The most tech-savvy marketing conference? 6 key insights that show DMEXCO’s still got it…

The key takeaways from Day one of DMEXCO: on Artificial Intelligence, Account-Based Marketing and more

September 13, 2018

The key takeaways from Day of of DMEXCO: on Artificial Intelligence, Account-Based Marketing and more

DMEXCO has long had a reputation as the conference for marketers who know their DMPs from their DSPs. It’s not just the name (the first two letters stand for digital marketing, of course). Everything about the two-day event suggests that it’s the destination for those serious about marketing technology – and this remains true, despite the well-publicised change in management this year.

In the exhibition halls, you’ll find every key player in the digital ecosystem, from social media platforms to search engines to every type of data-based business – and you’ll find them rubbing shoulders with an army of hungry start-ups. DMEXCO’s digital focus gives it a dynamism and diversity, and a reputation as EMEA’s destination for marketers looking at getting things done: new ideas, new partnerships, they all happen here. And that energy is still intact. There’s been a huge amount of it generated around the LinkedIn and Microsoft area in Hall 6 – it’s been a very busy 24 hours so far!

It’s not just the conversations between exhibitors and delegates that are the test of DMEXCO’s tech-savvy credentials, though. The conference agenda has set its sights firmly on the must-be-addressed issues in digital advertising, packed with sessions on Blockchain, AI, voice search, GDPR and digital transparency. The real question was whether speakers would really tackle these issues in practical detail and depth – whether they’d be realistic and practical about the capabilities of marketing technology or data or just add to the hype.

My view is that DMEXCO delivered. There’s always a time constraint involved in conference speaking slots but we still got some of the straightest-talking you’re likely to hear on marketing technology, how to make better use of it, and where it’s headed.

To show you what I mean, here are my six favourite quotes from the stages of DMEXCO so far – along with the discussions behind them. These weren’t quotes designed to blind audiences with science. They represent straight-talking from those with real insider knowledge about what the most exciting new technologies are really capable of:

It’s true that AI can transform the world – but only if we democratise it. We have to make sure that everyone with good ideas can access it – not just companies with millions of dollars to invest

Axel Steinman
VP Bing Advertising Sales EMEA

Much of the discussion around AI, marketing and business growth envisages large businesses and data owners investing millions in bespoke AI systems that will reinforce their overwhelming competitive advantage. Axel Steinman of Bing was part of a lively debate with Accenture Interactive’s Nikki Mendonca and Jonathan Epstein of Sapient, one of the creators of Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, which pointed the way towards a very different digital marketing ecosystem. In this vision of the marketing future, AI tools are made widely accessible through technology partners that can help any business to make better use of the data it has available. This is critical at a time when, as Nikki Mendonca explained, Accenture’s research shows only 3% of executives actively investing in AI.

Axel offered up a range of examples of businesses using the AI tools available through Microsoft Cognitive Services: HP dramatically improving customer experience by using AI to answer those within its capabilities while escalating others to customer support; Publicis using AI to unlock the insights buried in its experience of running marketing campaigns around the world; Real Madrid using AI to track its fans’ emotions towards the club and build more personalised one-to-one experiences.

Can AI still level the playing field for media and marketing when some businesses have so much more data available to them than others. Axel put forward two arguments for how it can: firstly, because AI enables you to derive far more insight from the data that you do have, large or small; secondly, because none of the data giants have as complete a view of audiences as is often claimed, “they have strengths but none have all the strengths,” as he put it. Focusing on using the data available to understand your particular audience across all aspects of their digital lives can give marketers all the competitive advantage that they need.

There’s a human tendency to project ourselves onto dogs, cats and now AI… and because we do that, we’re always going to be disappointed”

Karl Bunch
Worldwide Technical Leader, Amazon Web Services

Karl Bunch asked a simple question of the packed auditorium that had gathered to hear him share Amazon’s perspective on separating AI hype from reality: how many of them used the company’s Alexa virtual assistant – and how many of them referred to her as ‘she’? Those that did were in the wrong, he argued. Alexa is an ‘it’. Anthropomorphising AI by projecting human intelligence and human qualities onto it is the reason why human beings have often struggled to make effective use of the technology.

According to Karl, AI has always gone through cycles of enthusiasm and disillusion because those seeking to leverage it mistakenly expect it to replicate the creative and contextual capabilities of human beings. The reality is that, although AI can simulate creative tasks like writing music or copy, it can’t do so with the same level of creativity as human beings. Although natural language processing can understand speech, it’s lack of cultural, contextual understanding means it will always be thrown by conversations that take sudden and expected turns. Karl believes that expecting human levels of interaction and intelligence from AI sets the bar too high. “AI handling creative and messaging is still a long way off,” he says. “You are not going to find systems doing that from scratch because AI is not good at unique, human communications. What it is good at is helping through analytics and unlocking new sources of data… We’re looking at a future where AI is talking to you – a tool to enable you to be more creative and allow you more time to think.”

Karl talks about the AI opportunity in planning, analysing and optimising marketing as two-fold. There are the efficiencies gained from automating time-consuming processes (“Going into a spreadsheet and sorting results by CTR should be against the law – it’s a waste of human capital!”) and the exponential increase in relevant data that can be delivered by using AI to convert unquantifiable data into a more easily quantifiable format: decoding a TV or video ad in terms of the words being spoken and the emotions being expressed, for example. It’s this that can enable smart, creative and contextually aware marketers to make full use of the optimisation opportunities that the technology presents.

We have a responsibility now – AI developers need a similar Hippocratic oath to doctors”

Adrian Cutler
Director, Global Agency, Bing Ads


Many have argued that AI has the potential to drive innovative solutions to some of the world’s more complex problems. The Greater Good panel discussing the value of purpose-built brands provided a natural environment for making the point – and Adrian Cutler shared several stories from Microsoft’s AI for Good programme that did exactly that: AIs that help to improve agricultural productivity through new sources of data; AIs that use natural language processing to transform accessibility for those with speech or hearing difficulties. However, he balanced these with an important consideration: technology businesses need to address the potential negative consequences of AI every bit as energetically as they pursue its positive benefits.

This was a theme that echoed across the debate on AI levelling the media playing field as well. Jonathan Epstein argued strongly that businesses which claim that AI will not replace human beings in marketing and media are guilty of wishful thinking. At the same time as consulting with technology partners on the best way to deploy AI to process data more effectively, they need to consult with management businesses or their own talent planning teams, to ensure they are evolving the skills of their workforces and avoiding conflict. Otherwise, optimistic discussion of AI augmenting human capabilities could give way to a straightforward efficiency drive. Indeed, Jonathan claimed that many of the executives holding back from investing in AI aren’t doing so because of cost – but because of fear about the tensions that it could unleash within their businesses. Setting transparent, ethical boundaries for how AI is used commercially could prove a vital element in it being adopted more widely.

If purpose-driven organisations are going to get support from governments, they need a number – and the great contribution of business can be helping to give them that number”

Kate Robertson
One Young World

Brand purpose can be a polarising concept in marketing: for everyone arguing that it provides strategic clarity and deeper loyalty and engagement, there’s somebody else pointing out that brands’ purposes are often expressed in such generic terms as to be meaningless – and that the business strategies they are a part of often seem to contradict their lofty claims around deeper meaning.

The brand purpose panel hosted by Mashable founder Pete Cashmore didn’t revisit these discussions. Instead it focused on the practical ways that marketers can and do make a difference. This was certainly true of Kate Robertson, who left her role as Global President of Havas Worldwide to focus on running One Young World, a global network that aims to bring together young leaders from every country to tackle issues. Kate offered up an insightful perspective on what businesses ought to bring to the table when it comes to making the world a better place: measurement.

Questions around measurement always hold organisations back from doing what they could be doing and getting the support they could be getting,” she said. Bringing the strategic approach to metrics that DMEXCO delegates have in spades is one of the great contributions that business can make to empowering a range of sustainability initiatives worldwide.

I love this campaign because it shows how video can be deeply interactive while still being just video”

Gabriela Maestre
Tremor Video

Video represents a catapulting share of internet traffic and content engagement on social media – and that matters whether you are a marketer working in B2B or B2C. The key challenge for brands often involves separating out meaningful signals about the right format and approach to video when there’s so much noise produced by different platforms about what length, size and shape it needs to be. A lot of this discussion complicates the business of engaging audiences through video unnecessarily. You only have to look at the LinkedIn feed to see the broad range of approaches to B2B video that drive engagement. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule.

That’s part of the reason why I enjoyed the session on bringing data and creative together for video marketing on DMEXCO’s Motion Stage. Alex Hewson of M&C Saatchi Mobile and Gabriela Maestre of Tremor Video pulled together a range of examples from around the world that show how video content can be hugely effective for different marketing objectives throughout the funnel. These included characteristics as simple as showing viewers what the next steps will be once they click on a call to action, to reduce friction from the conversion process.

Both panelists also demonstrated how interactivity with video content doesn’t depend on complex new technologies or platforms – there are simple, creative solutions to personalising content to maximise engagement. Alex’s favourite social media video of all time was the classic Old Spice ‘The man your man could smell like’ campaign, which involved the horse-riding hero of the ad recording 180 answers to different questions and using these to deliver personalised responses on social. It was a reminder of the inherent flexibility of video content, which marketers can often forget. An innovative approach to the creative process can enable you to do far more with data and targeting, and deliver personalised video experiences for different audiences.

ABM isn’t just a case of having a list of target accounts and hoping for the best – you need a plan to profile those accounts if you’re going to get value from the work you did selecting them”

Melanie Gipp


There’s no doubt that ABM strategies benefit from the types of in-depth data analytics skills that often feature on the agenda of DMEXCO and other marketing conferences – but Marketo’s Melanie Gipp made it clear that ABM also depends on accessible sources of relevant data that sales and marketing can analyse together.

This was all part of the in-depth workshop that Melanie ran on the practicalities of building and executing an Account-Based Marketing (ABM) strategy – and the packed room indicated just how much of a priority ABM has become for B2B marketers. Melanie didn’t just stick to topline ideas about the benefits of ABM. She was generous in the amount of detail she shared about how Marketo constructed its own ABM programme, including the varied sources of data that the business used to construct a target account list and the account scoring system that it used to prioritise those accounts.

One common mistake that she described in ABM programmes is assuming that ABM planning is complete once a target account list has been drawn up. ABM is about far more than just a single database. A key element of success involves profiling those accounts to identify all of the relevant decision-makers and influencers within them. Melanie talked about LinkedIn as an essential part of this – and indeed, of the entire process of planning and executing ABM strategies. It’s one of the diverse sources of data that she recommended pulling together to identify an account list, a vital resource for profiling the key contacts within those accounts, and an ideal platform for targeting specific audiences with the personalised content that’s essential for generating value from an ABM programme. In fact, it’s the type of accessible but powerful data source that’s vital to unlocking the benefits of this element within B2B marketing strategies.

What makes these insights so credible for marketers tacking the question of how to intetgrate digital technology within their strategies? It’s not just the level of expertise and in-depth knowledge that each of these speakers demonstrated during their time at the conference. It’s also the realistic view they have of what happens when tech encounters reality and how marketers can develop practical action plans to make effective use of it. DMEXCO may be tech-savvy but it’s also tech-realistic – and that’s a perspective that any marketer can really value.