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?
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