How to Survive the Coming Ad-Tech Apocalypse

Hint: Be a Company, Not a Feature -- and Don't Ask Anyone to Learn Another Acronym

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A significant shakeout in the world of advertising technology has been expected for a while, but recently the drumbeat has gotten louder.

We're all familiar now with investment banker Terence Kawaja's vivid illustration of the chaos and fragmentation that reigns amidst the ever-proliferating sea of logos crowding the online ecosystem. Meanwhile, advertisers and their agencies are reaching their tolerance threshold when it comes to the confusion, inefficiency, incompatibility, waste and squandered return-on-investment that these technologies have helped create over the past few years.

Very few marketers understand the murky alphabet soup of DSPs, DMPs, SSPs, and, frankly, they shouldn't have to. As an industry, we've created a sea of confusion -- which is a disservice to ourselves, and creates a real challenge for marketers. Many are fed up trying to keep up with the plethora of new entrants in the space. And the marketers who do keep up and are trying to adopt the latest innovations in online advertising are faced with yet another challenge -- integration.

Most technologies on Kawaja's notorious slides only offer individual solutions -- such as display management, data, Facebook optimization or tag management -- leaving the challenge of integrating these systems to marketers. We've made integration the marketer's problem to solve. If we're supposed to be in the marketing services business, I'd argue this isn't the way to offer our clients the best service. We need to help them to stop the insanity!

The issue of marketing technology fragmentation is at the core of most advertisers' digital conundrum and, if unaddressed, will keep the digital ad market from maximizing its fullest potential. For technology companies and their investors, if they don't wake up and become a company and not a feature, they run the risk of winding up as roadkill when the inevitable reckoning occurs. I'd offer a prescriptive road map for marketers, agencies and, importantly, technology companies, for creating a more efficient, remunerative and organized ad tech ecosystem.

  1. Place a premium on cohesion and efficiency rather than on bells and whistles.
    There are a ton of point solutions out there -- companies offering new ways to buy media on search, display or even Facebook, or manage your tags or how to optimize conversion on your website. They may wow you with individual offerings, but what challenges will marketers face (and what revenue or learnings do they stand to lose) if the solutions aren't part of an integrated, self-learning, cross-channel technology stack? There is a growing premium being placed on integration across all of the disparate online channels to better measure and attribute marketing, and maximize ROI. The companies who are focused on facilitating this will have a distinct advantage.
  2. Always consult your clients before investing in or committing to product enhancement and development.
    In the early days of the internet, a new company could take a "we will build it and they will come" approach. But like every maturing industry experiencing growing pains, there comes a pivot point when end users -- advertisers and agencies -- reach a critical mass of expertise and experience and begin asking all the right questions that will dictate the flow and shape of product development. Ask them for their guidance, as they will help you build solutions that meet marketers' needs and not features that sound good in press releases. Focus on things that simplify an agency or marketer's life and have the ability to be integrated with their systems or other market leading platforms.
  3. Start investing in marketing and positioning to help explain your offerings to advertisers.
    Technology companies -- because they tend to be math and engineering driven -- often shortchange themselves in terms of their positioning and branding. If you look at many of the landscape slides, it's hard to distinguish what most of these companies do from each other. Lost in a morass of uncertainty, ambiguity and even contradiction, marketers are reaching a boiling point. Marketers are asking, "What's the real difference and how can you assist me tactically, which will allow me to be more strategic?" If you approach your own technology brand like a classical marketer and implement rigorous, creative marketing, research and product development, as well as best-of -breed PR practices and personnel, you stand a better chance than most of your colleagues in positioning yourself to the industry and then achieving success. You may have the greatest product in the world but if you can't explain it to your prospects or clients and to the press, you're putting yourself squarely behind the eight ball.

Marketing technology consolidation is coming -- and not just because the bankers proclaim it to the benefit of their bottom line. Marketers are demanding it, and our industry needs to meet that challenge so that the advertising technologies poised to shape the future of our industry can fulfill their true potential. Follow and you may survive. If you don't then you and your investors will be next roadkill on the internet highway.

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