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Insights from WPP's Stream 2015: Three marketers share unconventional thinking from an unconventional conference

WPP's annual Stream event is billed as the (un)conference for (un)conventional thinkers. Hosted over three days in Greece by Sir Martin Sorrell and Yossi Vardi, it attracts 300 leaders and rising stars from the technology, marketing and media industries. So what goes on out there? Three guests who have just returned tell us what they learned at Stream 2015...

Caroline Stephens, Johnson & Johnson

I help marketers across our many brands and countries to win in a digital world, and consider ROI all the time. Agencyand client experts joined me at a 1st discussion-on-the-beach at WPP Stream.

In digital, there is a constant flow of new disruptions & opportunities – yesterday brand teams were excited about Twitter & brand apps; today they ask about Instagram & influencers; tomorrow it might be virtual reality & internet of things – and this pace of change will continue. As the brilliant AdContrarian says: “There’s no bigger sucker than a gullible marketer convinced he’s missing a trend”.

It’s critical that the shift from traditional, TV budgets towards digital contributes greater effectiveness & efficiency in growing our business. Analytics resources are growing significantly to crack this. We discussed three themes:

  • Multi-attribution modelling & digital econometric curves matter. A paid search click may be the last action a consumer takes prior to desired brand action – but often preceded by multiple digital & traditional connections. All count, and for incremental growth you should invest selectively depending on their ROI curves.

  • By now, we collectively know a lot about the performance of the digital “basics”. A few select digital KPIs that act as a proxy for sales impact across SEM, YouTube, Facebook etc are common lexicon & justifying significant spend across advertisers.

  • Leading organisations allocate innovation working & non-working budget to test the newer opportunities. No one marketer can second guess performance without trialling, data & time – achieving learnings or ROI to win in the future.

It was an impassioned discussion with valuable contributions, attended by a number of leading FMCG & healthcare companies together with top agency leaders.

Caroline Stephens is senior director, Johnson & Johnson Digital Center of Excellence EMEA

Gemma Milne, Ogilvy & Mather

I’ve just returned from what can only be described as the most mental conference I have ever attended. Stream is what’s known as an ‘unconference’. This means that there is no schedule, there are very little ‘knowns’ before you arrive, and everyone can participate in as little or as much as they see fit. It’s ‘invite only’ – and normally this is not something I support when it comes to the sharing of ideas and thoughts, but it did mean it created a safe place for people to discuss difficult problems off the record, and made you really want to make the most of this very special opportunity.

With it having been such an incredible experience, I thought I’d share a few of the lessons and takeaways I’ve been left with in the hope that other conferences, and maybe even business as a whole, might take note and start to follow suit in the way it had the people attending reassess the way they conduct themselves and their business.

Leave egos at the door

As a relatively junior woman in the industry, what a breath of fresh air it was to have the opening speech declare that egos must be left at the door. Name badges only stated name and company – not title – and we were all encouraged to create relationships with people based on their behaviour and thoughts expressed at the conference. It was like we had a blank slate upon which to build our 4 day reputation – and who knows what those foundations could then lead to in the ‘real world’.

Ask open questions

Instead of having a defined schedule of events, once you registered you were led to this large whiteboard full of empty time slots where you were to propose your discussion sessions. It really was ‘anything goes’ – and open questions which could have several answers were encouraged. When I’m sitting in an audience listening to an interesting speech, my mind tends to flurry with questions early on that I know I won’t be able to get all the answers to – the beauty of having hosted discussions as opposed to speeches meant people could interject with questions and redefine the flow of the discussion. And with egos left at the door, anyone could chip in.

See the value in play

There was a Stream Band. There was a talent show – the Extravaganza. There were sports in the mornings and bonfire competitions in the evenings. We were taking ourselves out of meetings and into the playground. I couldn’t believe how well I bonded with people over playing a few Oasis songs, or how quickly we ended up talking about interesting business problems over some smores. You don’t have to be in a structured meeting to get to the point and, for me, it was much easier to find flow in conversation when its roots were in something so far removed from everyday business.

Prepare for spontaneity

As much as Stream was ‘unorganised’, it was simultaneously one of the most organised operations I’ve ever seen. It was like there were these defined structures in place to then allow randomness to happen in between the lines. It meant we felt comfortable not knowing what was going on – and for someone who loves going through and highlighting a schedule before an event, that really is saying something. We were able to let someone else deal with the mundane decisions like where to have lunch and how big a notepad to carry with you (answer: the same place as everyone else, and not one at all as off the hook discussions require few or no notes), which then meant we could focus on the important stuff – sharing ideas and meeting awesome people.

Remember your value

It was humbling being in the company of such influential, inspiring and experienced people, and I was worried that I would feel out of place amongst the ‘giants’ of our industry. But in fact, it wasn’t long before I was reminded why I was there and how I could bring value, because there were so many outlets and opportunities which played to so many different peoples’ strengths. The openness of the discussions and the hunger people had for a diverse amount of information meant everyone had something important to say. Coupling that with the ego-less mentality meant confidence wasn’t difficult to find.

Reflecting back on Stream and how people behaved hasn’t made me think that everything about the way we conduct conferences, and business itself, should all change. Instead, I do hope that everyone there might take one takeaway and implement something new at their organisation – whether they are client, agency or another – and maybe more thoughts, ideas and solutions will be shared and improved upon across the board.

Gemma Milne is a creative lab technologist at Ogilvy & Mather

Connie Solheim Lykke, Lego

The unconference format was a wonderful way to meet new people from the myriad of companies present at Stream. There was an exciting and eclectic mix of professionals from tech companies to agencies and brands. I was really impressed how everyone contributed to the variety of discussions from how to fall in love in one hour to how to measure your ROI when using social media to tech lab workshops! The atmosphere was active and friendly, where you meet new friends on equal terms and where egos are checked at the door.

One of the many companies that participated at Stream was the Lego Group, which facilitated a workshop called Duckerthon. The workshop illustrated the need for adults to harness the ability to think like kids in order to boost innovation and creativity.

The sharing and innovative nature of Stream was highlighted when one of the participants, Prof. Mel Rosenborg, created a digital book from the workshop – in only 10 minutes! You can see some of the original ducks that flied off during the workshop here.

The format, people and general atmosphere of Stream made sure that we left with more than just a couple of new LinkedIn connections. The combination of professional and social activities provide the foundation for meeting the other participants on a more human level. This meant that you left the event feeling part of something and having made much deeper connections then what you normally experience at conferences.

Looking back at the days spent outside of Athens I feel as a marketer that this definitely is an event that you do not want to miss. As most events of this caliber this was a smash hit, but with an invitation-only you will have to work hard and contribute with you creativity, knowledge, passion, and personality to make sure you get on the list for next year.

Connie Solheim Lykke is marketing manager at Lego Group

For more from Stream 2015, check out Jim Rosenberg's five takeaways about digital for social good.

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