STREAM: Through the Lens of Digital Marketing by Billy Sind

It wasn't what I expected or planned for my first trip to Thailand — no food stalls in Bangkok, in fact, no Bangkok at all. There were no elephants or island hopping, no floating markets or Chang Mai. And yet, thanks to the WPP Stream Unconference, it was still a highly cultural, educational, and unforgettable four days.

With just enough structure to give direction, the freedom to participate in any/every thing on the agenda, and a continuously open bar to keep the conversation lubricated, the Stream unconference really was ‘un’-like any conference I’d been too previously. Wide-ranging, inclusive, smart, and free flowing, it was about business, but not business cards. It was about education without being didactic, and about forging relationships without feeling networked.

Not surprisingly for an agency-driven conference, there was a little something for everyone. The hot button issues (programmatic buying, the distinction between UI and UX, etc.) were considered, but so too were the more interesting questions about why stand-up comedians and little kids make the best research subjects, whether the selfie stick might just portend the coming apocalypse, and of course, all things China, from talent to smog to eCommerce and more.

As a digital marketer — one who specializes in middleweight content — Stream was a veritable cornucopia. Whether in the ‘organized’ discussions or at the lunch table, on the ‘main’ stage or in the pool, this unconference offered an abundance of rich material both snackable and shareable. Moreover, as an event Stream successfully delivered on many of the ideas we consider content best practices. So, with those best practices in mind, let’s take a closer look at the event structure and program overall as well as a few pieces of ‘content’ that have stuck with me since.

Publish Regularly: Establishing a recognizable content cadence is critical to building an audience, engaging your stakeholders, and transferring the knowledge your brand owns. At Stream, the first two days each offered a half dozen separate discussion sessions along with nightly events, meals and more. That’s at least a dozen potential takeaways for all involved. Mine ranged from the future of email and the death of cookies to the must-see nature of Bjork’s Biophilia.

Knowledge Transfer: The journey of good content — from brand to audience to network — and sharing smart, insightful material can increase one’s credibility and clout. So, just like today’s digital platforms have encouraged businesses and brands to become publishers, enabling a more open flow of information, the atmosphere at Stream seems to encourage knowledge and insight to be passed (and received) openly and freely between participants.

Visual Vocabulary: More than ever, we (and our audiences) are visual learners, and because imagery enables us to simplify complex ideas and reflect powerful emotions, compelling content is frequently visual content. So how’s this for visual — brightly colored tents for discussions, the soaring roofs of Thai architecture, palm trees on the beach in Kata Bay… Alright, so they won’t help you remember how video impacts e-commerce or who won Midnight Cooking Madness (yeah, just as cool as it sounds), but they’re still pretty damn good visuals to take away.

Build an Asset: It’s risky in the content world to live and die by the performance of an individual piece — kind of like making one video with the expectation it’ll go viral. That’s why we build assets — to ensure quality content can remain relevant, accessible, found through search, and shared with others. And that’s exactly what Stream has done, created an asset, one that almost all participants would readily return to and share with others, and one that’s expanding from Cannes to Asia to Greece to SXSW and beyond.

Always On: I mention that the bar and the pool were always open, didn't I?

Someone (Seth Godin, I believe) recently said that content marketing is the only marketing left. And if that’s true, then content marketing best practices are probably a pretty good lens through which to judge many of the things we do and places we go both online and off. Whether it’s the success of the sources we use for news and information, the restaurants we frequent, or most certainly the conferences we attend, the power and impact of smart content marketing is very clear.

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