On a hot weekend in Summer, a group of highly-energetic, super-charged, muscled humans gathered for an international event in Marathon, Greece. At 16:30 on Thursday 8th September the contestants were lined up and, on the whistle, rushed forward to prove their worth and choose their place in the glory of the event. No, it was not the Olympics, it was the WPP Stream 2011 ‘un-conference’ and the muscle in question was the brain. The contestants were vying for a place to make their chosen subject the discussion of the day, and define what’s next for the industry.

Participant-designed 
Each year, WPP digital gathers 300 influential people together to help generate and develop ideas in communications, marketing, technology and design.   The ‘un-conference’ format opens the floor to participant-designed discussion topics. On the first day the participants rush to the boards, pens-a-ready, and grab the best spots and times to have their discussions, not too soon after lunch and not too early in the morning. Solid staples included ‘Social by design’ from Facebook; ‘Brands are the new media companies’ led by Ford, Yahoo, Mind-share and Coca-cola; ‘Is innovation overrated?’ by the Huffington Post; and ‘The story of a startup’ by Spotify. For my part, I spoke on ‘How to make your tech project succeed’ and about the all-important buzz-word ‘Gamification’. The more eclectic bunch of discussions included ‘Philanthopists: Gates, Buffet and YOU’, ‘There is no privacy. Get over it’, ‘Build a personal air-conditioner’, ‘3D printing’ and ‘How to start a riot’. 

Everything is ‘marvelous’
The un-conference creates a special environment for generating ideas. The nights are full of activities like the bizarrely addictive “Werewolf” role playing game and events such as ignite, the gadgethon and midnight cooking madness. The days have rules which are laid down at the start: what happens at Stream stays at Stream (unless explicitly expressed otherwise) which encourages openness and honesty; and everything is “marvelous” – meaning check your egos at the door and be constructive so participants can share, learn and have fun.

From the formal discussions and meal-time/pub-time discussions alike, certain trends emerged. From a market research perspective one trend in particular stood out concerning “data”. With attendees from Facebook, Google, Feed burner, Spotify, Linkedin and Microsoft there was an abundance of examples of the quantity of data that could be gathered about people’s habits online: what websites they visit and for how long, what they purchase, what games they play, where they shop, what they think… data like a statistician’s dream. But the major question emerged from clients: what do we do with all this data?

Layering the data
Conversations about how to handle the new and growing wealth of data ranged from creating a black-box where data goes in and the recommended prices for your products come out, to simple dashboards and charts. The thing about data, i.e. pure quantitative, non-survey information, is that it is best at highlighting general trends. An example went as follows: if you overlap your sales data with your website traffic data you can see some correlations. If you then overlap your campaign data, for example your campaign media spend data, you can then see that when you spend more in certain media, your web traffic increases as do your sales. This is common use of data and can be best used for pricing micro-analysis in a closed and controlled environment like Amazon. 

However, to get a true sense of what this means it must be merged with survey-led quantitative data and/or qualitative information. The qualitative allows you to see the context of the quant data. It pulls into relief the detail of which part of the campaign worked, understanding as to why it changed the consumer’s activity and most importantly, insight into how to encourage more or less of the behaviour observed. 

Human intuition 
To deepen these insights one can overlay social media data, gaming data, news feeds, loyalty data and many other types of input, however the key here is in the word “insight”: the capacity to gain a true and deep intuitive understanding. At present no computer has the capacity of intuition. Thirty years from now, if Kurtzweil is right, computers will be amply able to perform acts of intuition and garner insight. However, for the present this remains in the domain of humans alone. So the answer came loud and clear that data by itself is useful to see trends, however deep analysis and true actionable insight comes from experienced researchers and analysts reading that data.

Robust debates and discussions were the norm at Stream. Trends such as garage-based innovation through 3D printing and the burgeoning ‘makers’ community mingled with lighter side of the application of behavioral economics and the buzz topic of the day, gamification. The conversation was filled with battles of opinion and the challenges of knowledge that will have given the participants and their companies’ their individual gold medal: insight into what’s coming next. My takeaway: the future holds smarter analysis of more diverse data to lead to cleverer, more actionable insight.

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Written by Cauri Jaye, SVP Technology for the Added Value Group. 

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