Embracing a New Way of Doing Things

One of the truths about digital marketing is that it isn’t just marketing on digital devices -  it’s a new way of thinking about consumer behavior.  

WPP’s annual Stream (un)conference wholeheartedly embraces the notion of doing things differently. It blows up any connotations you have about what a conference is. You won’t find any PowerPoints here – instead, dialogue rules, attendees drive the agenda, everyone has a voice, and extra-curricular activities are quite unexpected (such as midnight cooking, flying balloons into space, building bonfires, participating in talent shows, and building computers from scratch).  

The event takes place over two-and-a-half days in Marathon, Greece and is hosted by WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell and investor Yossi Vardi “the grandfather of Israeli innovation.” The event brings together a mash-up of WPP agency leaders, brand stewards, technology innovators, academics, YouTube stars, VCs, and more.  

Stream centers around discussions led by attendees. If you have a topic to discuss, you write it on the big boards and then you are given 30 seconds to pitch the topic on the first night. For attendees, the next challenge becomes choosing between the 100+ discussions that range from “What short girls can teach us about the future of content distribution” to “The future of the agency.” 

So what can this Mediterranean mash-up of tech, data, and creativity teach us about digital strategy? 

CULTURE IS AN OFTEN OVERLOOKED BUT CRITICAL INGREDIENT TO DIGITAL SUCCESS

Doing digital is very different from “being” digital. Agencies, publishers, and brand marketers all shared their challenges of embracing the shift to digital. What separates digital leaders from laggards is not just embracing the latest social network feature, it’s building a culture that has a digital mindset. 

To build a digital mindset, discussions centered on needing to flatten hierarchies, empower teams, embrace test and learn initiatives, and cross-pollinate people with different expertise. As competitors can come from anywhere today and agility is a necessity, building the right mindset and culture is a critical ingredient to becoming a leader in the new connected world.  

CREATIVITY IN THE CONNECTED WORLD REQUIRES OPENNESS

Discussions were passionately filled with debate and ideation for how to bring brands to life across native advertising, content, mobile, and more. Brands have a giant digital canvas to reach and engage audiences today, but different channels have different nuances. 

What did become clear is that developing great content and experiences requires deeper collaboration and openness. Content providers and influencer networks talked about how the brands that see the strongest performance are the ones who openly collaborate with teams versus the brands and agencies that insist on doing it their way. 

To be more open and create better work, brands and agencies need to share clear and inspiring briefs not only with creative teams, but also with our media and content partners. Publishers can be more proactive in sharing insights and learning about what works best on their platforms, and collectively we need to all work together to make the work even better. Being open to listening, sharing and collaborating will lead to better work. 

TEST AND LEARN, BUT FOCUS ON METRICS THAT MATTER

Brands are creating more content than ever before, one brand leader referred to it as needing to "feed the maw.” With the rise of content marketing and an endless number of places to share brand stories, it can seem like a never-ending treadmill where we’re constantly trying to churn out content and fill up content calendars. 

While there have never been so many ways and places to reach consumers, we also should remember there has never been better data signals and tools to connect metrics and track performance. While the creative is incredibly important, clear goals and a well thought out measurement often doesn’t get the attention it should. Instead of racing to feed the maw, we need to step back and look at what efforts are really moving the metrics that matter.  

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