Ad Tech Companies Are Bad Marketers

  • by , Featured Contributor, January 31, 2014

Advertising technology companies as a category are bad at marketing. Instead of creating customers, we too often create confusion in the marketplace.

Don't believe me? Try asking most folks in the ad and media industry to explain the similarities and differences among DSPs, SSPs and DMPs. Then ask them where any three similar ad tech companies fit in the market and their relative strengths and weaknesses. I don't think that you would hear very satisfactory answers -- certainly not consistent ones.

Why is that? Here are my thoughts:

The ad tech world and its various offerings are admittedly complex. Frankly, it takes a lot of work to make complex things simple and accessible to broad audiences. Most haven't done that work yet.

Ad tech is still a nascent industry. Sure, we have had technology companies in advertising for decades. Donovan built billing systems. Harris built ad order and trafficking systems. They were pretty straightforward and in most cases just automated existing processes. Today's ad technology, however, rarely just automates legacy processes, but more likely disrupts them, creating whole new processes and business models.



We love acronyms. Next to the military, probably no one throws around acronyms with impunity like ad tech folks, who can rarely explain with any clarity what they mean. A good place to start would be to stop using acronyms and stop assuming that audiences know what they mean.

Ad-tech plumbing is not exciting. In their marketing efforts to try and make things more interesting, ad tech companies tend to focus on results that are very difficult to qualify (especially by third parties) and seem to be overstated. For example, saying you can improve "engagement" (a hard-to-quantify word) by 400% is easy if the base of response is nearly a negative number to begin with. This hurts credibility and makes many potential buyers take a wait-and-see attitude. While explaining more exactly how the plumbing works and how it will improve performance is a little more difficult, it helps audiences understand with more clarity why what you do is worthy of consideration.

Drafting on the flavor of the month. So many in ad tech focus too much on the moment and not on the long term, always trying to reposition themselves as the hot tech or hot tech company. Consider this: How many folks have told you over the past month that they are just like or are the "Rocket Fuel" or "Criteo" of their sector? They weren't saying that six months ago, and they probably won't be saying it a year from now.

What to do? I think most ad tech companies (and I've been as guilty as any) would benefit from simplifying their story. It would behoove them to step back a bit and see their product from the perspective of an outsider.

Try your marketing on with people who know nothing about our industry and pay attention to what they say.  The feedback will be invaluable.

What do you think?

8 comments about "Ad Tech Companies Are Bad Marketers".
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  1. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, January 31, 2014 at 12:48 p.m.

    Dave, you nailed it. It is shocking to me when I meet with folks and attend conferences and hear the words they use to describe the selling of ads. No one wants to admit it, but man, that's what we do, we buy and sell ads.

  2. paul debraccio from Sonobi, January 31, 2014 at 5:10 p.m.

    Great insight Dave. Makes me think of how many different words are now used just to describe advertisers and publishers!

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 31, 2014 at 6:20 p.m.

    Same thing as I was taught how to write a 500 word theme. Try telling the story with people who nothing about which you are speaking and pay attention to what they say.

  4. Dan Ortega from Hyperdyme Systems, February 1, 2014 at 12:08 p.m.

    The real problem is that ad tech companies (and actually most tech companies, period) are focused on themselves and their technology. Ad Tech still has a feature-centric view of their market; what they need to do is step to benefits, and then immediately to value. Once you hit the third step, your perspective is now customer-centric. We can't do much about the complexity of the space (e.g. Lumascape's preposterously complex maps show the futility of that), but we can try to shift our perspective to align with the needs of people who are actual end users.

  5. Christopher Sanders from The Ingredients Group, February 1, 2014 at 2:57 p.m.

    I hope we are not the only five people to see the stark reality of Dave's message. This is a real problem for AdTech companies. If you go to a DMPs website, then DSP, then perhaps an Ad Networks site, and yet two other who might specialize in programmatic for mobile or video, they virtually have the same menus: "Publisher", "Advertisers", "What we Do", etc. To Dan's point above the Lumascapes for marketing tech are primarily made up of companies with a new feature for media automation, not a software solution.
    I have been in digital for 15+ yrs, product management for 5 yrs before that and studying this adtech space seriously for the some time. I keep telling anyone I know at these companies that the market is begging for C-L-A-R-I-T-Y. The low hanging fruit to make your adtech company stand out is to simply go see clients/partners and explain the state of the market with some common sense and clarity. Once you have level set everyone's knowledge, they're likely to trust you and try out your wares... Thanks for standing up and saying so Dave!

  6. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, February 2, 2014 at 10:39 a.m.

    Here is a good example of an ad tech company (FreeWheel, sent to me by Doug Knopper) doing a good job with an explanatory video to make their product easier to understand:

  7. Rafael Cosentino from Telanya, February 2, 2014 at 12:56 p.m.

    If CPM's yield good CTR's then the ROI will increase. But if the CTR is low and the CPM is high then so will the CPA and the advertiser will prefer CPC. Now that advertisers can RTB through a DSP, RPMs for pubs are dropping but so is transparency. Let's have an industry conference (somewhere warm please) where we can eat, drink and talk this ASAP.

  8. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia, February 2, 2014 at 2:15 p.m.

    Love it Rafael!

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