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DMEXCO 2015: My conference report

I just got back from the digital marketing conference DMEXCO on September 16-17, 2015 in Cologne, Germany.

With 881 exhibitors, 500 speakers and 43,384 trade visitors, this is a massive event run by the Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft (German Association for the Digital Economy).

With the main theme of “Bridging Worlds” as a backdrop for all conference activities, the big topics included ad blockers, digital transformations and of course — customer experiences. As always, I wanted to just link up my thoughts on the conference real quick.

Here goes:

Brands and ‘Wow-Experiences’

“Brands must provide ‘wow-experiences’.”

I was invited to discuss the importance of customer experiences by Adobe and introduced by John Watton, Head of EMEA Marketing at Adobe, I shared the stage with the brilliant French consultant and speaker, Frédéric Cavazza1 and our talk was moderated by German SEO expert and new media influencer, Marcus Tandler2.

Our talk covered some of the findings from the study Holistic Customer Experience In the Digital Age (pdf) by PAC for Adobe. editor and contributing writer Michael Nutley covered our talk in Dmexco 2015: Do New Job Titles Help Or Hinder Digital Transformation? and Swedish industry analyst Peter Mackhé in Transformationen handlar inte bara om digitalt, man måste få med hela organisationen (in Swedish).

Under the ‘Ad Block Radar’

It’s no secret that advertising has found its way into the digital mainstream. What used to be annoying banners has developed into a huge industry with smarter and smarter ways of using data to show relevant ads to users. It’s turning into a huge industry — and there is no shortage of various ad technology companies present at the conference.

Obviously, the industry worries about ad blockers. One one level, I understand the frustration; as an advertiser, you obviously want to actually get what you pay for. And if you’re selling ad space, it could prove difficult to promise customers that their messages are actually seen. However, we can’t rely on paying for the “privilege” to disturb someone looking for something else. We must produce messages and experiences that are so compelling that users will seek them out and consume them willingly. And have them coming back looking for more.

Now, some put their trust in native advertising — articles paid for and/or written by a brand that lives on a publisher’s site, however, I wouldn’t put all eggs in this basket. Budgets spent on paying for OPA (“other people’s audiences”)3 will always be money that could’ve been spent on the actual content instead. Here are some examples4 of where the pricing for native advertising starts:

Native advertising isn’t exactly cheap.

With numbers from Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2014-2015, the excellent Moz blog sums up the general challenge with digital advertising:

  • Banner blindness: The average click-through rate (CTR) of display ads is 0.1%.
  • Eroding email engagement rates: Industry CTRs range from 1.5%–4.79%.
  • Skipped pre-roll ads: 94% of people hit the skip button.
  • Fragmented consumer attention: 77% of people watch TV while using another device.
  • Inability to track outbound marketing ROI: Marketers can easily track content performance and conversion with inbound.
  • High cost-per-lead for outbound marketing: Inbound leads are more cost-effective, with over 2x the marketers citing inbound (45%) as their primary source of leads versus outbound (22%) in 2014.
  • Low brand engagement: While outbound marketing interrupts consumers, inbound marketing attracts and engages prospects in an organic way.

Whereas content marketing (powered by influencer) outreach will potentially help your SEO, native advertising is limited by Google guidelines:

When Matt Cutts tweets, we listen.

In short: If we look at the ‘digiconomy’ from a customer experience perspective, it’s clear that quality beats quantity and that we can’t afford to be concerned about how to acquire traffic before we’ve learned exactly how to properly take care of the relevant traffic we do receive.

Key Takeaways From DMEXCO 2015

Takeaway 1: Digital is First

In classic marketing industries like advertising, public relations, and media, there has been an ongoing discussion whether or not digital marketing will break out on its own or if it’ll be immersed into each and every PR discipline. Most traditional agency owners I’ve talked to these last five years have all said the same thing, “digital will become a part of everything we do, so there’s really no need for a separate digital discipline in what we do for clients”.

It turns out that they were all dead wrong. The massive scale on this conference alone compares to nothing I’ve seen in advertising, public relations, and media before. Digital marketing and communications are several specialized professions in their own rights. In today’s marketing universe, the sheer impact of digital first has reduced advertising, public relations and media to a set of basic add-on capabilities.

Takeaway 2: The Tech is Already in Place

As a freelancer, I’m a one-man show and I do my own marketing. I use about 15-25 SaaS (software-as-a-service) applications to make it work, ranging from landing page template builders, CMS tools, analytic tools, social networks and marketing automation tools. These tools make my life a whole lot easier (and cheaper!).

But there’s a whole spectrum ranging up to advanced enterprise-level software suites for the Fortune 500 companies out there. Advanced marketing cloud systems that manage the complex management of digital marketing in geographically distributed cross-teams for massive traffic acquisitions, individual customer experiences and conversions across all possible digital touchpoints.

Takeaway 3: We Need Training — Lots of Training

We do see lots of outdated corporate structures. ‘Change’ is all fun and games until someone asks you to make a change yourself. This makes the digital transformation into a challenge for many companies. I do subscribe to Frédéric Cavazza’s aggressive approach; it’s often faster to tear things down and rebuild strategies and processes from scratch.

I would add that there’s an even deeper challenge — the general lack of knowledge. How can we ask of an organization to build digital capabilities from scratch when it’s so difficult to find and recruit senior professionals who can drive digital marketing in a corporate setting? The digital marketing workforce is still too junior and learning as they go.

If you we’re at DMEXCO 2015, I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways on the conference. Please share in the comment section.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash.


  1. If you read French (or can stand Google translations), I suggest checking out Fred’s blog here.
  2. Check out Marcus’ blog here, he mixes it up with posts in both English and German.
  3. See also my post on 11 Ways Of Getting In Front Of Other People’s Audiences (Without Paying For It).
  4. See the Moz post The Reach, Engagement, And ROI Of Content Marketing vs. Native Advertising (New Research).


Avatar of Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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