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What We're Watching: Upcoming Trends at SXSW 2011

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Our day-to-day lives are becoming increasingly digital -- we're blogging, sharing photos online and digesting the news in real time, thanks to groundbreaking innovations in social media. South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW), the annual Austin-based gathering of digital thought leaders, is the place where digital trends are born -- it is the social media yang to the Consumer Electronics Show's gadget yin. Twitter, Foursquare, and Wordpress got their big breaks at the conference in years past, and all three have exploded into social properties that have become a part of our daily lives. At PepsiCo, we're committed to keeping our finger on the pulse of the next big thing, so it has been important for us to participate in SXSW--now approaching our third year at the fest--to support the community that is changing how we engage with consumers.

I've been attending the conference for seven years, and have watched it grow from a small gathering of techies to 14,000 interactive conference attendees last year, ranging from nonprofits, marketers, developers and educators. The event has transformed into a hub of digital innovation that allows participants the opportunity to listen to leaders in the space, get a sneak peek into the newest technology and startups, and to analyze the latest trends. This year, we've got our eye on cloud computing, group messaging and social shopping (because who hasn't joined LivingSocial or Groupon this year?).

With this evolution has come the presence of brands and corporations in the halls of the Austin Convention Center. Conference attendees are connecting with products and brands via on-site experiential activations, panel discussions and book signings. Digital is the language consumers are speaking today, and having a strong presence at this conference gives brands the opportunity to tune in and to have a trusted voice in the conversation.

This year, we're excited to be offering, for the first time ever, livestreaming of official SXSW keynotes, panels and select discussions from our own blog portal. We're also tracking social conversation around SXSW with our Zeitgeist, the real-time ticker of social media activity, on display at locations around Austin and on our web site. We're also helping foster dialogue by showcasing our PepsiCo10 program, in which we partnered with 10 digital startups this summer to activate pilot programs with select brands. Some of those startups will be showcasing their projects at SXSW, including a "Super Shopper" interactive game designed by PepsiCo10 startup Evil Genius Designs that allows players to interact with our products and test out the motion-capture technology that drives the game.

Connecting consumers with these emerging technologies and trends is important to us. With Pepsi Max, we're teaming up with Foursquare to host a secret show only available by unlocking a Golden Ticket on Foursquare (think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). We are also letting users create their own tunes via mobile phones by working with hot new startup (and PepsiCo10 partner) BreakoutBand. Our Brisk brand has partnered with Instagram, the photo-sharing application, to customize special editions of Brisk cans featuring user-designed photos for SXSW.

By allowing consumers to interact directly with our brands, and by providing the platform for them to engage, we're meeting them where they are--which is increasingly online. As a company that has a long-standing commitment to innovation, it makes sense for us to be tuned in with the innovators who are driving the next social or digital must-have.

Along with being a key venue for information-gathering, SXSW also positively impacts our business globally -tuning our teams into key trends and creating a dialogue with influencers. PepsiCo is regarded as an active contributor to the conversations around the latest in digital. Similar to CES serving as a platform for engineers and tech companies to emerge as leaders in the gadget field, SXSW allows businesses - and brands - to be seen as having a significant stake in the digital innovation field.

We'll be looking out for great things from influencers, brands and startups alike at SXSW this year. Having the opportunity to get in on the ground floor with these technologies, and to listen and learn, is invaluable. We're excited about what we'll see.