My biggest insight from SXSW? Stop planning your life, and start living it.
I had an entire day planned – but if Elon Musk decides to do a pop-up Q&A session and you get a ticket to it, you go to it. And if you happen to refresh your webpage at the exact time when the most talked about activation, HBO’s interactive Westworld, is releasing their last round of tickets, you go to it.
First, it is extremely difficult to describe a session with Elon Musk in a few words. Whether he’s talking about his next plans for reaching Mars or how Kanye West inspires him, his Q&A gave so much information that summarizing it all would be the most difficult task from this trip.
Elon Musk is not one to plan. When asked about business plans he has for any of his many companies like SpaceX or Tesla, he replied with “I’ve tried having a business plan but every time it failed. So now I never use a business plan.” This might sound crazy; however, for a person who is preparing for pizza joints and night clubs on Mars, not having a formal plan at all might be the least craziest idea.
After sitting in a session learning about Musk’s plans for tunnels and traveling to Mars, along with his greatest fears (AI), it was time to transform my world into a new environment. It was time for me to become a black-hat host and interact in HBO’s Westworld.
Entertainment in the modern era has evolved into providing fans experiences in real time. While it may seem natural to extend fandom to digital environments, there is still a huge opportunity to engage in the experiential space. For the opening weekend of SXSW, HBO had found a way to bring a beloved series to life.
HBO’s Westworld activation relates to a common theme that consumers do not want to wait for a season premiere of a show. They want more than sitting in front of a TV watching episodes, they want to interact with the show.
Users got to become a Westworld guest, experiencing life as a visitor of Sweetwater – a month before the new season is released. Watching hosts in the Wild West fight about money, alcohol, or why the local mail was delayed brought the consumer outside of the TV and into real life Westworld.
Both Elon Musk and the HBO Westworld activation made me realize that planning everything in life may not be the most beneficial approach. Sometimes it is better to follow your instincts, like how Musk felt about SpaceX. He was upset that nobody was finding an efficient way to Mars. Instead of working with other companies, he decided to take over and do it himself. Beyond the calculated risk and potential business plan, Musk found something he believed in and something that got him excited, and that was more beneficial to him than a business plan.
In addition to not having a business plan, it is important to realize what consumers want. Fans don’t want to wait to go to the moon or the next episode of a series, they want updates now and in real time. This is why it is important for companies and brands to engage with consumers directly. Both Elon Musk, with his frequent social media use and live stream of launches, and HBO’s interactive Westworld, show how advertising goes beyond the standard TV spot or social media post. It is important to reach the consumer in more creative and personal ways. It is also important to remember that planning isn’t always going to work out, whether it be a day at SXSW or just a social media post. You have to always be ready, and be agile!