To start at the end, author Bruce Sterling closed SXSW by posing the question: How is technology helping us as we build it?

As a healthcare marketer attending the endless learning opportunities of multiple perspectives, this idea resonated. Technology has not delivered on a utopian promise of a simpler healthcare system. But with all the bots and AI permeating the conference, by understanding the human dynamics we can build better, more useful solutions – my main takeaway from the conference.

Here are a few moments that stood out to me from SXSW that can help health marketers as we continue to build the faster pathways to better health.


Christine Todorovich, a director at Frog Design, gave a compelling perspective on how since the invention of the train technology has been focused on understanding a rapid pace of change in the way time, travel, and movement affects the human condition. We hear the word innovation all the time for good reason. Change is happening so fast, we are constantly grappling with how to design for experiences we may not be able to anticipate.

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When we think about all the ways people use motion (swiping, animation), when designing or consuming information, we need to understand what’s happening in those moments first. How is someone using that time to process and take action? How we deliver the right information to someone along the patient journey often starts with an idea like mobile first or desktop.

Christine illustrated our need to dive deeper into the moment itself and design for that need first. For example, Netflix has designed an experience where it is hard to distinguish between the interface in which you choose a video and the experience of watching a video. After that, we can focus more clearly on designing a better experience based on the device or screen they will be using.


Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, talked at length about the role of the news media amidst an ever changing landscape. He sees his media outlet as responsible for writing the big stories that explain or change the world. As healthcare marketers, it’s valuable to focus on exactly how effectively we explain or change the process of getting healthier when we make decisions about content and advertising.

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But what particularly resonated in this talk was Dean’s discussion of the newspaper’s presidential election coverage. While he defended the Times’ approach, he offered a fascinating admission: New York City is religiously secular and culturally diverse. But much of our country is neither, and his goal is to get more Times journalists closer to the people in communities across the country to report and relate to their experience without a New York filter.

As we build health solutions, making decisions in office parks and around conference tables, it’s easy to lose the individual person through the scale of our work. It’s said many times that the chronic or acute conditions we design for are just part of the whole person, but how much are we truly investing in time and resources to understand those people?


What started as a panel discussion about real-time video between executives at Mashable, ESPN, Facebook, and World Wrestling Entertainment quickly became a discussion about how adept and advanced the WWE is at understanding its audience at each moment along their journey.

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Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer of the WWE, talked in depth about their strategic insights and frameworks to build a dynamic digital ecosystem. She described it as a process of disrupting their own pay-per-view- to become a distributed model based on behavior and attention.

It starts with making the investment to be on every digital platform. Then, understanding the intersection of the brand and what the audience wants in that space. At that point they have ability to optimize the experience and tie one media to the next sequentially.

The greatest lesson about SXSW is how meaningful it is to gain perspectives from people you would never have the opportunity to learn from. What these people market may be vastly different, but the lessons for healthcare marketers are simple: gain insight into the lives and habits of the people who matter. Understand what moments your brand can live in and how they’re supported by technology. Always provide the next step to a path of content that will help people understand themselves and their health in compelling and meaningful ways.

Michael Leis is SVP of social strategy at Digitas Health.