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Wheels up to Austin'?¦ as Soon as the Plane is De-iced

I'll be honest. Any illusions of my first trip to SXSW did not start off with battling through a blizzard and the associated travel delays. But if there was one constant piece of advice / forewarning I did unilaterally receive from colleagues in the industry, it was that my experience at SXSW would absolutely not go as expected.

I was told that the unplanned meet-ups, the casual conversations over beers and the 'damn, the session I wanted to go to is full'?¦ I guess I'll go here instead'? moments would prove to be the most valuable. So consider that a caveat as I share a quick overview of what I'm most looking forward to over these next few days. And I'll caveat now that my recap blog posts throughout the course of SXSWi will inevitably cover much different material and venture into much different themes.

Social and Mobile ' They're No Longer Buzz Words, They're Business Plans

I'll admit it. I've been suffering a little bit of 'hashtag fatigue'? lately (a term coined by AMP's own Colin Booth). While I'm as big of a social media nerd as the next SXSW attendee, I'm ready to get past the idea that social is the 'new, shiny toy'? to add to the marketing mix. Looking over the sessions included in this year's agenda, I am really excited about engaging in conversations about the business impact of social and mobile.

Panels like Mobile Saturday: Loyalty in the Pocket and Social Circles vs. Social Media promise to discuss the role of mobile and social behavior across online and offline consumer experiences, and I'm hoping throughout the weekend that those conversations snowball into discussions around the business implications and ROI across these two exploding channels. We all know how important mobile and social are based on the latest stats about time spent and growing penetration. Over these next few days, I'm hoping we can all talk about successful strategies and new ideas to further integrate brands across those channels to connect with consumers in meaningful ways.

Data is a Four Letter Word'?¦ the Good Kind

I recently attended an event where the CMO of E*Trade, Nick Utton, stated his belief that marketing is now 75% science and 25% art. His point being that access to more data and an increased focus on testing throughout all stages of campaign development have resulted in more efficient and effective marketing. With that theme in mind, one of the sessions I'm most looking forward to is Saturday's 'Is Intuitive Marketing Dead?'? (analyzing data and predictive modeling) with Nate Silver.

While there is still a lot we don't know when we put a campaign in market, we certainly know a lot more today than we did 10 years ago about our target audiences' preferences and media behavior. Ever-evolving research techniques (including sophisticated A/B testing matrices) combined with growing databases of historical performance data are resulting in powerful modeling tools that make us much smarter on day one of concepting. I'm excited to hear what Nate predicts for marketing's future and to hear this theme explored across other sessions and sidebar conversations over the course of SXSWi.

Fastening My Seatbelt for a 24/7 Marketing Blitz

The other thing I'm excited about is the palpable 'Disneyland for Marketers'? buzz. SXSW is where people/brands go to launch new products, share new thinking, play with the latest app/tools/approaches. And it's already begun'?¦ in-air. A few hours into my flight, JetBlue's marketing team held an in-flight promotion asking us over the PA, 'How many people does Austin's airport estimate will pass through Austin on their way to SXSW?'? One-by-one they collected answers from each flyer with the three closest guesses each receiving a pair of ticket vouchers to anywhere JetBlue flies.

And while I was sitting there thinking, 'this is a smart promotion to run with a plane full of marketers, but you've got  glaring problem ' no WIFI for me to live tweet/blog/post about it,'? they concluded their contest by announcing 'and by next year's SXSW, we'll have the nation's fastest, free wifi'?¦ so we'll play this game over Twitter.'? Be on the lookout for wifi roll-out in June with up to ten planes equipped by the end of the year.  Well done JetBlue ' there's your plug.

And feel free to play along ' share your best guess in the comments section below and I'll reveal the answer on my flight home'?¦ or maybe just before takeoff.

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