Dmexco: Key takeaways

By Ina Arens | 08 Sep 2017

On 13-14 September, dmexco opened its doors again to thousands of visitors, exhibitors and visionary speakers. What started as a small affair a few years ago has now become the epicentre of the digital marketing world. And that's not just in Europe, but the world. The event has become so popular that hotels need to be booked a year ahead to avoid exorbitant prices or being located miles away from the venue.

This year, dmexco attracted 40,700 visitors and 1,100 exhibitors from 39 countries. With more than 250 hours of content and over 570 international speakers across a huge space, it's a challenge to work out where to start.

This year I decided to go to a lot more seminars. My first dmexco experience was as an exhibitor - two days staying put in an exhibition stand the size of my kitchen. My second dmexco was spent racing through the exhibition grounds meeting as many partners as possible, wishing I could beam myself between halls in a wink rather than walking the 20 minute obstacle course that it is.

So this year, I went to see some of the keynotes speeches, panel discussions and seminars, and I'll never look back. Seeing Sheryl Sandberg talking live about the importance of community, Jack Dorsey being grilled by Sir Martin Sorrell about why Twitter hasn't achieved what the industry wants it to achieve and B. Bonin Bough talking himself into an absolute frenzy as to how so many companies still haven't realised their mobile potential, was an absolute treat.

Like last year, there was a focus on female leaders. Besides Sheryl Sandberg, I was able to listen to some great advice from the likes of Carolyn Everson of Facebook and Margit Wennmachers of Adreessen Horowitz on how to pick the best start-up for funding. The debate session on The Female Perspective: Empowering Women Around The Globe missed the mark by over simplifying the underrepresentation of female leaders in the digital arena. Shelley Zalis' "just shut that bitch up" attitude just wasn't constructive enough. But then she is the founder of The Girls' Lounge, which got a lot of heat for its pink and plush look last year. At least this year it was a lot more subtle with pastel pink and white colouring. Why the female section of dmexco needs a separate lounge, however, is beyond me. But what did strike a chord were the below quotations:

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?" - Sheryl Sandberg

"Status quo is the enemy" - Carolyn Everson

"If you don't like change, you will like irrelevancy even less" - Carolyn Everson

"People need to have intellectual curiosity" - Deirdre McGlashan

Apart from the ongoing debate of female (under)representation or the horrendously archaic use of booth babes, here are some of my other takeaways from dmexco 2017:

GDPR is coming and it's coming fast

In 2018, GDPR will come into play and every business with an online presence needs to get ready for the change in law. GDPR was born out of the EU's need for a digital single market that will drive business. The challenge is to create one interpretation of such a law, and one of its major changes is the opt-in. Putting responsibility on the end consumer is found to be unfair, so in a matter of months, accountability will be passed to companies. If brands are to survive GDPR, they'll all need to hire a Data Protection Officer - get hiring as demand will be high.

Lightening the age of transformation

It's not surprising that the main theme this year was digital transformation. Deirdre McGlashan of Mediacom was challenging Chris Curtin of Visa and Jean-Marc Pailhol of Allianz on how they foster a company culture of innovation and transformation. Their thoughts echoed throughout other panels and seminars: a company needs a sense of mission and purpose. That mission needs to transcend from the CEO to the intern. And here is when the leaders of our world tell the story of when JFK went to visit the NASA headquarters. When he introduced himself to a janitor and asked him what he did at NASA, the janitor replied "I'm helping put a man on the moon" - mission accomplished!

Another transformation that many companies are still trying to get to grips with is mobile and mobility at scale. Sheryl Sandberg argues that mobile has changed the marketing funnel. Before the age of mobile, it took time to move consumers from awareness all the way through to purchase. Now we need to rethink the funnel, as this is happening much faster. How do we manage this shift? By seeing mobile as more than just text and copy. It's all about creativity. Brands and how they communicate will become more and more important. Once again, Sandberg echoes what other leaders said throughout the conference: focus on your brand's mission. She further urges marketers to build communities and engage with these communities continuously.


This really was a common theme at this year's dmexco. Community in the sense of:

- We as a digital community need to build a better measurement infrastructure to drive more meaningful brand growth.

- We as a digital community need to move away from standard KPIs and really start looking at the consumer.

- We as a digital community need to do more for gender equality. P&G's Mark Pritchard calls for a collective responsibility and for brands to use their voice in digital advertising to do good - transforming brands and companies into responsible citizens.

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