When It Comes To Ad Tech, There's Often No Right Answer

Confused about the growing eco-system of marketing technologies and how they impact your business? Don't worry, you're not alone.

By now you are at least considering, if not already testing, how DSP's, DMP's, dynamic creative optimization, attribution, tag management, and various mobile technologies can help you achieve your marketing objectives. To a degree, even some of the staple technologies like bid management, ESP's and web analytics are in a state of evolution and are being reevaluated in many organizations. The only exclusion is ad serving, which seems to be a fairly stable segment -- for now.

As the market proliferates with well-funded ad technologies, the ensuing hype surrounding the science-and-mathification of digital marketing has made it difficult and even intimidating for marketers to make decisions about which tools will provide real benefits for their digital marketing programs.

The decision-making process is key. The following B.A.S.I.C. criteria can be as easily applied to your strategic planning as they can to your decisions in ad technology.

Better: Orchestrating the best combination of ad tech, data and analytics tools for any brand is similar to a chef's approach to a great recipe. Clearly, there are many wrong combinations of ingredients that would ruin a recipe or, in our case, lead to inefficiencies or ineffectiveness, but there is usually no one right way. Of course, the same can be said for the strategic approach developed by each brand. There is often no "right" but there is almost always "better."

Accuracy: This is usually a black box. Comparing one technology solution to another is often difficult because the tech is actually "hidden" behind automated processes or statistical algorithms, which are difficult, and in some cases near impossible, to compare against each other. In theory, with complex and/or large data sets an algorithm is better than rules-based or manual processes. However, algorithms are often overhyped. It's difficult to prove or disprove what one cannot empirically observe. Ask vendors to provide as much information on the black box elements of their offering as possible. Try to compare the components of competing algorithms and processes that are not readily evident and observable. Unfortunately, often the only way to prove efficacy is to implement the technology -- and it is difficult to test and compare two competing technologies under comparable circumstances.

Scale: Determine the scale of your digital efforts in comparison to the marketplace and align with providers who focus on supporting companies and brands of your scale. Leave room for growth, but be aware that working with the wrong tier of providers can be detrimental. Can you live with the tradeoff of limited features for reduced costs of a lower-tier provider? Is your ambition greater than the scale of your efforts; and have you fully weighed the implications of the additional cost and potential lack of client service from a high-end market leader? Scale alignment is not to be taken lightly.

Implementation: If implementation requires significant resources and/or affects business reporting, you don't want to make major changes often. For these significant decisions -- for example, attribution reporting - perform a thorough due diligence and involve senior level stakeholders in the decision making process. Develop a post-implementation evaluation period and a mutually agreed upon list of criteria, milestones and benchmarks. Conduct a formal in-market evaluation and share your top-line findings with your vendor. Challenge your vendors to become an invaluable part of your digital arsenal, but don't be afraid to admit that you may have chosen the wrong partner.

Cost: Ad tech and new data and analytics tools present layers of costs that marketers must be able to forecast as worthwhile investments based on the benefit of each. Some questions to answer: What are the direct and indirect costs involved and which budget would cover these costs? What are the human resources and associated costs required to manage the tools and make the derived analytics and insights actionable? What are the long and short term implications of an interim solution and a two-phased approach? What is the opportunity cost of doing nothing and delaying your decisions?

Don't let difficult decisions protect the status quo. We are just starting to see the tip of the iceberg of the maturation and consolidation of ad tech companies. While you should never rely on technology as a crutch for sound strategic planning, you should leverage these innovative new platforms, tools and systems to create efficiency in complex processes and to help you work towards specific marketing goals. Just remember, there's usually no "right," but there's almost always "better."

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2 comments about "When It Comes To Ad Tech, There's Often No Right Answer ".
  1. Daria M from Weber , August 30, 2011 at 3:21 p.m.

    Great article! There have been so many marketing technologies surfacing over the past few months, many of which are 're-branding' themselves as different solutions than when they begun. When searching for a platform, my greatest suggestion is to make sure you are purchasing one that is compatible with your company's structure. Meaning, if you are an enterprise-class site, go with a solution that can handle it. Also keep in mind, many solutions that have been making names for themselves are more service oriented- so when you buy their system, you must additionally purchase one of their employees to be staffed on site to even run the system.

  2. Jason Heller from AGILITi , August 30, 2011 at 4:28 p.m.

    Daria - great point. I have seen a number of companies going through identify crises over the last 12-18 months, trying to catch the wave of [insert latest hot ad tech category here].

    It's important to dig in and truly understand what each company excels at. Sometimes there are seemingly minor, but important distinctions between them.