Commentary

Mastering Ad Tech: A Note to Agencies

In my opinion, the advertising industry can be filled with a lot of talk and little action. Although we’ve accepted that digital is a game-changer — nodding our heads in agreement over current issues and necessary solutions, as well as the big ideas we’d like to see realized in the next decade — our actions (and blatant inaction) are speaking so much louder than our words.

We’ve long been able to ignore under-adoption of ad tech, writing off “explosive growth” and “disruptive change” as little more than tweetable headlines, but the old way of doing things just isn’t cutting it anymore. It works, but is both slow and costly, with manual data transfer between Excel, PowerPoint and email eating up to 70% of a single campaign’s time and resources. With only 30% left over for analysis and optimization, it’s clear we’ve let experience-based decision making consume its data-driven counterpart.

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It’s time to address the elephant in the room. The modern marketplace won’t pause to wait while we deduplicate spreadsheets and attempt to make sense of incongruent data, nor will it stop innovating to accommodate the ineffectual processes we seemingly can’t live without. The brightest, most adept media planners can’t survive in this market if they maintain codependent relationships with Excel. Yet, manual data transfer continues like an insane communications joyride that nobody wants to miss out on. 

Do you want Excel to be your ball-and-chain? I certainly don’t. Without a centralized workflow or system to track all the data and tasks associated with a media plan, we’re arbitrarily throwing paper airplanes into space and hoping a carrier pigeon happens by. The worst part about this whole charade is that media planners remain willing participants, despite being aware of the estimated 28% time savings they’d see if they elevated manual processes to the ad tech-th degree. 

So, what are we waiting for? The interesting thing about advertising technology is that despite being a cost-, time- and sanity-savings goldmine, agencies seem to be afraid of its relatively unstable and experimental nature. A little fear is understandable, considering the sheer volume of vendors that pop up every day, each with a new acronym and semi-differentiated value proposition to throw into the mix. But at its core, ad tech is meant to serve people, not replace them.

As an industry, we need to admit that it isn’t enough to say, “Yes, I’d like to be more efficient,” without action, or such complacency will only doom us to a future of bleary-eyed media planning, bottleneck ties and well-fed inefficiencies (they ripen with age). Our habits might be tried-and-true, but we’d be remiss to ignore the promise of ad tech as an alternative. 

As with any piece of technology, those who play the long game will dominate those who throw technology into the mix, and expect efficiency to occur instantaneously. What you put into it directly affects what you get out of it, with sitting back and waiting for results (or doing nothing) being the biggest risk of all:

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” — Bill Gates

Ad tech is a huge differentiator between agencies because it amplifies the reach and efficacy of their unique skill sets. On the flip side, it can also amplify their inefficiencies, especially when approached in a fragmented, short-term mindset — logging in to 35 separate media-buying systems can lead to more inefficiencies and may require the technical capacity of a robot, while a solution with consolidated access to 35+ media-buying systems could in contrast provide extended reach without the steep learning curve or pong-esque shifts between tasks. 

Agencies must dive head first into work flow management platforms in order to identify key areas needing automation, accept the necessity of testing and understand that operational efficiency doesn’t happen overnight. The more systems you try, the more opportunities you’ll have to figure out exactly what you want and need, become aware of things you never knew you wanted, and understand the level of automation that best amplifies your unique skills and thus maximizes your capacity to innovate.  

The moral of this story? The trick to mastering ad tech is to not let it master you, understanding that ad tech is only a tricky beast if you allow it to be. The ad tech space may be complex, disruptive and expansive, but these qualities are exactly what agencies need to be sustainable in the future. 

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