Why conferences are even more important in a fully digital industry.
DMEXCO, Mobile World Congress, Affiliate Summit East, Affiliate Summit West, the list goes on and on. For an industry that is so obsessed with machine learning, AI, automating processes, and digitizing anything and everything, the very long list of digital advertising conferences can come as a shock.
At first glance, one would think that an industry that is so focused on automated everything would have very little need for expensive destination conferences.
And yet there’s a laundry list of them!
And for anyone that works in the industry, this doesn’t come as a surprise. The reason for all of these conferences is clear: in an industry that is entirely digital and wholly focused on automation in every aspect, personal relationship and confidence in the person on the other side only take on an even greater importance.
Why conferences are necessary
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, human connections have critical importance in the adtech industry and online marketing in general.
A large part of this is that everything you can fake online is infinitely harder to fake in person.
Two things are almost ubiquitous in digital marketing: lots of money and lots of fraud. Some estimates put the amount of money lost to fraud at 1 in 3 dollars spent on digital advertising!
There’s Clickspam, Click Injection, device farms, bots, cloaking; there are so many kinds of fraud that you could make a very good living specializing in fighting just one of the many heads of the digital fraud monster.
Unfortunately, many of the things that make digital advertising so attractive to advertisers (easy deployment, ability to buy ad space all over the world instantaneously, etc), also make it an attractive target for fraud. If a publisher or SSP in Indonesia, for example, scams you out of 15,000 dollars, is it really going to be worth your while, or even possible, to take legal action against them if you’re based in the Netherlands? Probably not.
However, despite the huge risk of fraud and the many bad actors out there, digital advertising is so effective that brands are willing to take the risk. This shift to digital is born out in statistics. Digital advertising has been rapidly displacing traditional advertising for well over a decade now. In many western countries, this trend is so advanced that digital advertising makes up the majority of ad spend!
So there’s a lot of money in digital advertising and a lot of fraud. This means that the most valuable currency is trust.
And where is this trust built?
It’s built at conferences.
QUOTE When everything is digital and automated, the remaining human element only becomes more important
What goes on in conferences
Conferences for digital marketing, affiliate marketing, and adtech aren’t, in essence, so different from conferences for other, dissimilar industries. The three primary goals are the same.
Companies send employees to conferences to build brands, make connections, and generally inspire confidence in their own customers.
And while all these things are, of course, key facets of conferences in any industry, they’re especially important in digital advertising because they are often the only chance to develop these three things in a meaningful way.
Again, at conferences, it is far easier to see who is “legit,” as it were, and who is not.
Ironically, advertising digital advertising is often best done in person. While selling a service or a product via digital advertising offers a lot of advantages over traditional advertising, connections between digital advertisers and adtech companies are often best made in person.
Conferences provide a rare opportunity to build a presence in a significant way.
Just by showing up to the conference, just by being present, you massively differentiate yourself from much of the competition. Competition that can’t afford or didn’t bother to buy a booth and send a couple of employees to an expensive conference in a far-flung city.
Just showing up is a display of resources and dedication – one that separates you from the vast majority of affiliates and digital advertising companies. They say that half of life is showing up. When it comes to adtech, it’s more like 90%. Having a nice, well-designed booth is good, but the fact that you’re there standing in front of clients is what’s important.
It’s not just about building presence and showing that you’re a serious operation. It’s also about seeing who else is a serious operation.
So beyond just building a brand, conferences also provide the rare opportunity to make connections and to start new relationships with potential partners. Like so many other things, the reason in-person is so essential in adtech, and digital advertising (and especially in the affiliate-oriented aspects of them) is because there is simply so much fraud.
And it’s harder to lie to your face.
But due to the huge amount of fraud in the digital advertising industry, most players are hesitant to start working with new people that they have only met online and that they’ve never heard of.
A manager that deletes your emails and ignores your Skype messages without even thinking, isn’t unlikely to give your company a shot with a small budget if you approach him at a conference.
Because, again, if you take the time and expend the resources to come all the way to a major conference, then you’re probably not going to take the money and run – especially when it’s just enough for a small trial run.
In digital advertising, being able to get a coffee with someone or quickly give your pitch over a kebab is well worth the price of showing up to a conference. This is true even if you don’t want to shell out for a booth, but would rather send a couple of employees.
The high importance put on personal, face-to-face communication is relatively standard in any business-to-business industry. The dynamic, however, is quite different in digital advertising. Once you’ve met someone and opened a relationship, it’s rarely necessary to meet in person again.
Meeting in person is a crucial step for the development of a relationship. Still, once this line is crossed, you might never meet with the client again – even if your business ties develop significantly.
Much like building a real presence for your business, you can instill real confidence in your business and in yourself by participating in conferences.
At a conference, you can walk up and talk to people that would generally just ignore you by email since they can’t separate you from the many fraudsters and low-quality affiliates and networks that hunt you down every day.
So, once again you being there makes all the difference and immediately separates you from the thousands upon thousands of sketchy affiliates and networks that crowd inboxes every day.
Even if you don’t meet a given customer or client at a conference, if they see on your social media feed that you were at X major conference that year, it’s still going to go a long way towards inspiring confidence. So while actually interacting with clients is best, there are tangential effects of just being present and letting others know that you were there.
A further benefit that conferences can offer is the chance to learn from and interact with smart people from successful companies. Sure, more often than not their workshops and panels are just sales pitches in disguise.
But often enough there is still good information found interspersed with the self-promotion. That’s how they get people to come to their sessions, after all!
Still, there are sessions that aren’t very sales-pitchy at all, such as those offered by industry non-profits and interest groups like the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
Sure organizations like the IAB are pushing their own interests, but if you’re in digital advertising, the IAB is on your side and their interests are your interests.
At DMEXCO 2019, I did nothing but attend conferences and the industry interest ones were by far the most interesting, informative, and honest. So, if you ever get the chance, try to attend a few IAB seminars.
When it comes to conferences, there is a lot of overlap between advertising technology firms, affiliates, and general digital advertising agencies. For this reason, there is a lot of overlap between the conferences that they attend.
Many ad tech firms are really as likely to be at ad
Digital advertising is an enormous and relatively decentralized industry. Unfortunately, the characteristics that make digital advertising so attractive compared to traditional advertising (targeted ads, performance-based payout, instant international campaigns) all make it much more susceptible to fraud.
In order to better combat this fraud, the industry has come to rely on a series of major conferences wherein legitimate businesses and affiliates are far easier to separate from fraudsters and bad actors.
As the industry grows and as the competition becomes ever fiercer, the conference seems poised to remain the crucial meeting place of collaborators and competitors alike.