Ad Tech Fragmentation: A Marketer’s Worst Nightmare


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 Joe Apprendi, CEO at Collective.

One look at the infamous LUMA slide tells an epic story of a fragmented ad tech industry. There are hundreds of logos crammed onto a single 8.5 x 11-inch sheet. It’s downright intimidating, and I can’t blame anyone who feels ambivalent about investing in digital media.

Media fragmentation caused the advertising industry to splinter in response. The landscape is brimming with players offering a single solution for every minute challenge along the customers’ path to purchase. Holistic solutions are nowhere to be found – unless a marketer is willing to hand the keys over to Adobe, IBM or the like.

Whether you’re tinkering with your own solution or hoping that a premade stack performs as promised, transparency is nowhere to be found. In the hope of winning your business, all players are putting their best faces forward, and trying their best to airbrush the warts.

That lack of transparency into the process prevents marketers from seeing what drives success. Each new player adds a layer of complexity, turning digital advertising into a “black box,” and obscuring many important truths from marketing stakeholders.

Without seeing what isn’t working, how can marketers hope to optimize effectively for what is?

Running Blind

The lack of transparency is a final twist of a double-edged sword. Even when marketers think they may have selected a trustworthy long-term technology partner, it’s often hard to know for sure. Few ad tech players are open about their reporting of exactly how successful each campaign component is. There’s a lot of talk about real closed-loop attribution and end-to-end reporting, but when we know that half of ads are not viewable, will anyone be honest enough to reveal which half?

The complexity of the marketplace is just the beginning of the challenge for marketers who need to keep pace with technology and a plethora of available, addressable data. They must then make sense of it all and make better decisions based on data and technology. Marketers must demand transparency to even begin to understand, measure and optimize for success.

Doubts About Technology

It’s a lot for marketers to take in, especially for brand marketers and other highly specialized marketing and advertising professionals who never had to consider ad tech before.

The “build vs. buy” discussion around ad tech stacks happens every day. It’s the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t. Is it true that no one has ever been fired for buying IBM? Was that before or after Adobe entered the market? Even the so-called “safe” options seem daunting and fraught with significant questions.

And yet it’s a necessary evil for marketing leaders. The ad tech stack can deliver proof of the efficiency and effectiveness of a team’s efforts. It empowers them to better use data to make smarter decisions and learn more about their customers. Analyzing that data will reveal more effective ways to engage audiences throughout the customer life cycle.

Fear About Data Fuels Even More Confusion About Technology

However, the use of data uncovers a concerning issue: Marketers can become so overwhelmed by data and the complicated discussions around it that the data itself becomes a distraction that draws their attention away from analytics – the most critical application for their data.

As a result, chief marketing officers (CMOs) may choose data-driven technology without truly understanding what it does and how it will drive improved results. That is dangerous for data quality, and also means marketers will have little visibility into what’s going on under the hood.

Furthermore, this effectively opens the industry up to copycats, rather than proven results and merit, further complicating the already confused landscape.

Find The Solution

Ultimately, CMOs must cut through the fluff to determine what will deliver the business results they need. Their demand for transparency is critical and must be heard. Marketers are accountable for moving product and driving results, and to do that, they need to build, engage and persuade audiences.

Audiences are the ultimate goal for marketers. But audiences aren’t free.

Regardless of whether you’re traversing the LUMAscapes in search of layers for your own home-grown stack, buying one pre-assembled or taking a hybrid approach, the goals are the same: Sell more product. Find audiences, convert them to customers and keep those customers engaged and happy.

“Demand transparency at every point, and your travels in ad tech will seem a lot less complicated.”

Follow Collective (@collectivesays) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Bigger question: What’s it going to take to consolidate the space?

    I’m one of many entrepreneurs attracted to the space due to the sheer volume of problems within it. Ask myself everyday, “does adding another solution help?”

  2. Matthew Goldstein MSG

    Totally agree, demand transparency.