A STRANGER IN A STRANGE AD TECH LAND


This post was written by CEO and founder of engageSimply, Judy Shapiro

I think I may be the loneliest woman working in ad tech today. This post is my virtual version of yelling atop a NYC rooftop where there’s therapeutic relief knowing that everyone can hear you but no one actually does.

The heart of the matter is simple; I am in the ad tech world as a startup CEO but not of the ad tech world. While virtually all other ad tech ventures focused on scale (fake or real) and arbitrage at whatever levels they could get away with, we developed our venture to operationalize trust as a technology in our platform;  between users, brands, publishers with a true commitment to focus on real KPIs that should drive all of it.

This commitment to trust and transparency was and is an outlier position in ad tech because unlike all other ad tech CEO’s – my background in marketing allowed us to side-step all the downside of ad tech while concentrating on the upside in terms of client results.

Uniquely, I understand all the marketing disciplines, methodologies and systems we throw around a lot today because they were forming during my professional lifetime; co-op programs, visual merchandising, email automation, events, segmentation. I had to master multi-channel programs from reseller to telemarketing. When CRM was barely a twinkle in anyone else’s eye, I was helping shape some of the biggest ones from SalesForce to Adobe.  And before there was “big data,” I had created a predictive sales model using computer paper stacks and pure mental muscle.

This long view of marketing is an incredible advantage for our venture but it also draws an invisible circle around me. This, coupled with my deep understanding of the tech side of ad tech — the ad serving, the RTB and bots — all of it, scribes the circle ever deeper in the ground

It turns out I know too much about how messed up ad tech really is.

I know that between the algorithms and impression pushing platforms, marketers struggle to create quality engagement with real people. I know that the fragmentation of ad tech creates operational chaos for agencies and advertisers alike. I also know that so much dishonor pervades the business and this ultimately is why I feel so lonely.

How does one deal with the burden of this knowledge?

> Do I tell my brand friends that for every $1 of active media they allocate only about 40 cents makes it into market by the time the exchanges, data guys and fraudsters have had their way with the budget?

> Do I explain to my agency friends how the exchanges bots are always optimizing to the RTB algorithms in DSPs so that “miraculously” the exchanges deliver to the exact metrics the agency sets?

> Do I continue to try and get tech partners to understand that programmatic ultimately will usher in a new era of transparency and their arbitrage days are numbered?

> And how do I rationalize to potential investors that the crazy 70%+ ad tech margins they are used to were built on pillars of impression fraud and thus not sustainable? And how do I get them happy with the 45% margin our venture delivers that is both honorable and sustainable?

The circle of seclusion tightens because while I left the land of marketing eight years ago, I don’t really belong in the world of ad tech either.

My supportive but puzzled marketing friends can’t fathom why I would spend the most lucrative part of my career taking such a financial gamble as launch a startup.

My close technology colleagues don’t understand my obsession with quality audience engagement that, in their mind, doesn’t scale easily.

So I stand apart, keenly aware I don’t belong anywhere;  quite literally, in “no man’s land.” Our “trust-based” venture was an outlier for a long, long time and sometimes the loneliness was too hard to bear. Slowly, though, new trust voices are starting to join in and while I am still lonely – I am not alone anymore.

There — now that that I got that out there, I feel better. Back to work.

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