The Rise of Consumer Control: What’s a Business To Do?

ThoughtWorks ParadigmShift 2014, a thought leadership conference on business disruption and customer engagement in Austin, Texas.
ParadigmShift 2014, a thought leadership conference hosted by ThoughtWorks in Austin, Texas, on business disruption and customer engagement.

With the evolution and widespread use of the Internet, mobile devices and social media, we’ve arrived in a fast-paced, noisy and fickle consumer environment.  It takes a matter of hours for consumer opinions to go viral across the web, and in a world where word-of-mouth travels like wildfire, businesses need to keep their ears to the ground to anticipate the next bit of buzz at the digital water cooler. Consumers have infinite stores and brands and tons of ecommerce choices to search for and buy the products and services they want – so how does a business foster a loyal community of shoppers in the digital world? Our client ThoughtWorks says let the consumer take the wheel.

ThoughtWorks has recognized the significance of the customer loyalty revolution in today’s hyper-connected economy, and plans to address the changing face of engagement at ParadigmShift — its 3-day, invite-only thought leadership conference September 21-23, right in our own backyard. “Technology is upending the dynamic of customer engagement,” says ThoughtWorks CEO Craig Gorsline, and ParadigmShift can help business leaders in all verticals prepare and execute the most effective strategies for two-way digital consumer interaction and loyalty.

Today’s shopper has unlimited instant access to information, reviews, social media and news surrounding a business, its products and reputation – all available at their fingertips. ParadigmShift will illuminate the profound changes in the customer landscape and open up the dialogue between top enterprise executives on how organizations can maintain relevancy with each other and their consumers.

Hugh Forrest, director of the ever-evolving and widely attended SXSW Interactive conference, will lead the closing keynote for the event, giving attendees an exclusive look into the dynamic inner workings of the minds behind the 4-day innovation summit that so wildly inspires SMB entrepreneurs and large enterprises around the world.

With redefined roles of engagement and brand loyalty, increased convenience, speedier interactions and the rise of personal choice, businesses must accept that handing the reigns to the consumer is not a bad thing. It’s what shoppers want, and when businesses embrace it, they’ll lead the next generation of successful customer engagement.

Stay tuned for more insights from conference sessions next week!

IRCE 2014 Recap: Top Stories from last week’s Retail Event in the Windy City

As many of you in the retail realm know, the 2014 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition was held last week in Chicago. Ketner Group made the trip out to see what’s up in ecommerce, 3D imaging, mobile, web analytics, social shopping and personalization – and that’s only the beginning! With nearly 10,000 attendees showing up for the 10th anniversary of IRCE, you can only imagine the creativity and innovation walking the halls of the McCormick Center.

Among the top stories at IRCE were Amazon’s continued fulfillment center growth. A whole day of sessions was dedicated to exploring the e-commerce giant’s prowess and just how they’re making such big waves in e-retailing today. B2B ecommerce also took center stage at the conference, with sessions on key performance metrics all retailers should monitor, how B2B site design can boost sales, and how B2B markets can even sell directly to consumers. It was a great year to access retail’s best discussions on thought leadership and industry innovation!

Compare Metrics at IRCE 2014
Compare Metrics at IRCE 2014

Two of our clients, Compare Metrics and Shopatron, exhibited in the Expo Hall and created quite the buzz! Compare Metrics hosted a dress display that demonstrated the obvious disconnect between how shoppers interact with online retailers, and the limited merchandising attributes offered up by those retailers. Shoppers are using their own natural language to search for items online, and Compare Metrics is here to help retailers hone in on the “humanized” approach to a personalized and engaged online shopping experience. We also loved their little robots giveaways at the booth!

Shopatron at IRCE 2014
Shopatron at IRCE 2014

Shopatron, our cloud-based distributed order management client based in California, made a splash with the announcement of their freemium Inventory Lookup feature. Booth stoppers-by were able to meet with our California friends and learn about the actionable analytics retailers can benefit from, enabling improvements in in-store operations, stocking and merchandising by instantly connecting customers to local, available inventory – pretty cool stuff!

It was a great week in Chicago, and the people of the Windy City were so welcoming and kind! We met quite a few characters, and our Cowboy Cabbie stands out the most – what Texas folk wouldn’t have a soft spot for a Cowboy in a Cab! Check him out, he’s famous!

Catherine and Sara with the Cowboy Cabbie!
Catherine and Sara with the Cowboy Cabbie!

Thanks for a wonderful visit, Chicago! We’ll be seeing you again in 2015.

What’s Happening in Retail: May’s Biggest Stories

At Ketner Group, we are not ashamed to admit that we get a bit geeky when it comes to new retail stories and technology implementations. It seems like every week there are retailers that have made the move to make mobile or omni-channel technologies part of their business operations, feature stories on retail movers and shakers or ground-breaking research on what consumers want and expect from their favorite retailers and brands.

Here is a quick look at recent and notable retail stories from the past month:

RIS News – “The Five Most Powerful Women in Retail“
Recently reported in RIS News, women increasingly hold the top positions across the retail industry and are influencing society like never before. Forbes’ annual look at the most powerful women in the world is chock full of politicians, philanthropists, media personalities, technologists, and five retailers. The five retailers named to the coveted list were:

  • #64 Rosalind Brewer, CEO, Sam’s Club, Walmart Stores
  • #75 Miuciia Prada, owner, fashion designer, Prada
  • #76 Carol Meyrowitz, CEO, TJX
  • #79 Tory Burch, CEO, Tory Burch
  • #93 Sara Blakely, founder, Spanx

Retail Touchopoints – “EBay Urges Users To Change Passwords Following Database Hack”
Retail Touchpoints recently reported that E-Commerce giant eBay has confirmed that one of its databases was compromised by a cyberattack between late February and early March 2014. As a result, the company is asking users to change their account passwords as a precaution. he company said there is no evidence of unauthorized access to financial or credit card information, which is stored separately in encrypted formats, according to an announcement on the company blog. There has been no indication of increased fraudulent activity on the eBay site.

Internet Retailer – “China Officially Passes the U.S. in E-Commerce”
According to Internet Retailer and reports from China’s Ministry of Commerce, online retail sales in China totaled $296.57 billion in 2013, 13% more than U.S. e-retail sales of $262.51 billion. Official estimates of 2013 online retail sales, Chinese consumers now buy more online than do their U.S. counterparts.

Online retail sales in China in 2013 totaled 1.85 trillion yuan ($296.57 billion) in 2013, representing 41.2% growth from 2012—triple the growth rate of overall retail sales in China, according to the Ministry of Commerce. China’s online shopping total is 13.0% more than 2013 U.S. e-retail sales of $262.51 billion, which grew 16.9% in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Retail Customer Experience – “Target Forms New Digital Advisory Council”
Recently reported in Retail Customer Experience, Target Corp. announced it has formed a Digital Advisory Council. According to the company, the panel of technology industry leaders will help guide Target’s omnichannel strategies and push Target to innovate faster, and discover new ways to leverage technology to enhance the guest experience, both online and in stores. The council includes experts with varied tech backgrounds, and is comprised of:

  • Ajay Agarwal, managing director of Bain Capital Ventures;
  • Amy Chang, CEO/co-founder of Accompani; formerly led Google Analytics;
  • Roger Liew, CTO of Orbitz Worldwide; and
  • Sam Yagan, CEO of the Match Group and CEO/founder of OkCupid.

Mobile Marketing Magazine – Forrester Predicts $114bn of US Mobile Purchases During 2014
According to a recent Forrester report and reported in Mobile Marketing magazine, Purchases made on smartphones and tablets in the US will hit $114bn (£68bn) in 2014, according to a report from Forrester. Despite the lower number of regular tablet users than smartphone owners in the US – currently around 100m and 200m respectively – Forrester expects two-thirds of this revenue, $76bn, to come from tablets due to their larger screens and form factors better suited for shopping. It’s worth noting that mobile users making purchases on their devices are still in the minority – 38 per cent of smartphone owners and 31 per cent of tablet owners in 2014. However, those figures are expected to rise to 55 per cent and 61 per cent, respectively, pushing total mCommerce revenues in the US to $293bn.

Stay tuned next week for updates on the top news stories from the upcoming IRCE show. The Ketner Group team will be in Chicago for the annual event! If you are there, give us a shout @ [email protected].


Meet our newest intern, Justin Joe!

Hello everyone!

jkj_photo1I was born and raised near the Texas Gulf Coast in Lake Jackson. The town may be small, but being near both Dow Chemical and BASF oil plants, I got to meet many families who would transfer in on business. My family worked in-depth with the school district. My mother was and still is a teacher and my father was a clinical psychologist for the schools and probation systems in Brazoria, Wharton and Matagorda County. As a result, my family life revolved around education, and it is a subject that makes me feel the most at home. Both my parents are also musicians, and my father self-recorded and produced two full-length rock albums. I often remember certain periods in my life according to the musical phase I was in at the time. There’s not a lot of music I haven’t heard or can’t tolerate!

The strongest element of my family is my cultural heritage. I am a biracial Asian American and fiercely proud of it. Although my dad made my mom and I huge snobs when it comes to Chinese food! When I entered college in the fall of 2010, I was able to turn my fascination with cultural identity and diversity into an academic and professional adventure. I find public relations, marketing and mass communication in general very fascinating because of the interdisciplinary nature of the work. I’ve yet to meet someone in this field whose passion is exactly the same. In the sense, I feel there is room for growth as a professional and as a person. The highlights of my collegiate career have come from my relations with the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), of which I am president of Texas State’s Chapter.

Old Main at Texas State

Culturally speaking, Texas State is a heavily Hispanic university, so our Chapter has had the privilege of working with many culturally diverse students and organizations. With PRSSA, I have had the opportunity to hold events for Spanish media and documentary filmmakers, as well as draft the first hurricane warning system for the Gulf Coast’s Spanish-speaking population. I have lately concentrated my studies towards East Asia, primarily with personal interest, but also because of the similarly in the growth of the two regions’ media.

Skyline of Seoul, Korea
My dear Seoul, I shall visit you again very soon!

I compounded my two passions, music and Asia, and recently published my honors thesis discussing the cultural phenomenon known as the Korean Wave in South Korea. My ultimate high point in college was when I visited Korea’s capital, Seoul, for a brief period of observational study. I specifically studied Korean pop music–K-Pop–and discussed how it has become one of the key marketing mechanisms for South Korea’s national brand. This thesis also examined K-Pop’s movement to the West and how it has and might be received in the future. Since I was young I knew music had power, and this was just too perfect an opportunity to pass up! I intend to continue my studies of the Korean peninsula into graduate school.

I joined Ketner Group because I saw a kindred zest for branding and communications, the same elements I saw in my research. I hope to gain insight on B2B communications, an area that largely ignored in collegiate curriculum. I’m looking forward to a fun and productive stay with Ketner Group!

We’re hiring an Account Executive!

We’re hiring! If you or someone you know has two-to-three years of PR experience and is looking for a job, we want to hear from you!

Of course, we think we’re pretty cool, but in case you need some convincing, here’s a little about us.

Ketner Group PR + Marketing is an Austin, Texas-based public relations and marketing communications firm specializing in technology and B2B public relations for nearly 25 years. Ketner Group is experienced in a variety of industries, including retail technology, mobile technology, high tech business, hospitality technology, supply chain and logistics, and profitability and payments.

Our public relations team consists of passionate storytellers and we deliver diverse expertise in creating targeted public relations campaigns and marketing communications programs that can include multi-faceted public relations campaigns, relationship-based media and analyst outreach, company/product messaging and collateral, social media outreach, email and direct marketing and more.

Account Executive

 Job Description:

We’re looking for a motivated and dynamic team member who is passionate about PR, writing and media relations. The role of Account Executive (AE) is highly engaged in client relationships and will report to our Account Managers. An AE on our team should be a team player, but also be highly dependable to adhere to timelines on an individual basis. Ketner Group looks to its AEs to help execute on our PR campaign strategies and tactics.


  • Assist Account Managers with staying on task for key accounts
  • Execute media relations activities, including developing media lists, press release distribution and pitching and editorial calendar research and management
  • Maintain Ketner Group’s stellar reputation in the retail technology trade media space
  • Cultivate new media relationships in other verticals and top tier, national press
  • Write content pieces, including press releases, articles, case studies, e-books, etc.
  • Participate in client calls and meetings
  • Serve as a key contact in client communications
  • Help to brainstorm fresh, new campaign ideas
  • Execute on social media tactics

Candidate Qualities:

  • Strong writing skills, be prepared to submit writing samples
  • Confidence in handling media relations, including pitching trade and national media contacts
  • Effective communications skills, including the ability to clearly articulate the status of PR program/campaign activities to clients in person, over the phone or via email
  • Excellent research skills in finding appropriate media contacts, collecting supporting data/information for copywriting, identifying client award and event opportunities and conducting client competitor research
  • Ability to be self-accountable, self-motivated and proactive in staying on task with daily activities

Candidate Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree in communications, public relations, journalism or marketing
  • 2-3 years of PR experience in an agency, brand or corporation
  • Retail technology or brand PR experience a plus, but not required
  • B2B experience highly valued, but not required
  • Experience with executing on social media tactics
  • Experience with Vocus, Hootsuite and Harvest a plus


Please send a resume, writing samples, salary requirements and interview availability to [email protected]. To learn more about us, visit

PR as Storytelling: What Flash Boys Teaches Us About the Art of Technology Storytelling

By Justin Hoch at (_MG_2932)

I’m a huge Michael Lewis fan. And like countless other readers, I’m eagerly devouring his latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which rocketed to the top of the New York Times best-seller list immediately after its publication.

Lewis is a gifted storyteller who excels in bringing previously obscure topics to life, as he did with the arcane world of baseball statistics (Moneyball), Michael Oher’s journey from the streets of Memphis to NFL offensive lineman (The Blind Side), and how subprime mortgages and Wall Street greed fueled the Great Recession (The Big Short).

Lewis has a particular genius for explaining and making us care about topics that were previously unknown to typical readers: think on-base averages in baseball, or real-estate derivatives. But he’s outdone himself this time: Flash Boys shines a much-needed light on the dark side of Wall Street and how insiders have gamed the system through high-frequency trading systems, creating an unfair advantage that’s measured in microseconds – about 1/200th of the amount of time it takes to blink your eyes.

It’s storytelling at its best, complete with heroes, villains and mind-boggling technology. And like the most important stories of our time, it’s touched off a national debate (complete with lawsuits and a U.S. Department of Justice probe).

At its heart, Flash Boys is a technology story. And for all of us who make our living in high technology PR and marketing, it offers important lessons in the art of telling compelling, believable stories. What can we learn from Michael Lewis’ latest best-seller? Here are a couple of principles to keep in mind.

Keep it simple. As technology PR pros and storytellers, our job is often to write about topics that are difficult to understand. We have to resist giving in to buzzwords and techno-speak, instead focusing on explaining features and benefits in everyday words that any business editor or reader can understand. Many years ago an Austin American-Statesman humor columnist poked fun at a press release I wrote in one of his columns, taking me to task for using one tech buzzword after another. True, he wasn’t the target audience (he grabbed the release from a business writer), but the lesson has stuck with me ever since: keep it simple.

Simplifying complex topics is part of Michael Lewis’ genius and one of the reasons he’s such a popular storyteller. As one reviewer notes, “When it’s Michael Lewis doing the writing, previously incomprehensible topics become clear as day. That’s dangerous stuff for financial types who fare best when their activities are dense and misunderstood, and perhaps a tad threatening to the rest of us in the writing trade who wish we could be in Lewis’ league. Even Grandma can read Flash Boys, understand it and be entertained by it.”

Keep it credible. Keeping it simple is only part of the equation; as PR pros, we also need to remember to keep it credible. That means stripping out the excess adjectives and adverbs; for a press release, is company XYZ really the “leading provider of (fill in your favorite tech phrase here)?” The best writing strips out unnecessary language and gets straight to the point, without the fluffy language or over-the-top adjectives that create a barrier to credibility.

Focus on your heroes. Flash Boys turns an obscure band of Wall Street brokers and technologists into heroes. Brad Katsuyama, the highly principled, mild-mannered trader who is the central figure in Flash Boys, comes alive as an ordinary person who asks tough questions when his computer systems start behaving differently during routine trades. And now, he’s seemingly everywhere: from the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine to 60 Minutes. He’s the hero at the center of the debate over high-speed trading, proof that every good story deserves a great cast of characters.

It’s a reminder to all of us that if your CEO or client has a unique or particularly inspiring storyline, put him or her at the center of the story. But what if you’re dealing primarily with a technology rather than a person – which is so often the case in technology PR? Then look for ways that the technology touches people in everyday ways they can easily relate to. Do everything possible to personalize it. Does the technology make people’s work routines easier, or allow them to work better, faster or more accurately? Then say it, as simply and cleanly as possible, using examples to drive home your point.

Even better, if your company or client has customers that are willing to talk, make them the focus of your press releases and PR outreach. After all, nothing is more believable than seeing how companies and individuals put technology to work in the real world. We may not be writing about the next Flash Boys, but as PR professionals, we’re charged with telling great stories. And writers like Michael Lewis can inspire us to do our very best.


Four Ways to Refresh Existing Website Content

Gini Dietrich

Guest post by: Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich and lead blogger at Spin Sucks.

In late 2011 and early 2012, the Public Relations Society of America undertook the big task of redefining public relations.

Before this happened, the industry was working with a definition that was 40 years old. It hadn’t been reviewed since 1982.

In 1982, E.T. came out. John Belushi died. Knight Rider was a popular television show. Prince William was born. Seven people died from taking cyanide-laced Tylenol. The first issue of USA Today was published. And the Times “man of the year” was the computer.

A lot has changed since 1982. Not only have TV shows and movies grown up, so has Prince William and an entire industry. Social media has completely turned the PR industry on its head and technology is changing more quickly than ever before.

The evolution of technology is so fast, it’s reaching millions -and even billions-of users in no time at all.

Consider this: It took older technologies years to reach 50 million users…and then just a few months as it evolved.

  • Radio: 38 years.
  • TV: 13 years.
  • The Internet: Four years.
  • IPod: Three years.
  • Facebook added 100 million users in just nine months.
  • iPod app downloads hit one billion in nine months.

Nearly every year we have a new social network introduced. Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat. The list continues to grow and it’s not only the job of communicators to keep up, it’s your job as business leaders to stay abreast of the changes so you can lead your team during the digital age.

Websites are about the Customer

Technology is creating some amazing opportunities for all of us, but also causing some distress. You used to have a PR team (internal or external) that focused on employee communications, media relations, reputation management, financial reporting, the annual report, public affairs, and maybe some events.

Today PR professionals also have to be knowledgeable about web development, mobile marketing, search engine optimization, content marketing, and more.

The web, it turns out, is extremely important in the job of a PR professional. Much more important today than it was in the previous decade, as new technologies are introduced and companies are struggling to figure out how to add the latest and greatest tool to its overall marketing strategy.

It used to be your website was an online version of your corporate brochure. But times, they are a changin’. Your website now needs to be a living and breathing document that changes consistently (at least once a week, according to a Hubspot study) and becomes less about you and more about your customer.

Refresh Existing Content

The first place you want to start is your website by taking out the French – the we, we, we (oui, oui, oui – get it?!?).

  1. Find the French. Depending on how you like to work, you can either print out every page of your website (not very green, but it works) or you can go into your content management system and do a search. Look for every word that is about you. Look for “we,” “our,” “us,” and similar words. This is the copy you’ll have to rewrite.
  2. WIIFM. What’s in it for me means the copy you rewrite becomes about the customer, instead of about you. You tell them what your organization does for them. You use words such as “you” and “your.”
  3. Testimonials. Update your testimonials. Some of you will have them in text as a quote. Get these on video. We have a client who held a user’s event a couple of weeks ago. They hired a videographer to spend two hours at the conference and the marketing director got users on video talking about who they were, what they do, and how they use the client’s product. The stories ended up being really compelling. One user rescues dogs and finds them permanent homes. He talked about that and then spent 30 seconds talking about the client’s product. Mailchimp also does this really well. Rather than have the customers talk about how much they love the email software, they talk about their own businesses or interests or hobbies and how the product fits into their lives. Very compelling stuff.
  4. Case studies. This is what we’ll call social proof – the reason another person should buy from you. Most case studies are boring text with nothing interesting in them. Make them multimedia. Add images. Add charts. Add infographics. Even think about whiteboard automation. Make them so interesting, prospects can’t wait to buy.

Once this project is complete – and it will take some time – you can focus your energies on other owned media, such as white papers, webinars, blog posts, and videos.

To learn more, check out Gini’s latest book – Spin Sucks – on sale this week!


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is officially here!

Wearable Tech: Are You Ready?

Image of Google Glass, published in 2014 on ReadWriteWeb

SXSW 2014 has come and gone, and those who call Austin home are either still recovering from the constant state of exhaustion that goes hand in hand with doing SXSW right, or are beginning to venture out of their homes again into the world they had been so desperately avoiding for the last 10 days. The festival and all its visitors may have left, but the top trends are still buzzing about the tech community. Our last blog post focused on the top three hot topics we noticed at SXSW this year, but we wanted to dive a little deeper into each theme, as they all require a closer look into the current and future states of industry.

I attended a panel session titled “Come and Capture: The Future of Wearables & Content” that brought in four experts from Loopd Inc., Epiphany Eyewear, DAQRI and 4iiii Innovations to discuss the future of wearable technology and how it might evolve into a more integrated piece of our everyday world. In a room of close to 200 SXSW attendees, about 60% of people polled (via hand raise) said they would be interested in using wearable tech in the next five years. As the Interactive portion of the conference attracts innovators and early adopters on the whole, this wasn’t surprising after looking around to see three or four pairs of Google Glasses. It’s a “new” technology that seems too out there, too strange and superficial for mass consumption by the general public, but maybe we should take a closer look…

The first wearable technology technically came in the form of the pacemaker, according to the panelists. It’s embedded in the heart, and sends radio signals to another device that tracks cardiovascular activity and sustains stable functionality so that the wearer can react accordingly for long-term health. More common wearable tech accessories exist today such as fitness trackers for the wrist, ankle or as a shoe insert, which tracks activity level on a daily basis, and runs stats on heart rate, movement, and sleep so users can track their own unique health status. What more can there be to wearable technology? Let’s find out.

Wearable technology is based on augmenting the human ability in order to interact with the spaces, objects and content around you. While it can be extremely useful in many verticals, both on the consumer and industrial sides, a certain level of comfort and usability must exist. Technology used in movies like the Minority Report require constant arm movement when interacting with the content on a virtual screen, and while it may look super neat, who wants to be using their arms 8+ hours a day? Finding a balance between comfort and ease of use with accuracy will be key to widespread popularity of wearable tech.

Google Glass is the perfect example of wearable technology that is on the edge of innovation, but might have some not-so-subtle inconveniences when interacting with content. The Glasses themselves don’t necessarily look off-putting, but voice commands and gestures reveal the activity of a user when in public, causing many instances of offense and judgment toward the individual and device. As technology evolves and wearables become less foreign to the masses, the privacy issues will drop (remember when the first computers came out?), and technologists will find ways to consume content more efficiently using the devices.

But the issue of privacy may never completely disseminate, as it’s a global hot topic after the recent NSA scandal. People are wary of being tracked because they value their personal privacy, but as wearables gain traction among the general public, the moral conflict will need to be addressed. Beacon technology is growing as well, and if we’re all donning wearable devices in five years, we also need to know that those wearables are being tracked 24/7 – what’s important to you? Daily life enhanced with wearable technology vs. opening up your daily life to prying eyes…

Obstacles like these will crop up just as with any new technology pushing the envelope of what we’re accustomed to as a society. Ultimate self-realization will drive the move to widespread use, and time will tell just how quickly innovators bring on the early adopters and early majority.

To be able to walk into a room and immediately adjust it to your preferences will be an incredible thing. Temperature, lighting, application activation, news scanning and more can be controlled using wearable technology, and device interoperability will enhance our ability to consume content within every augmented object containing additional data and functionality. Today we are still using it mainly as fitness trackers and Google Glass, but more interactive features are certainly in the near future. Are you ready?

What do you think of wearable technology becoming mainstream? How might this impact your industry? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

KG @ SXSWi 2014 – What’s Hot!

Keynote speaker Austin Kleon speaks to the idea of “Scenius” during his session on creativity.

Spring is here in Austin, Texas, which means it’s that special time of year where we can all expect the lovely Texas sunshine to accompany us while we traipse around the Austin Convention Center during the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Well, the sunshine hasn’t been quite as present as we would have liked, but even some rainy weather can’t put a damper (see what I did there?) on KG’s time at SXSW!

For the last six years, Ketner Group has had a presence at one of the top technology and innovation conferences in the world that takes place right in our own backyard. We saw it begin as a little seedling of an event, and then grow into the geek-meetup monster that it is today. Before I dive into the hottest topics covered at SXSW Interactive this year, check out these cool stats on the festival:

  • SXSW began as a music-only conference in 1987, but added in a vertical for techies in 1994, marking the beginning of the festival’s 20-year history in tech, innovation and communications as a vital role to the conference.
  • Past keynote speakers include Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Elon Musk of SpaceX, and Mark Cuban, tech investor and current owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team. This year adds “Cosmos” host Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of President Bill Clinton and Senator Hilary Clinton.
  • The first SXSW had about 700 attendees, and this year the organization expects to see more than 70,000 techies, musicians and film buffs exploring the streets of Austin and probably enjoying more than a few breakfast tacos.

Along with the growing attendance of SXSW, new and exciting brands, startups, and entrepreneurs are venturing to Austin to showcase the latest and greatest ideas in the tech community worldwide. And speaking of worldwide, several nations have brought their top techies to the festival, with companies representing Germany, Ireland, Chile, Argentina, and the UK (to name just a few) hosting trade show booths and after-hour events, as well as sessions on innovation in their respective countries. Fun fact: Ireland was named the best startup ecosystem in Europe by Forbes magazine. So who knows, the next new neighbor in your office complex may have an endearing accent with a strange affinity for Guinness…

But I digress, let’s talk about the top three trends at SXSW this year:

Wearable Tech: Where is it Now, and Where is it Going?
Whether you’ve noticed it or not, wearable technology is beginning to grow more and more popular among the innovators and first adopters among us. It’s a term we’ve been reading about a lot lately it seems, but what actually constitutes a technology as “wearable”? A list of the most recognizable wearable tech accessories include smart watches, fitness tracking devices for the wrist or ankle, and of course the always controversial Google Glass. But many products that haven’t yet become mainstream, such as wearable tech accessories that range from audio sensors that connect everyday objects to Bluetooth enabled rings that act like wands at the end of our arms – yes, really! We’ll be digging in a little deeper on a follow up blog post, so don’t miss out on what’s coming in wearable tech!

Personalization: What’s Appreciated vs. What’s Creepy
Brands are arriving at a crossroad between giving the customer the ultimate, personalized experience and being just plain creepy. There’s a wealth of data out there, and businesses are beginning to utilize it to learn more about their individual customers in order to bring them exactly what they need and where there need at the right time. So how can brands approach personalization without going too far? One tip: Don’t be overt about why you’re offering the discount you are (“You normally eat lunch at noon, but we noticed you haven’t gone to your favorite sandwich shop yet – here’s a coupon for a $1 off if you stop by at 2 p.m.!”).  Check out KG’s PB&J blog in a couple weeks for a more in depth look at how to keep the “creepy” out of personalization.

Bitcoin: Why it’s the Next Mainstream Currency
Bitcoin is becoming more and more popular, but it’s still not very widely used and is commonly misunderstood. I’m one of the curious-but-cautious types regarding a virtual currency, as it’s a concept that seems too abstract to hold real value. But that’s just it – what does give any of our familiar currencies, paper, coin or virtual, any value in the economy? Value is all perceived and relevant in the marketplace that fluctuates from nation to nation – and a virtual currency works in the same way. Some say that because it’s more secure than credit cards, (again, yes, really) Bitcoin is worth a second look from the non-believers. We’re posting a comprehensive look at Bitcoin on the blog in the next few weeks, so stick around because Bitcoin seems to be doing just that!

Stay tuned for follow up blogs on these three topics, as each deserves their own dedicated, in-depth look so we’re all as well versed as our SXSW Interactive session leaders.

What other trends have you noticed at SXSW this year? Comment below – we’d love to hear from you!

Why Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar Acceptance Speech Was a Golden Example of Effective Communication

David Torcivia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Some people like to make fun of Matthew McConaughey. There are those that think his “simple” speech patterns (read: his charming and cuter than heck southern accent) make him seem, well, simple. Other people recall his days living in a now trendy trailer park on Barton Springs Road in Austin, smoking (leaves) through a bong and playing the congas naked…well after he was a famous multi-million dollar actor. How could an eclectic, naked-conga-playing, Texas-born actor be smart and one of the best Oscar acceptance speech givers of the night?

Answer: Because he knew the art of effective communication, and at its heart is storytelling.

Anyone could have stood in front of a bunch of people and said words. “Thank you to this person, thank you to that person, I’m so honored, etc.” I’m usually looking at their dress or tux—or worse—scrolling around on my iPad looking at Ellen DeGeneres’ Twitter feed, completely having zoned out around second 35. Now I loved Cate Blanchett’s acceptance speech and I thought Lupita Nyong’o was gracious and presented well beyond her years, but McConaughey’s speech had me hooked from the first second to the last. It probably helped that he was allowed around three minutes for his acceptance speech; however, this speech had the basic elements of storytelling:

  • A personal and interesting hook
  • A story to which everyone can relate
  • A beginning, middle and end
  • A hero (even if it was his “future self”)

I’ve read mixed opinions on the reception and resonance of his speech that night. The audience clearly loved it. Immediate reports gave his speech high praise, even if it was a little odd that he “thanked himself”—which I think is a misunderstanding and exaggeration. Later, a few critics began to emerge and were, in my opinion, overly harsh, inappropriately critical regarding his opening and too narrowly focused on his quirky movements. However, if we analyze the components of his acceptance speech, we’ll find that it was well organized, genuine and highly entertaining.


A personal and interesting hook

Before even making it to the stage, McConaughey shared a loving and intimate kiss with his wife—earning instant brownie points. He opened his speech with the appropriate thank you’s, although notably (and hopefully unintentionally) missing the opportunity to honor the people on which this movie was based, and then set up his story.

“There’s a few things, about three things to my count, that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase.”

Now I’m curious!

A story to which everyone can relate
via Adarsh Upadhyay "Oscar" via Flickr, some rights reserved
via Adarsh Upadhyay “Oscar” via Flickr, some rights reserved

His acceptance speech was very family-oriented, and what is more relatable to a majority of the night’s viewership than loving your family? He said his family was the center of what he looked forward to each day, and in talking about this, he shared an endearing story about his father.

“To my father, I know he’s up there right now with a big pot of gumbo. He’s got a lemon meringue pie over there. He’s probably in his underwear, and he’s got a cold can of Miller Lite and he’s dancing right now. To you dad, you taught me what it means to be a man.”

During this, he mimed the pot of gumbo, pointed to the invisible pie and gave us a little dance, which was extremely entertaining.

A beginning, middle and end

I’ll point again to the story set up he delivered in the beginning of this speech. He let us know there were three things he needed each day, and he delivered stories for each point. As he wrapped up his speech, he reminded us of the story he told—a conclusion to hit the nail on its head.

“So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasing.”

To those who thought his speech was scattered—you couldn’t be more wrong. This was a well-thought-out story, and his organized beginning, middle and end proves it.

A hero

Yes, he’s received some criticism for “thanking himself” during his Oscar speech, however, I don’t believe that was the point of his story.

“And to my hero, that’s who I chase. Now, when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say, “Who’s your hero?” And I said, “I don’t know, I’ve got to think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.” I come back two weeks later; this person comes up and says, “Who’s your hero?” I said, “I thought about it. It’s me in 10 years.” So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, “So, are you a hero?” And I was like, “Not even close! No, no, no!” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because my hero’s me at 35.”

So you see every day, every week, every month, and every year of my life, my hero’s always ten years away. I’m never going to be my hero. I’m not going to attain that. I know I’m not. And that’s just fine with me, because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.

I believe this is McConaughey’s poetic way of saying that he’s trying to be the best he can possibly be. Many artists are perfectionists seeking a level of satisfaction that they’ll never receive from themselves, and to his point, it gives them something to aspire to with every performance. Can he best himself? Since he, like most artists, is his biggest critic, he admits that he will never be satisfied with the best version of himself.

And he’s okay with that. Alright, alright, alright?

What did you think of his speech? What was your favorite acceptance speech or moment of the night?