New Ideas and Conversations from Stream Asia 2017

By: Tom Gregory, Sydney Group Head at Blis

In 2017, location marketing specialist Blis was invited to attend WPP’s renowned Stream event in Phuket. Australia sent Sydney Group Head, Tom Gregory, to soak up the insights from an event that’s quickly become a landmark in the global media landscape.

From the beginning, you know Stream is going to be different. It’s billed as the ‘un-conference’, an environment clean from the pitch-and-spin that often clouds media and marketing forums. But it’s much more than that. Stream explores the future of humanity’s relationship with technology. Perhaps that’s what I enjoyed most, it wasn’t simply another marketing conference. It was free form, but it had teeth.

The Big Boards at Stream Asia 2017

At Stream, there were sessions on humankind’s key challenges, including sexism, prejudice and greed. We covered topics as diverse as the ethics of Donald Trump’s electoral campaign and performance enhancing drugs (bio-hacks) in everyday life. And all of this took place in an environment that was invite only, largely run by the guests, and with a closed-door insights policy. While everyone attending and presenting worked in a marketing related field, it was a genuine sharing of information, rather than a genuine sharing of sales credentials.

There was a veritable smorgasbord of interesting discussion topics but three topics that particularly resonated with me:

How is Big Data working for consumers?

Perhaps a slightly old-hat phrase these days, but it’s ironic that the staggering impact of big data is largely still to be felt. The huge amounts of data sets being bought, sold and overlayed by marketers and data scientists around the world are fundamentally changing the way brands and customers interact — that much is certain. But is the value exchange brands are offering consumers adequate to offset the privacy concerns many customers have about their data? That question came up in one of my sessions, and it created a fascinating and far-reaching conversation.

At the advent of the big data revolution, brands promised consumers richer/better/more relevant experiences in exchange for their data. The consensus in the room was that the media and marketing industry had probably failed to adequately communicate this value exchange to consumers. While the targeting is getting better, consumers may not be aware of the extra value they’re getting from online environments, and it was discussed that perhaps if consumers were more engaged with their digital privacy, they might be more engaged with the ads they receive.

How is technology impacting creativity and all the other good things that make us human?

At an event for digital and tech leaders it was a refreshing experience to explore some of the potentially negative aspects of technology that our industry supports and largely relies on.

Can technology really ever replace creativity and human intuition? With AI at the forefront of so many ad-tech industry discussions, we’re forgetting that AI should be viewed as a collaboration between humans and technology. Most consumers are unaware of the use of AI and machine learning techniques already utilised within banking and telco corporation’s enterprise systems to improve customer contact experiences and determine cross-sell opportunities.

But the question remains, can technology alone develop a big creative idea that works on a very human and emotive level, like the Cadbury Gorilla’s infamous Phil Collins drum solo, for example?

Voice Assistant Operating Systems:

A final fascinating topic was the concept of using your voice to command computers to carry out complex tasks. Voice assistants and voice-powered operating systems might be a little clunky now, but their time is coming. Voice operating systems could allow someone who can’t code or program, for example, to be able to complete tasks that would normally require different skillsets and training. Advancements like this could help people with injuries or disabilities join or re-join the workforce.

From a marketing perspective, voice assistants in mobile handsets could increase the relevance of advertising by getting to know their owners better than anyone else. They’d do this by pulling in different data sources, including location data, to answer questions or commands with the best product or solution.

Discussions at Stream Asia 2017

Final thoughts:

As a professional learning experience, Stream is among the most valuable I’ve ever had. The sharing of a wide variety of ideas, however tangentially related to my area of expertise, have already helped me introduce new ideas into conversations with clients and colleagues. The event is a credit to WPP’s focus on innovation; Rob Norman; along with co-host Yossi Vardi and Rob Norman have done a sterling job creating an environment where ideas can actually flow freely. There’s a limited supply of honesty and genuine vision in the media and marketing industries, and Stream has quickly become a standard bearer for both.

The @WPP (un)conference for (un)conventional thinkers