M&IT: Reimagining the rules of the expo world

“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different” - Coco Chanel

Since its inception back in 2011, it feels like the OMR (that’s ‘Online Marketing Rockstars’) Festival has taken these words to heart. OMR has consistently positioned itself as an antidote to your average industry expo, and, in doing so, grown into an event attracting 800 speakers, 1,000 brand exhibitors and over 70,000 attendees.

So, what really sets this event apart for both brands and audiences? And what are the implications for businesses looking to invest in a presence at OMR25?

  • Inclusivity at heart

    It’s immediately striking how OMR’s audience is both younger and more female than other industry events. It was also the first time I’d ever seen people with infants, toddlers and buggies at an industry event of this ilk - another refreshing embrace of different audiences. 

    What’s clear is that people aren’t just there as buttoned-down representatives of a brand - both independent digital marketers and influencers are included in the mix. Tattoos over neckties; fun over formality. OMR equals openness.

    Unexpected perspectives

    While other brands and industry events are starting to catch up, OMR has long showcased the type of talent it sees as most relevant and engaging to its audiences. Serena Williams, Quentin Tarantino, Ashton Kutcher and, this year, Kim Kardashian - fresh from the Met Gala only hours earlier - have all graced the main stage with their OMR keynotes. 

    Not only do all of these help sprinkle a bit of international stardust on the event, but they also provide an often unexpected or unconventional perspective on creativity and commerce. 

    Implication: Be open, embracing and ready to learn.

    Sure, not everyone will be customers or prospects - but just roll with it. Functionally, this might mean using promo staff to more effectively ‘triage’ guests to a stand, but philosophically, it’s about making peace with the more open nature of this event and the charming anecdotal interactions and insights this facilitates.

  • Additive Tech 
    Dubbing itself ‘the festival for the digital universe’ naturally sets expectations of OMR’s use of technology pretty high. Nonetheless, the event rises to the challenge. And this isn’t just through flashy moments (the area between Halls A and B featuring the largest jumbotron I’ve ever seen at an event of this kind), but the elements that underpinned the entire event. 

    From clear digital wayfinding and screens that filled dead space, to non-dropping wifi, a seamless event app and a wristband-based payment system that *just worked*, the focus of technology at the event was about letting attendees stay connected, stay engaged and stay in the moment. 

    OMR’s own admission that “Putting on an event of this size is not sustainable.” feels immediately refreshing. “We’re not going to claim otherwise or put a spin on things,” they go on, instead outlining their areas of focus for 2024, split across Infrastructure (vegan-first catering; prioritised rail links), Waste (reusable plates and cups; donation of excess food) and Content (providing airtime for this topic on branded real estate). 

    Honest, on-brand and on-message for an engaged and cooperative (largely German) audience.

    Implication: Bring your A-game (‘A’ for additive) and don’t be afraid to shake up how you show up.

    Whether it’s through practical technology or progressive thinking, this is an event that encourages smart experimentation that improves the attendee experience. 

  • Space for Chat
    Whilst technology is clearly important to the event audience, there was a refreshing absence of hardware and software on the majority of exhibitor stands. Rather than endless screens, slideshows, circuit boards and product showcase, the majority of stands felt dedicated to conversation space. What’s more, the majority of these brand spaces were open to everyone; and, though German was the primary language, English was the immediate next option for every single brand representative we encountered.

    And it wasn’t just the exhibitors who prioritised chat - OMR themselves dedicated entire halls to facilitating conversation. This meant communal areas replete with sofas, tables, benches and bars, so often in short supply at other industry events. Again, refreshing and genuinely valuable for interaction, ideation or just resting your weary feet.

    Creative Conversation Starters 
    That’s not to say that exhibitors at OMR weren’t interested in showing their wares, chief among them being event sponsor Vodafone. Their brand space (and it really was a cavernous space) housed all manner of demos for the company’s products and services, encouraging interaction and facilitating conversation (a retro gaming joystick my gateway to understanding more about the complexities of anonymised mobile data). 

    More analogue interactions were also very popular. As with the Cannes Manifestival, Pinterest used its space to actively immerse audiences in the latest Gen Z trends, whilst Tony’s Chocolonely’s grabber machine was a sweet sensation and there were more Wheel of Fortune-style spin-to-win games than you could shake a stick at. All helping raise a smile and spark a conversation.

    Implication: Your stand space should facilitate conversations, encouraging freedom and flow. It’s a creative canvas where individuality and expression aren’t just celebrated; they’re necessary. Embrace this truth and succumb to a more experimental and expressive version of yourself.

  • Cultural Connection
    This is an event that feels driven by the cultural, not just the commercial, context. There’s a time and place for both, but balancing this blend requires a freer format that starts with the name, look and feel, tone, that is set out from the very first email that lands in your inbox. 

    The vibe this produces allows the organiser to act more as mixologist than master of ceremonies, creating a programme that quenches the thirst of business (a necessity) but opens the door to so much more.

    Night Mode
    There’s a distinct cadence to the OMR Festival. Day 1 bursting with life, almost every stand jam-packed with visitors - whether invited or organic. And this energy is not wasted, but bottled and redirected come 6pm when the festival shifts gear. Stands (though not all stands) transform through DJ sets, drinks and doorstaff, offering more than just a post-event lighting change.

    While the face-off between rival stands’ sound systems was definitely palpable, this was a reminder of the non-stop intensity of the festival - the flip to ‘Night Mode’ helps ensure attendees aren’t immediately lost to the bars and clubs of Hamburg, but have a chance to let their hair down and live in the moment…without leaving the premises.

    Implication: Treat OMR as a living, breathing entity. 

    The first and second days won’t be the same - but that’s okay. Capitalise on the energy and enthusiasm of the Day 1 attendees and consider how you might harness the gentler pace of Day 2, acknowledging the sore heads and tired eyes and shifting your approach accordingly.

  • Whole Self Experience
    Though ostensibly a ‘business’ event, one of the particular delights of OMR was the number of B2C brands on show. Demonstrating - all too often disregarded - consideration of how event attendees really behave as human beings. Sure, they are probably there for work, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also want to be entertained and diverted across the two days. 

    The presence of brands like Hendricks (with its Gym), Hyrox (with a distinctly sweaty ski-erg challenge), Stanley (with a 6-foot drinks flask) and the aforementioned Tony’s gave people something to explore beyond their day job - perpetuating a more complete and engaging experience.

    Getting to know you 
    Beyond simply providing audiences an entertaining experience at this event, some of the less traditional brands present felt like they had a pretty simple ulterior motive at OMR. In most straightforward terms, this was a way of demonstrating to a young, smart, future-leader audience that “we’re the fitness/chocolate/gin brand for you”.

    Additionally, and more pointedly, many of these exhibitors used OMR as a recruitment tool, with countless stands featuring a ‘We Are Hiring’ QR code - allowing these businesses to capitalise on this gathering of the digital universe’s best and brightest. Smart, direct and win-win. 

    Implication: Don’t assume OMR isn’t for you - there’s a way to meaningfully connect with a valuable audience if you demonstrate you get them. 

  • We at Wonder pride ourselves on our ‘audience-first’ approach, because we know that more human experiences are always more meaningful ones. And in this respect, OMR certainly delivers.

    As a brand at OMR, you need to understand that not every conversation will have a tangible business outcome. A more diverse audience means more diverse motivations, so while a lead might not get qualified, they can still have quality. It’s an event where brands - both familiar and unexpected at an event focused on ‘the digital universe’ - seamlessly co-exist and blend.

    This makes for a heady, yet refreshing cocktail - part tech showcase, part urban street festival - that’s really only possible when you reimagine the rules of the expo world. Harking back to Coco’s quote: that’s the difference that makes this event so irreplaceable. 

    If you weren’t there at OMR24, hopefully this is enough to stimulate a bit of FOMOMR for 2025. 

    Bis nächstes jahr!