Picking A Lane In The Programmatic Marketplace

We’ve all seen it: the rampant self-identification and re-identification that goes on in the programmatic marketplace. A company is a DSP, SSP or DMP one day, and a combination of a couple, or all, ad tech categories the next. There’s a desire to be all things to all buyers -- but therein lies the risk that we lose identity and opportunity in the process.

At some point, in order to scale, a company needs to have its come to Jesus moment and figure out what side of the market its products and solutions are addressing. In fact, we are seeing an increasing trend of companies “sunsetting” products and pivoting the business toward a single solution to stay focused within the loud ad tech space. Companies like Turn are getting rid of its ad network to focus on DSP business; PulsePoint went through a similar transition by moving to an SSP orientation.

In the world of programmatic, dealing with the massive pools of data we sit upon, it’s a Herculean task to be everything to everyone. However, that doesn’t stop some of us from trying. Look no further than Forrester’s recent Wave report, in which several companies, including Rubicon Project, PubMatic and Google were called out as "leaders." However, PubMatic was referenced as the only remaining company in the mix focused purely on the interests of the publisher, "the last of the purebred SSPs." Most of its peers have ventured onto the advertising exchange side as well.



From the advertisers' standpoint, this could be a damaging prospect, as they're no longer using tools that help them maximize pricing and efficiency, and diluting the offering. From the demand-side, we see the SSP market as a very crowded place. So, if a company chooses to transition and stay competitive, it will need to keep innovating and provide value and higher eCPMs to publishers. It will need to aggregate demand from partners, and in turn those of us from the demand-side will need such companies to get us the best quality inventory placements. Otherwise, it’s a vicious cycle, and the demand side will need to start going directly to pubs -- and, well, you see where this is going.

Not to mention the conflict of interest. This co-mingling of identities becomes confusing when, as a business, you start competing head to head with the companies that are cutting your checks. For example, what if one of our major partners were to set up a direct-to-advertiser/agency product? How would they expect us to stay motivated to grow as partners, share ideas, if they were going to put us at risk of losing our client budgets? 

The classic ad network model worked when things were simple, when it was efficient for a company to play both sides, or develop separate solutions for each part of the supply chain.  Now, there is way too much data, real-time decisioning, scale, and processes in play to allow for this model. This huge scope is all too much for one company to take on, unless you are Google.

At the end of the day, the wisest course is to look at all this from the marketer’s view. When evaluating the programmatic space, marketers should be selecting partners that focus on them, providing best-of-class service and expert guidance. We are in an era where middlemen are valued and appreciated for digesting the data and inventory to best service marketers. We’d all be wise to be as clearly defined, focused and conflict-free as possible.

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