How DMEXCO excels in the new normal

DMEXCO 2019 at Koelnmesse, Cologne, Germany

In 2019, our Content Elf, Andrea, went to DMEXCO, Europe’s digital marketing and tech expo and conference in Cologne, Germany. The annual two-day event gathers marketing, tech, media and industry leaders to share knowledge, expertise and innovation through a series of seminars, workshops, expositions and masterclasses held at Koelnmesse.

Now she takes a look at how DMEXCO had successfully adapted their approach to the event then and now in the new normal and what we can learn from them.


I went to DMEXCO, this massive two-day digital marketing event, to experience and observe how they made it all work, while taking notes about marketing trends and innovations. Held every September at the Koelnmesse, an equally massive hub of multiple conference halls and trade fair grounds, DMEXCO 2019 was abuzz with activity on the ground from start to end, from the moment you register for the event online months earlier to when you walk out of Koelnmesse on closing day.

Though I was glad to have experienced DMEXCO in full swing, pre-pandemic, it’s been interesting to see how the organiser rose above the challenge during unprecedented times when live events were an absolute no-go and travel bans halted many speakers, exhibitors and visitors from entering the country.

Photo: DMEXCO 2020

Attitude matters

DMEXCO 2020 was aptly themed “Attitude Matters” during a time of uncertainty. The organisers demonstrated resilience and were quick to act and came up with a solution to keep the event going. They lived up to theme and proved it.

It was no small feat, but they developed an interactive, virtual environment called DMEXCO@home that proved a success to fully host a large event online for thousands of visitors and exhibitors worldwide. They showed that converting an in-person event to a virtual one is possible and doable, that events are adaptable too.

Very app, indeed

Being a top digital marketing event – with emphasis on the word “digital” – the organisers capitalised on technology where possible. The DMEXCO app cuts out the use of paper, as it provides attendees event updates and details, speaker and exhibitor info, itinerary, venue map and every useful information a visitor needs, whether you’re a local or flying in from other countries. Any last minute updates easily goes out to everyone in a breeze.

What’s handy is the app’s planner: I can plan which talk or workshop I want to attend and make full use of my time. The venue for the in-person event is no-kidding-huge, and the planner is helpful so I know where I need to be at a certain time and see what’s close by that I could join too.

The app stores my identification – name, company details, job role – which makes it easy to do networking and to check-in for workshops and seminars. Just scan my unique QR code and it’s done! Completely seamless and contactless. Efficient and useful then, absolutely relevant and valid today, should in-person events return.

Bringing the community together

Photo: DMEXCO 2020

When travel restrictions and lockdowns were imposed worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, DMEXCO still achieved its goal to connect the community of industry people. The technology already exists and they made the best of it in this situation. DMEXCO@home was a virtual interactive platform where visitors, speakers, exhibitors can still gather and network for the event, wherever they may be physically.

This also meant everyone involved had to adapt as well. Speakers and participants jumped online for live conferences, masterclasses and deep dive sessions online. Exhibitors readapted to private meetings and held presentations for potential clients at a Virtual Cafe. Brands redesigned their approach and used virtual showrooms and interactive “brand cards” that serves like an online booth to exhibitors to show off their products and services. Clearly, people are adaptable and will continue to connect in whichever way possible.

Mark D’Arcy of Facebook, DMEXCO 2019

All about the experience

DMEXCO 2019 was truly experiential marketing at its best. In the expo halls, companies and brands go all out to create a thematic space for people to stop by and chat about the products or services they are promoting. So it’s not just a plain booth and pamphlets, although there are those who kept it minimal as well.

Spotify’s bright showroom, DMEXCO 2019

Salesforce had a summer camp theme for their showroom. Google was designed like a candy store. Spotify had a cool vibrant setting. Some booths or spaces had gaming consoles, even when their business has nothing to do with gaming but they have game-ified content for people to enjoy and linger a little longer.

Facebook had endless flow of pretzels going around as you listen to mini talks and discussions. Some brands had a coffee bar or wine and cheese platters. Most have freebies like tote bags, notebooks, stickers, stress balls and snacks. One booth had a live iguana you can pet too.

Facebook showroom, DMEXCO 2019
Foosball, anyone? DMEXCO 2019
Shopify showroom, DMEXCO 2019
Meet Iguana and friend, DMEXCO 2019
Supermarket themed showroom for a German-based company, DMEXCO 2019

Though future events would mean implementing crowd control, social distancing and sanitisation measures, it doesn’t mean in-person events would be less experiential. This is an opportunity to redesign how live events can still be done from now onwards.

DMEXCO 2020 couldn’t emulate such an experience in the virtual world, but they focused on creating a virtual environment that enabled easy interaction, whether in terms of communication or messaging, or engagement with an interactive content.

Remember the little touches

What’s missing from DMEXCO 2020 was definitely the happy hour in the expo halls (It starts at 4pm when the beer crates roll in) and exploring the food and beverage areas (food trucks!). This was something to experience in person, and perhaps one of the fun extras to have at an event like this. Perfect for networking as people are more relaxed by then.

Quiet spaces to unwind by Google Ads, DMEXCO 2019

Attending in-person events as big as DMEXCO can be intense, especially for introverts like me. If it’s a virtual event, it’s easy to mute or log off for a moment, while in the comfort of familiar surroundings like your home. But for in-person events, it’s a little challenging.

That said, I liked the initiative Google Ads took to create several small capsules or little “houses” out of wood, decorated with live plants and a comfy sitting area for about three to four people at one time. It’s a quiet nook within the bustling event, set aside in a corner with two dispensers of herbal water infusions. Anyone can take turns, have a time out from everything to take a sip and unwind here. What a great idea!

Yes! Nerds are a brand’s best friend, DMEXCO 2019

Best of both worlds

DMEXCO continues to lead the way in the ever-changing landscape today. The organiser recently announced that DMEXCO 2021 will be a hybrid event – part in-person, part virtual. Essentially, bringing the best of both worlds together.

Regardless how big or small your event may be, it’s time to relook at how events are organised. It’s a chance to show what can be done. Even with limitations and necessary measures to follow for everyone’s safety in this era of the Coronavirus, creativity and innovation can thrive and bring success to your event.

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