Last Thursday night I attended an event at advertising agency iris' London headquarters where a handful of speakers, just returned from the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, presented their 'Texas Takeaways’: what they regard as the key themes from this year's festival – billed as the "largest interactive event in the world".

As well as the margaritas and tacos on offer to the guests, there was a lot to learn from the two hour talk. Here are the four highlights that stood out to me.

Intelligent devices

The evening was compered by the IPA's digital consultant, Nigel Gwilliam. No overview of SXSW would be complete without reference to the 'Internet of Things' and 'intelligent devices' and this is how Gwilliam kicked off proceedings. He advised that in the future there will be “sensors everywhere" and that smart devices such as washing machines will be able to detect its own errors, and, acting as intelligent agents on behalf of their (human) owners, machines will be able to 'scan' recommendation sites for local plumbers. The future of marketing therefore might entail not only marketing to people, but marketing to devices as well.

Democratic innovation

The next speaker, David Caygill, creative technology director at iris, discussed crowdfunding ideas. Companies such as Kickstarter, which to date has funded over 18,000 projects, are, according to Caygill, "democratising innovation" by getting ideas funded from a vast array of different people. One such idea, which generated a lot of interest from the audience, was the Ostrich Pillow.

Source: Kickstarter

But Caygill also made the point that crowdfunding sites are essentially ecommerce platforms; when people fund projects they expect to be able to (eventually) purchase that product. This means that start-ups need to ensure a successful transition from prototype to sale. Of course, it is a long process from inventor to entrepreneur, a process that includes raising funds and marketing the product.

Caygill also discussed the emergence of 3D printers. Predicted to herald a revolution in the way people manufacture products, this is definitely a trend to watch. Indeed Gwilliam pointed out "when the geeks start thinking about fashion as opposed to Star Trek" we all need to watch where it goes. (Warc subscribers can read more about 3D printers and other themes including wearable technology in this article by Caygill.)

Meanwhile Jessica Butcher, co-founder of Blippar, an image recognition app for mobile and tablet devices that has generated a lot of media buzz recently, announced the death of augmented reality and the emergence of "visual discovery". Butcher reminded the audience of the intensely private and personal nature of mobile devices and warned that any marketing communication on this platform must tell a story that is either: entertaining, offers a utility or adds value.

Social good

The next speaker, Alex Goat, client services director at ad agency Livity, gave an inspirational talk about The London Teenage Coder Riot initiative. The basic idea was to address a social issue (youth unemployment) and a business issue (the need for skilled coders and programmers). Essentially, the initiative involved working with "opportunity poor" young people, teaching them to code hence increasing their career prospects and broadening their opportunities.

The final speaker, Ben Essen, iris' head of planning, challenged the audience to question who controls our destiny in the digital age. Essen pointed out that recommendation engines and algorithms are not driven to serve our needs, but to serve the needs of the company. He went on to remind the audience that, when there is no monetary exchange, we are all just products.

Keeping it real

A notable theme that cropped up throughout the evening was the importance of the physical and using brand activations that integrate the physical with the digital world. The desire for the physical and tactile world is evident through the success of start-ups such as Postagram, which turns digital photographs in to real postcards, or Stitchtagram, which puts digital photos on physical objects such as pillows and throws. Elsewhere, musicians are also accentuating the analogue: last year, rock star Beck released an album purely as sheet music. And ad creatives have picked up on the trend, with this French TV spot dramatizing the longevity of paper in a rather unique and entertaining way…

The bottom line: embrace what is real. The importance of emotion cannot be overstated. Effectively reaching consumers is as much about creating stories and evoking an emotional response as it is about functional output.