Why Is Selling Ad Tech Eerily Similar To Politics?

I hear lots of people in our industry ask the same question about ad technology sales: What challenges do you face getting your clients to understand your offering?  As I was thinking through an intelligent response, I realized the answer sounded too familiar to my gripes with politics.  Let me explain.

In the ad tech category there are areas of misunderstanding and also areas of downright confusion fueled by half-truths.  When I listen to political advertising, I hear voters confused by the issues, and in many cases misled with half-truths. Sounds similar, doesn’t it?

Misunderstanding in ad tech is natural, just like in politics.  For the most part we’re talking about a category that consistently evolves and innovates at a pace far faster than the audience can understand.  Ad serving evolved quickly into rich media.  Rich media evolved into marketing automation, and automation has evolved into programmatic buying and data activation. 

What compounds this issue is that marketing is dominated by, well… marketers.  Most marketers are not technologists, and our industry specifically is famous for a lack of training to entry-level and junior people, so the issue can build momentum quickly as we arrive at the perfect storm of a lack of knowledge coupled with a steep learning curve. 

In political campaigns I hear politicians speak about process and statistics -- but too often they’re speaking in political terminology to an audience that is either tired of the rhetoric or lacks an understanding of the process in general.  In politics, that breeds discontent. In our industry that translates to an environment where the audience can’t keep up with the knowledge required to understand and apply new technology, as well as make decisions regarding policy. 

So we have a technology landscape dominated by a few key players, a plethora of upstarts and a tendency for going with the companies and brands you recognize rather than evaluating based on an apples to apples comparison of products, services and true benefits. 

In politics that means incumbents can win because of a fear of change, or even worse, there's voter fatigue and a lower turnout because a feeling of apathy has been created.  In ad tech, this is not always bad, but it definitely taints the waters of understanding.  In politics, it’s never good.

Another concern when selling ad tech is the confusion created when companies tell half-truths in the marketplace to an audience that is not experienced enough to comprehend the differences.  Do I really need to explain the parallel in politics? 

In the burgeoning sub-categories of ad tech, it’s very easy for established companies and new companies alike to adopt a “me-too” strategy.  This means they identify the capabilities of the market leader and say they can deliver those same capabilities, whether they can or not. This can leave a bad taste in the mouth of those customers who get burned.  Companies that overpromise and underdeliver can have a compound effect as disgruntled customers change jobs or consider their future efforts in that space.

In politics, it’s the same thing: Voter fatigue sets in and apathy grows.  If you promise change but don’t deliver it, how long can you expect people to respond to a message of change?   Too often, ad tech companies will take this me-too strategy to the market and it can set the whole market back for years.  Eventually things recover, but it takes time -- and in a category that is growing so quickly, time can mean money and that can crush some companies who may have a good product, but don’t have the runway financially to ride things out.  For voters, you need to deliver on your promises or you set things back for years to come.

So the next time you look to engage with new customers, be sure to educate them as best you can, establish a clear set of truthful differentiations between you and your competition, and take your time.  They will undoubtedly be confused about the state of your competition, and taking the high road can be a benefit in the long run.  Don’t overpromise and underdeliver because you do more damage on a wider scale than just between you and that company.   And here’s to hoping that whoever wins the elections in November will see success by following the same recommended path.

Good luck!

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3 comments about "Why Is Selling Ad Tech Eerily Similar To Politics? ".
  1. Matt Clark from Quantcast , October 31, 2012 at 10:26 a.m.
    At least with politics, we have the benefit of a few news outlets that purposefully hunt down half-truths told by politicians and dissect them in detail. In ad tech, however, our news media seems content to regurgitate half-truths in the form of paraphrased press releases and "interviews", which has the effect of lending legitimacy to these half-truths, when what they should be doing is helping the aforementioned inexperienced customers separate the legitimate businesses from the hucksters.
  2. Ross Bradley from Qeg Pty Ltd , November 1, 2012 at 12:15 p.m.
    I'd say that you have summed it up exactly, Matt Clark. The ad-tech news media is likely the best that money can buy.
  3. Leslie Van Zee from Mosaic Financial Partners , November 6, 2012 at 1:49 p.m.
    Seems to me that this really is just another example of the difficulties in entering a market with any new technology, not just ad tech. The majority of customers will be strongly influenced by what everyone else is using. The best solution is to focus on a niche that you can sway to your solution.