Wanted: An Ad Tech Rosetta Stone

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eliiportnoyddt"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Eli Portnoy, general manager at Thinknear.

There is a remarkable lack of symmetry in a traditional ad tech and ad buyer relationship. The ad tech company’s technology is invisible to its customers, who are asked to spend a lot of money on what is basically, to the buyers, magic.

The technologists have all of the product knowledge, and therefore all of the power. Their clients have trust and a checkbook. And when they try to ask questions, the answers that come back are usually too complicated or cryptic to be helpful.

There are those in the ad tech industry who like this imbalance. The thinking seems to go that the harder the technology is to explain, the more valuable a service they’re providing. For the most part, they’ve managed to convince their clients of this.

But while it’s great to have clients’ trust in a network or platform, the blind faith currently asked of buyers sets a bad precedent for the industry and opens the door for abuse and fraud. It is time for a change. That change needs to come from ad tech providers and ad networks.

Translation, Please

I hear all the time that people in ad tech struggle with explaining to their parents what they do. Our work can’t easily be explained by a job title everyone understands, such as “doctor” or “lawyer” or “accountant.” And if our parents, who have known everything about us every moment of our lives, can’t parse our acronyms, how can we expect potential clients to?

In any high-tech industry, a certain language develops that may be indecipherable to outsiders. Jargon runs rampant. That’s not to say it shouldn’t; it’s important for us to build a vocabulary around our work. But it’s equally important that we write a dictionary that translates it into everyday parlance. We don’t need to dumb things down but we do need to be able to explain – clearly and succinctly – what we do, why we do it and how the technology works.

You might say this: “Our proprietary algorithm uses data collected globally to disseminate targeted messaging to high-value consumers in relevant markets.” It’s not really that hard for the sales team to instead say, “Our technology analyzes data from all over the world to make sure that your message meets the right people.”

Translate your value proposition into something that everybody understands, and suddenly a lot more people will want it.

Be Communicative

Beyond being able to explain what a technology does or why it works at the start of a vendor-buyer relationship, we need to be upfront and transparent about how it is or is not working throughout the course of the relationship. It’s not good enough to just send a report at the end of the campaign letting a client know whether or not they got their money’s worth.

The sales team, then, isn’t the only team that needs to be “bilingual,” in terms of translating internal jargon into external plainspeak. Account managers need to be fully briefed on the technology they’re working with, not just so that they can manage their accounts, but so they can explain to their clients why a campaign is performing the way it is, or where improvements can be made.

Know The Competition

One of the best ways to provide the kind of transparency that can restore some symmetry to provider-client relationships is for ad tech companies to be able to explain the industry as a whole. I’m not saying they should spy on their competition – we’re trying to be transparent here, remember? – but they should be able to clearly articulate the key differentiators that make them stand out to potential clients who are inundated with industry buzzwords that don’t resonate with their way of thinking.

Knowing the competition also gives them the unique advantage of explaining why they’re different, how they’re better and where they might actually be worse. There’s a certain car insurance company that’s engendered a lot of loyalty for this transparency: Its price-comparison tool shows how the company stacks up against its competition, and sometimes, its price is not the lowest. But because it’s willing to put itself out there, and be completely upfront with potential customers, the company has succeeded.

In our industry, the confidence to identify our strengths and weaknesses – the good and the bad – and those of our competitors will help gain the trust of partners and clients. More importantly, it give us an opportunity to improve the industry overall. Transparency isn’t only about the way we talk to buyers; it’s also how we should talk to each other.

Start Now

We are paid to make things happen for our clients. But it’s results and relationships that drive loyalty. If we can begin to help our clients “get” what we do today and make them feel like part of the process, we will move the industry a long way in a very short period of time.

Follow Eli Portnoy (@eportnoy), Thinknear (@Thinknear) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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