiCo discuss how to create a purpose driven brand by design, and why it’s important today. All the notes below are taken from this keynote session at SXSW.

  • Cause: moments that help meet someone’s needs
  • Cultural: moments that make a statement
  • Core: more than a moment, a consistent mode of behavior

Ask Yourself Questions

  • “Why does my brand exist? What would the world look like if my brand is not in the world?”
  • “Am I looking to impact society and culture? Do I live by my audiences’ core beliefs?”

Why It Matters

  • Brands have the power to impact and change culture, especially when there’s a need and a vacancy.
  • Captivating people is no longer a passive experience
  • People pay attention to culture, not advertising
  • 80% of millennials identity as belief driven buyers. They care about value transparency. They want to change the world very optimistically; they want to participate and engage with brands.

How To Be Effective

Walking the walk, being authentic. Authentic is everything. Communicate what your brand stands for.
• Be it. Be who you are.
• Do it. Back up with actions.
• Say it. Share what you believe.

Brand Example: LIFE WTR

To advance and showcase the sources of creation and creativity.

Art ignites inspiration… and inspiration is as essential to life as water.

Research 1
• 57% of all people believe that inspiration is essential to living a fulfilled life. 
• 70% of millennials say that creativity is a top quality necessary for success.
• 51% of working visual artists today are women, only 5% of permanent collections feature female artists.

Campaign 1
Hashtag: #ArtByAWoman
Let’s bring more women’s art into the open.
Let’s fill the world with more art by women.

Watch the campaign below:

Created a collection of art from women artists. They had the artists promote the issues; turned instagram an open gallery.

Research 2
• 80% of schools face funding cuts that remove art.
• 84% of students rank high in creativity in kindergarten. By high school it’s almost non-existent.
• Students who participated in art are 4X more likely to be recognized for academic achievement.

Campaign 2
Hashtag: #BringArtBackToSchool

Watch the campaign below:


LIFE WTR created 4 series. Each series showcases the brand by design behind each emotional story. If you’re touched from watching the campaigns, you’re emotionally connected with the brand.

Series 1: Public Art
Series 2: Women in Art
Series 3: Emerging Fashion Designers
Series 4: Arts in Education

2. Insider Tips from the Boss Women of Instagram

LIFE WTR did a great job making social impact, which gives a perfect reason to bring out the the boss women of Instagram.

Claudine Cazian Britz, Head of Ent Partnerships; Eva Chen, Head of Fashion Partnerships; Lila King, Head of News Partnerships; Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood, Head of Music Partnerships discuss unlock tools to better understand how to drive the most impact and engagement for your presence on Instagram.

Photo from Annabel‏ @AnnabelFidler

A few key takeaways

  • Consistency. Growing followers with engagement with consistency.
  • Authenticity. Make sure what you post is true to you. Showcase what you do the most, pick 3–5 things a day.
  • Frequency. Post both on feeds and on stories on a regular basis.
  • Know Your Followers. Get to know who your followers are and respond to them within your capacity.
  • Content Creation. Focus on sense of content creation. Don’t assume people have access to experience what you experience everyday, share with them.
  • Hashtag. Use it as a way to expose content, for discovery and to generate conversations.
  • Make Social Impact. Make people engaged and engage cause issues. Hashtags are great way to raise awareness.
  • Global. Instagram is 80% outside of the US, it’s a platform for global audience.
  • Stories. 24 hours Instagram Stories enable you to share your life moments with your followers. Use Story Highlights to save your favorite stories, which allows your new followers quickly learn about you and your brand.

3. Create Magic: six experiential storytelling secrets

Cynthia Jone from the Henry Ford Museum, Christian Lachel from BRC Imagination Arts, and Claire Tolan from Jameson Distillery discuss how to create an experience that makes an emotional connection, deepens fan engagement and inspires life-long brand loyalty. All notes below are taken from the keynote at SXSW.

90% of all decisions we make are based on emotions.

Secret 1: Start In The Heart 
Start in the heart of your audience and look into the insights.

Secret 2: Know Your Destination
What is the measurable change you are going to do for your audience? Understand what exactly you’re trying to achieve.

Secret 3: Emotional Engagement
• All great stories and experiences have a central theme.

Example given at the talk: There’s no place like home
  • Everything you need is already inside you. It’s all about finding what you have.
  • Follow your heart.

Secret 4: Engage All Senses

Secret 5: Create Magic
Technology is best when is invisible (video source).

Secret 6: Exceptional Hospitality
• Brands are shifting from ads to customer relationship.
• Facts don’t stick but emotional stories and engagement do.


There’s a clear common theme among all the panels about design, brand and storytelling: 
Understand Your Audience
Know Your Goals (purpose, belief, destination)
Be Authentic and Consistent
• Create Your Brand
• Engage With Emotions
• Focus On Impact
• Design and Tell Stories

As I’m typing, I already realize how difficult it is to put all the learnings together in writing, I can imagine it being 3 times harder to speak in words. Storytelling skill is indeed a challenging task for me to improve, I’m going to throw myself in and practice with what I learned. You can too!