The end of 2010 marks the fifth anniversary of Stream:20, one of the UK’s leading digital marketing consultancies. Founded back in 2005 by Serge Milbank and Matt Barker following a car malfunction, Stream:20 now counts Sky, National Express, EMI, BetFair and Ted Baker amongst its clients.
Barker and Milbank talk about how it all began and what the future holds for Stream:20.
1. Where did the idea for Stream:20 come from?
Serge Milbank – Matt and I worked together at Intercontinental Hotels Group on the team that managed their digital number. But it wasn’t until Matt’s car broke down and he ended up getting the same train as me, that we really got the chance to chat about the digital marketing industry. As it was a pretty serious car problem, we had a number of weeks on the train together, discussing what matters in online marketing, what the real drivers behind the rise of a brand were and what models really worked in the industry as a whole.
The key thing that we figured out was that success in digital marketing was no longer a mystery. There was and still is a clear process to driving sales online and it could and should be scaled throughout the industry. Stream:20 was born.
Matt Barker – We started out with an agency function, in small, managed offices in Vauxhall, trying very hard to cut through the noise of all the established online agencies. But we soon realised that we were far more effective when we worked client side, so we decided that a consultancy approach would be the best option. Since then, we have seen constant growth.
2. What’s different about Stream:20?
SM – That one of our goals is to make ourselves ‘surplus to requirements’! I’ll explain. The way we work is we go client side and become the client’s digital marketing team, identifying the best approach. We then run the digital marketing function for them for a time, fine tune it and really bed it in. Our main aim is get the results that prove what digital is capable of so that the client has the business case to employ the people they need to get their digital marketing done effectively. We then let our clients get on and recruit the permanent in-house roles. They take the reigns and we move onto the next brief.
MB – Consultancies often have a reputation of going in, charging loads of money to tell people what to do and then leaving again. And while this works for some of the big guns, we didn’t want that kind of reputation. Instead, we have set ourselves the goal of always being our clients’ most effective revenue generators, no matter what marketing, PR or sales tools they use. And that means that we have to have targets to meet. So we roll our sleeves up and get on and do the work with them.
3. What changes do you feel are needed on the client side?
SM – The major change that clients need to make is to pull some of the basic functions of digital marketing, like tracking, back in-house. We’re not suggesting taking all the business away from the agency and run it in house, most companies don’t have the budgets for that. But what we are saying is that companies need to hold on to a bit of the control, so that they can see what is going on. And to do this effectively, they also need someone in house who knows their stuff. Clients need to get this right to get the most out of their digital marketing investment.
MB – Client side processes also need to be modernised to allow for digital. Many companies still have not integrated their digital marketing efforts in with their sales offering. For example, many companies have big sales operations like call centres, but are not tracking where the calls originate from, making it impossible to see what marketing is working and what’s not and so they don’t end up spending their budgets efficiently. As it is now not impossible to think that in five years’ time, the majority of a client’s business will be online, it is essential to make sure that all their operations are dovetailed – it’s a big ask and it’ll require planning and systematic change in a business’ hard wiring, but it will have to be done.
4. What developments have had the greatest impact on Stream:20 and the wider digital marketing world?
MB – We can’t not mention the credit crunch and how this lead to the rise of email and SEO, with more and more people wanting to learn how to get the most out of these channels thanks to their perceived value for money.
One of the biggest shifts we have seen over the past five years has been traditional offline marketing and advertising pushing people online, making an understanding of things such as SEO even more important. For example Dyson’s TV ad campaign, which prompts to search for Dyson, rather than listing the URL.
We have also seen the affiliate channel grow at a phenomenal rate, while the debate about attribution and where a sale has come from rages on. Attribution is a particularly interesting one to be involved in as developments in technology both help and hinder the industry coming to a conclusion on this one.
SM – The phenomenon that is social media. It has had a similar journey to what we saw in the dotcom boom, with many people in it because they think they have to be in it. In reality, this can lead to lots of damage and lots of people not getting much value out of it. But this is to be expected, because it is not yet mature like core digital marketing channels. The key thing to understand is that at the moment social on average will drive no more than 2-5% as a standalone channel, but it does have a big hand in supporting channels. But the power is there and is something we do not underestimate.
Mobile is still the sleeping giant. Five years ago, when we started, people didn’t have apps, now people use them to do their grocery shopping. The potential here is huge. The speed of technological advances is incredible. What’s more, people have become much quicker at adopting new technology, so companies have to work even harder to keep up. Six months ago, we didn’t have the ipad – which has profoundly changed the way we view online material and we are now increasingly seeing email campaigns that scroll across rather than down to fit the format.
5. What does the future hold?
MB – For us the goal is to take digital into the boardroom, to get CEOs involved in the targets as well as the Marketing Directors. The speed at which the digital world is advancing, we don’t think this is unreasonable.
SM – We want to find a way to make social media more measurable, so that we can help our clients get the budgets they need to get the most out of this powerhouse of a channel.