The Myth of 'Self Service' in Ad Tech

There Is No Button That Can Replace Good Service

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Picture it: You are sitting in your conference room and your boss turns to you and asks you to evaluate this fantastic completely self-service ad tech platform. "We can have the interns manage our digital marketing with a press of a button," he says.

You are up for the task, but you have some important questions for this self-service platform, including, but not limited to: What role does the Loch Ness Monster have in integrating the solutions? How many unicorn tears are needed for implementation? Is it a Sasquatch or a Yeti that handles automation?

Wait. These are ridiculous questions, you say? Why would my research delve into cryptozoology? Well, why not? A true-to-life 100% self service advertising technology platform is just as fantastic and improbable as a unicorn or Nessie.

Listen, digital marketing is complex. This much is widely accepted. Whether you are talking about navigating the fragmented tech landscape or the difficulty in devising the correct media mix model – digital marketing is not an easy business. And yes, centralized platforms have a lot to offer in making this easier and providing solutions to optimize your efforts. But all of the tech in the world is not enough to handle the complexities of integration, implementation and automation. Yet there is the constant undervaluing of the service component in our space and the continual propagation of the "myth of self-service." Our job as an industry is to make the complex simple, not vice versa. Let's take a closer look at the mythical beasts in question.

Integrating all of your different marketing systems together is not easy. No offering has a simple button that can help the average marketer integrate their search campaigns with email campaigns with their CRM with first and third party data and with that legacy internal system held together by duct tape and hope. And few people in a marketing organization can be expected to have experience with this challenge. Marketers need to work with experienced providers who are able to understand how the pieces fit together and how to make them work most efficiently. You can stare at that Loch all you want, no prehistoric beast will make your integration happen without real and serious levels of expertise.

You cannot snap your fingers and your digital marketing programs will just turn themselves on in an optimized and efficient manner. No amount of unicorn tears will be enough to make sure everything is working cohesively as it should. Are you moving and restructuring hundreds of campaigns and millions of keywords? Are you developing an advanced media mix model? You need real life humans with understanding of digital marketing beyond the technology's limited view. This should not be the responsibility of someone just learning the system.

In spite of so many promises from technology providers, nothing you do should be completely automated in digital marketing. Everything needs tweaking based on vertical, industry and specific situations. You would be amazed how many people really believe you can handle digital marketing with a "set it and forget it" mentality.

If you are expecting to integrate, implement and automate as part of your digital marketing platform program you need expert support. The truth is there is no ad technology platform that is truly 100% self-service. Marketers cannot be expected to be able to get full value out of their ad technology without support and services from the vendor. But many people in the industry turn a blind eye to the need of quality service when they evaluate technology and negotiate deals. Then when it's too late, when something goes wrong or promised ROI is not achieved, low- to no-quality service won't help.

As someone in the ad tech space, I know when the first question a potential client asks is "how much does it cost?" that person is not someone we should work with. There is more to the equation than finding a low cost solution. Evaluations should be based on the ability of the technology to meet your needs in addition to the service level provided. If it is the right product for you, make your decision and then negotiate on cost. Because if you don't include service in your equation, you will get sucked into an underwhelming package of hours that is often not enough. The headaches and additional hours negate any savings.

When marketers undervalue service and just look at the technology and its bells and whistles rather than how it's going to be used and optimized, they are asking for trouble. The success of any digital marketing campaign never solely rests on tech. The most successful are those that are a combination of tech and services. Believing that any solution can offer you a true self-service option is placing your faith on a fairy tale.

Will Margiloff is CEO of IgnitionOne, a unit of Dentsu.
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