With over 20,000 attendees, 800 plus speakers and more than 160 hours of programming, the first ever virtual DMEXCO was definitely a success, although the loss of DMEXCO’s in-person aspect was undeniably felt. However, despite the pandemic forcing the industry-leading digital marketing expo online, exciting opportunities were created for plenty of online networking and easy stage-hopping so attendees could listen in on more sessions. 

This year’s “Attitude Matters’’ motto, has never been more relevant in light of the COVID crisis. DMEXCO invited attendees to engage in a thought-provoking dialogue on how the digital industry can define attitude and put it into practice. Providing food for thought on the motto was a keynote speech from SAP’s Chief Marketing Officer Alicia Tillman, who spoke passionately about leading attitude to action in a post-COVID world. With 77% of consumers expecting brands to publicly demonstrate their relief efforts during the pandemic, brands have an even more urgent responsibility to live their actions.

Other leading keynote speakers including Microsoft, Facebook and Google, addressed common challenges facing the digital marketing industry and discussed future trends around next-gen measurement, responsible AI and post-production advertising. With the absence of in-person networking acutely noticeable, more focus fell onto the programming itself, so let’s take a deep dive into some of the key takeaways from DMEXCO sessions:

Mobile-centric approach to advertising

One of the key topics covered across multiple stages was the growing shift to a mobile-first marketing strategy. Speakers from leading brands like Samsung, Google and Unilever, discussed mobile marketing best practices, particularly as consumers increasingly spend more time on their smartphones during the pandemic. By far the biggest takeaway was the need for marketers to rethink their mobile advertising campaigns for Chinese audiences. As the mobile internet in China becomes the global pioneer and trailblazer for future development, mobile-first is not an empty phrase, but a mantra. As the world’s largest population and biggest e-commerce consumers, the Chinese market creates exciting new challenges and opportunities for every marketer.

The age of discovery commerce

While content commerce isn’t a new concept, discovery commerce is the innovative idea of products finding consumers instead of the other way around. Facebook shared findings on how their Discovery Commerce solution, powered by machine learning, connects the perfect product to the right person – before they’ve even started looking for it. The social media giant also discussed how e-commerce is evolving after COVID, as consumers spend increasing amounts of time purchasing goods online.

Social advertising and the power of the influencer

With millions of consumers globally forced into lockdown, there was an inevitable boom of social media usage and platforms like Snapchat and TikTok discussed the huge advertising opportunities this presented for brands. Advertisers were encouraged to become more courageous with their social advertising campaigns and collaborate with influencers who aligned with their brand values. Influencer marketing was a theme that ran across most of the DMEXCO stages, as speakers shared advice for effectively working with influencers on branded social advertising campaigns.

In response to the changing needs of influencer marketing programmes, Impact shared our own insights on the evolving nature of affiliate brand partnerships as a driver for growth. We discussed how the partnership economy is booming and shared practical strategies for optimising partnerships including scaling and automating affiliate partnerships programmes. We demonstrated how brands like Spotify and Ticketmaster collaborate for a seamless in-app partnership that provides real value for consumers. To truly benefit from partnerships as a driver for success, brands should create dedicated teams or outsource to technology providers like Impact. The affiliate partnerships theme ran right through the vein of DMEXCO, clearly resonating with both German and UK attendees. The topic was covered on multiple stages as other speakers echoed Impact’s points and shared their own thoughts on performance marketing growth.

Purpose-driven marketing is the new normal

In keeping with the DMEXCO motto of “Attitude Matters”, speakers from several leading brands including SAP and Facebook led a rallying call to arms, encouraging attendees to develop more consciously responsible advertising. In response to the crisis, brand activism is coming to the forefront as more consumers expect their favourite brands to take action on social issues.

Whilst SAP discussed the importance of empathy and authenticity in building customer relationships, OMD spoke about consumer empathy being critical in unlocking business growth. They shared insights on the evolution of empathy planning and strategies to overcome the industry’s profound lack of empathy by delivering on the promise to put people first. Ultimately, as consumers become more invested in purpose-driven brands, advertisers must demonstrate consumer empathy to help overcome the trust deficit.

Despite the crisis, this year’s DMEXCO was truly about changing business attitudes and over two jam-packed days, attendees gained plenty of insights into future industry trends. Across multiple stages, workshops, masterclasses and studios, it was great to hear speakers discuss topics including brand safety, in-housing and marketing fraud while presenting new opportunities for advertisers. Elsewhere, adding some much-needed light relief, the Brits led the charge at MAD//Fest, bringing a full agenda of quick-fire sessions designed to provide ideas, inspiration and innovation on creating a better future for the marketing industry. Brands like JustEat, Specsavers and Amazon shared thoughts on the future of ad tech and where to invest advertising spend.

With industry-leading insights, thought-provoking panel discussions and practical marketing masterclasses, the first purely digital DMEXCO lived up to the hype. We all miss the opportunity to gather together but the DMEXCO team provided some lighter moments featuring fun competitions, virtual yoga and a live DJ set. If there was one learning from this year’s DMEXCO, it would be the industry’s ability to pivot and adapt in times of crisis. Whilst the first ever virtual DMEXCO didn’t disappoint, Impact looks forward to returning in person next year to join the rest of the industry for what will hopefully be an even more successful and in-person event.