Stephanie Myers
Mar 27, 2014

Sun, sand and the latest in digital thinking: The view from Stream Asia

Don’t let the tropical beach and the shorts and flip-flops fool you; WPP’s Stream Asia is serious business.

A Stream Asia 'conference room'
A Stream Asia 'conference room'

Stream is an invitation-only 'unconference' held in various locations worldwide that brings together WPP leaders, clients, technology partners, non-profits and startups in a three-day festival of ideas, debate and networking. Anyone can lead a session on any topic, and everyone is expected to participate in order to make it a rich experience for all. 

This was my first year attending Stream Asia (Possible is a WPP company), hosted in mid-March on Langkawi, an island off Malaysia. While the resort setting and dress code seemed casual, the conference brought together heavyweight thinkers and doers in the digital space from across the region. 

In between the technology show-and-tell, fitness on the beach, a midnight potluck, and a talent show—who knew colleagues were so talented?—there were more interesting sessions than there was time. At the heart of Stream are two solid days of discussions led by the participants.

Discussion titles ranged from the controversial (“Should we depose Sir Martin?”—a call for shifting WPP from a hierarchy to a holacracy in the style of Zappos) to the practical (“Curiosity killed the cat…but who killed curiosity”—a session on the value of asking questions to get better outcomes) to the provocative (“Is big data like teenage sex? Everyone talks about it but no one knows how to do it”).

While the titles were playful, the topics were meaty, with most solidly focused on issues of importance for marketers navigating today’s digital environment. Some of the key takeaways for me touched on mobile, social media and digital job descriptions.

Mobile devices are still the industry’s most underexploited wearable: A session on the future of wearables hosted by Intel noted that while clothing and accessories incorporating technology are entering a “fun” stage of exploration (think diapers that let parents know when the baby needs changing), the ubiquitous smartphone still has plenty of room for evolution. Would-be inventors were counselled to start with mobile apps and consider how a wearable might solve actual consumer problems versus just being a novelty.

Consumers want to be part of the story; they just need the right opportunity to participate: From Tan Siok Siok, the director of “Twittamentary,” a crowdsourced documentary about how Twitter changes lives, came a session on brands and the collaborative economy. Social media has unleashed the human impulse to be included as a co-creator; brand owners can tap into this by making it simple and rewarding to help shaping the brand story. Of course, this is only feasible for marketers with the organisational backing to crowdsource their brand-building.

Job descriptions need to catch up with a quickly evolving marketing industry: VML put forward a few guesses on the job titles at the future digital agency, including convergence manager, trends analysis explorer, visual data art director and experience architect. The implication here is that agency roles should reflect the fact that we are no longer in an era when consumers simply watch a commercial or see a print ad. Instead, they experience ongoing brand narratives across multiple screens. As the industry changes, agency roles and skill sets need to keep pace.

The tyranny of #moments: And, naturally coming from Twitter, a call for brands to kill the campaign and think about moments instead. Twitter has become the popular conduit for capturing and disseminating cultural moments, like Ellen’s Oscar selfie, which was described as a Twitter “tentpole” moment. While it’s not realistic or even desirable for brand owners to do away with campaigns altogether, there’s merit in the idea that brands will be more relevant to their audience if they’re prepared to react in real-time to real-life events. 

Of course, the most important takeaway coming out of my experience at Stream was that our industry in Asia is brimming with talent. It just takes an inclusive and participatory forum like Stream to bring out the best ideas and insights from peers and colleagues.  And having a tropical beach in the background certainly doesn’t hurt.

Stephanie Myers (right) is engagement director, Asia Pacific, at Possible


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