36 hours at Dmexco: three learnings from this year's festival

DMEXCO

Once again, an exciting few days at Dmexco have drawn to a close and I've been left feeling humbled to be a part of such an energetic, fast-paced industry.

As Mindshare’s Norm Johnston remarked in a piece in the lead up to the event, the industry is experiencing a ‘painful bout of growing pains’. There were certainly some tough questions being asked in the Koelnmesse this year, and while the industry might not yet have all the answers, there is clearly a steely determination to fix the digital ecosystem and make it work better for those not only consuming content but advertisers and platforms too.

Looking back at what’s been a jam-packed couple of days, I wanted to share three key learnings from this year’s festival:

Don’t underestimate the sheer power of face to face

The unforgettable interaction between Jack Dorsey and Sir Martin Sorrell stands out as a highlight this year. A year later than originally scheduled, the WPP chief executive finally came face to face with Twitter’s founder on stage in the Congress Hall. Seeing the man who handles multiple billions of ad dollars questioning one of social media’s founding heroes was well worth the wait and certainly made for some tricky, and entertaining, questioning (there are not many people who could joke about Jack wearing pyjamas…).

But it wasn’t just on the stage where powerful meetings took place. With so much energy emanating from the meeting rooms and stands, it was clear that business was getting done, not just talked about, in Cologne.

And the sheer number of brands with a presence at this year’s event were a testament to that. From Procter & Gamble's Marc Pritchard – who took the opportunity to tell the Dmexco audience first-hand the three steps he thinks the industry should take to respond to the challenges it faces – to Disney and Via, it was clear brands were making themselves known, building relationship with ad tech vendors and holding meaningful conversations about tackling some of the industry’s biggest roadblocks.

Despite only having two days to fit everything in, it served as a great reminder of just how important it is to see people face to face, allowing you to get closer to international colleagues as well as clients.

Using AI to get closer to audiences

“Trust” and “transparency” were certainly the buzzwords on everyone's lips this year. It was no surprise then to see the sheer number of ad tech brands who were there to show off their impressive solutions to these problems.

IBM's Watson definitely deserves special recognition here. Listening to the opening keynote presentation on Watson from IBM's chief digital officer, Bob Lord, it was fascinating to learn how AI can now understand tone, personality and emotions. And now marketers can benefit from its abilities too, through Watson ads, allowing them to engage customers in two way conversations at scale.

It’s clear that by using ever more complex technology to identify patterns in customer behaviour, brands can engage with their targets in much more meaningful, and ironically human, ways than ever before.

As exciting as the tech is, don’t forget your customer

Thankfully, Dmexco is not all work and no play. And every year one of my highlights is spending time with old industry colleagues over a drink to chat about the latest tech and trends. The highlight of this year’s social calendar for me – and I hate to name drop – had to be dinner with LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue.

While much of the expo focussed on the impact technology is having on marketing, Allen participated in a Congress Hall discussion which took a step back and questioned how digital technology is impacting talent and businesses.

Allen spoke about how just about everything at Dmexco is data or technology related, so much so that it's easy to get lost in it all and forget that the value you provide your customers is what matters most. As exciting as all the new technology is, everything needs to be put through the lens of your customer. Does this technology or ad improve their engagement with you? Help them more? Make you more human? If not, alarm bells should be ringing.

Despite not having quite the same lure as La Croisette, with the promenade and endless rosé, I can safely say that Dmexco has made its own trajectory as the sensible, more down to earth sibling. I greatly enjoyed our biggest ever presence there this year and it’s clear to see why it has risen up the ranks from a conference for die hard ad-techies to one which, for some, rivals the likes of South by Southwest and CES.

Henry Clifford-Jones is Director Southern, Central Europe & MENA at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions

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