The Future of Campaign Management Software ISN'T Campaign Management Software

As SEM has evolved, so too has the role of campaign management software. Ten years ago, tools were imperative to manage the hundreds of thousands of keywords in a typical SEM account; today, keyword lists have shrunk, and new ad units like Google Shopping and DSA may one day make keywords altogether obsolete. In the past, bid management algorithms often gave professional SEMs a huge advantage over manual bidding; today, Google offers free bid management tools (Campaign Optimizer and Display Campaign Optimizer) that in some cases may actually drive better ROI than a third-party tool.

So where does this leave the multibillion-dollar campaign management industry? The future path for these tools comes down to two core themes: data and diversity. SEMs (and all online marketers) are overwhelmed with data. Website analytics, campaign performance, cross-device and cross-channel attribution, in-app behavior, and offline conversions are just a few things marketers must now consider. As with keyword overload years ago, marketers today have data overload (I like to describe it as “mo’ data, mo’ problems”).



And SEMs must also confront media diversity. More and more, SEMs are asked to buy media beyond Google, Bing, and Yahoo; common culprits include Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, programmatic display, native advertising, and in-app networks. As consumer behavior diversifies beyond desktop search, SEMs must follow and try to go a mile wide and an inch deep across numerous channels and devices (I call this “the wide tail of search.”)

Campaign management tools are rapidly evolving to meet these challenges. First, with respect to data and analytics, every major campaign management company has launched (or has announced plans to launch) major initiatives around data and analytics.

Tools are also addressing channel diversity. Virtually every tool now provides SEM and social, and many offer display – either through a DSP or a managed solution – and mobile and local modules are quickly being added to these marketing suites as well.

Make no mistake, the tool providers will still tell you that their algorithms can beat Google’s internal optimizers any day. And many marketers simply don’t want to give Google their revenue data, or trust Google to optimize their campaigns. So there is still a place for third-party bid management as a standalone solution (and upstarts like InsideVault and Campanja have launched with this model in mind).

Among established players, however, the race is no longer about who has the best algorithm -- but rather, who can offer more and better data-crunching across as many channels and devices as possible.

This competition is definitely in its infancy. While campaign management tools have added many new features in a very short time, it will take a few more years until a clear leader emerges. And don’t count out Google as a competitor. Google’s technology stack now includes DS3 (SEM management), DBM (a DSP), Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and a still-in-beta DMP. To date, Google has not offered a solution for Facebook advertising management, but it wouldn’t shock me to see this emerge as a future feature of the Google stack.

Running an ad-tech business is tough work. The ecosystem changes quickly, R&D costs are high, competitors are wicked-smart, and marketers want more and more functionality for less and less cost (yes, I admit I am part of the problem!).

In general, however, complexity – be it from channels or devices – is good for intermediaries like campaign management tools. Humans cannot crunch reams of data by themselves, and few companies can afford an army of dozens of online marketing specialists to handle every new channel that comes their way. The SEM campaign management tools that successfully transition to a comprehensive marketing cloud/suite will be well-positioned to capitalize on the new and complex reality of online marketing today.

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