As published in Ad Age 2/25/2016: Confusing Language Has Hobbled the Ad-Tech Landscape
Ad tech’s technically dense language is propelled by disruptive algorithms and technology that attracted a lot of investor money very fast. In the boom, ad-tech black-box solutions with business models like SaaS or platform licenses were launched at a staggering rate, bringing along with them a confusing landscape exacerbated by confused language.
This doubly hobbled the ad-tech landscape, already laboring to deliver the critical “human element” real engagement with real people. It is most fitting therefore that the human activity of talking will be powerful enough to reorient the business to realize its transformative promise.
Here then are the top conversation changers that are quietly reshaping the business and sparking a revolution in the process.
1. The word “scale” is getting demoted.
This word was imposed on marketing by the software culture, and only in the last decade or so. Now, most appallingly, this word has overtaken marketing conversations with the unhappy result that the industry is trading in undefined digital blinks on a server we all agree (me reluctantly) to call impressions.
Innovative marketers though have begun to de-emphasize the term “scale” which defines very little. They cross the impression chasm by focusing on clearly understood metrics like cost-per-visitor KPIs tightly tied to specific behavioral metrics. Semantic technological ventures offer other alternatives in the quest to generate real engagement with real people. The point is that tech options have matured so that marketers can scale via smaller, “smart contextual” audience segments instead of purchasing blind (literally) impressions at scale.
2. Contextual ad tech is a marketing requirement, not an ad-tech vision statement.
The theory of contextual advertising is well represented on ad-tech websites across the globe, but the practical practice falls short, especially for advertisers where demographics aren’t as pertinent as in b-to-b and b-to-b-to-c. The key gap for most ad tech is that no matter the sophistication of the audience profiling tech, it can’t get at the “real time intent” part of the “right … time; place; message; person” contextual equation — once you leave search advertising.
The game changer here is both simple and hard because this is a matter of whom advertisers should stop talking to. In the contextual game — “real time intent” is everything and if an ad-tech venture can’t explain exactly how they achieve this, then advertisers should move on. Anything less is unacceptable because “real time intent” is closest to delivering ROI for advertisers.
3. Disruptive tech culture is so so “done” for marketers.
The cool tech culture that celebrates the “minimum viable product” with its “move fast, break things” mantra via Zuckerberg is now being reexamined because ad tech does not easily integrate the human side of marketing harmoniously. This culture clash results in awful digital user experiences that cause audiences to go running for the ad-blocker hills.
Here, marketers are reorienting conversations from vague MVPs, CPMs and platforms toward conversations about integration of functions, metrics and engagement. These marketers are asking about how ventures integrate with sales automation or content creation platforms. They are talking about new ways to integrate search, retargeting and programmatic within one architecture. In short, smart marketers are pivoting toward ventures with a well-rounded systems approach to marketing instead of the more typical point solutions that pervade ad tech today.
4. The tech business models investors love are ill-suited for marketers.
While SaaS or data ventures appeal to investors because of their reliable monthly subscription revenue along with a low-cost “set it and forget it” operational structure, they run counter to the very fluid marketing environment of today.
The rigid structure of these business models (both literally and figuratively) confines marketers and forces them to make operational trade-offs that diminish results. This is a case where tough talk is the way to go because the devil is truly in the negotiated contract details, too often drowning in techno-legal babble. Don’t go it alone and get the right advice, but always tie contracts to campaign results that give these vendors the chance to prove their worth.
Marketing is a human activity, so it is fitting that through the human process of communication we will change how we think about ad tech and in the process change what happens next. Viva la revolution.