Building brands in a changing society

Scanning the Digital Horizon: The View from Stream Asia

It’s a rare opportunity: The chance to network with the cream of the WPP network, global brand leaders, and leading technology providers, all while in shorts and flip-flops. But that’s the beauty of WPP’s Stream, an invitation-only unconference held in scenic locations worldwide that brings together WPP leaders, clients, partners, and start ups in a three-day festival of ideas and debate.

This was my first year attending Stream Asia, hosted in mid-March on Langkawi, an island off Malaysia. The one rule to abide by: Come ready to participate because an unconference is only as good as the programming that attendees provide for each other.

Not surprisingly given the invitation list, there was no shortage of quality content. Stream Asia was an immersion in the issues that matter to agencies, brands and technology partners. A quick scan of the dozens of volunteer-led discussion topics revealed what’s top of mind for the industry this season including dealing with data, getting to the right mix of social media platforms, and better leveraging mobile technologies.

Of all the worthy issues under discussion, a number stood out for me:

Real-time marketing can deliver a tactical advantage. From Frederique Covington, international marketing director at Twitter, came a call for brands to kill the campaign and focus on moments instead. And it’s true that brands will be more relevant to their audience if they’re prepared to react in real-time to real life, particularly by piggybacking on memorable moments from major events the Super Bowl, Olympics or Oscars. However, on a related note…

Brands need to do a better job of planning for spontaneity. As discussed in a session entitled “Share or Die: The collaborative economy and your brand,” hosted by Tan Siok Siok, the director of a crowd-sourced documentary about Twitter. Brands are largely structured to deliver episodic campaigns, not always-on communications. If brand owners want to advantage of social channels as a vehicle for real-time conversations, marketers need to make room for more improvisation.

Agencies need to staff for a world where brand don’t just have taglines, they have ongoing narratives. The marketing industry is quickly evolving and digital roles and responsibilities should evolve with it. Instead of traditional agency divisions around account, planning, technology and creative, VML called for new job titles – convergence manager, trends analysis explorer, visual data art director, experience architect – to match the demands of today’s industry.

Digital is breaking away from the screen and becoming physical. Stream’s Technology Show featured examples of how MaKey MaKey, a circuit board kit that connects objects to a computer, transforms everyday objects into musical instruments, video games, and whatever else tinkerers can dream up. The audience was treated to a few tinkles of the piano keys, with carrots hooked up to a computer standing in for keys.

Mobile devices are still the industry’s most underexploited wearable. Wearables are clothing and accessories that incorporate technology, like the Nike+ Fuelband that tracks activity levels. From Jayant Murty, director, strategy and marketing at Intel, the thought that technologists have a long way to go before they’ve fully explored how smart phones – the device that is with us all day, everyday – can add more value to the lives of consumers.

For me, Stream was both a barometer of what’s weighing on the minds of industry decision makers today and a glimpse of what we can expect in the future. It’s tough for any brand or agency to maintain a competitive edge in a rapidly changing industry. A chance to pick the brains of the industry elite certainly helps.

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