Merge Ahead: Prepare For The Convergence Of Marketing And Ad Tech

joannaoconnelrevised“Marketer’s Note” is a weekly column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving, digital marketing technology ecosystem. It is written by Joanna O’Connell, Director of Research, AdExchanger Research.  

We have a language problem in ad tech, and it’s only getting bigger. We love to use terms that have one meaning for us in “ad tech” and – I’m increasingly learning – another entirely in “marketing tech.” As these worlds progressively collide, it’s time for us all to understand where we overlap and where we diverge, for our own sakes – to facilitate more intelligent discourse and problem-solving – and for the sake of the marketing community we serve, which doesn’t need jargon, but help. Long and short, we all need to speak each other’s language in preparation for merging roads ahead.

“Data management” is a great example – when we in the digital advertising technology ecosystem talk about this, what we’re really talking about is collecting, normalizing, segmenting and activating anonymous digital data – think cookie data, ad server data – initially, and still primarily, for the purposes of paid acquisition efforts in display advertising. While there’s been some great movement in pulling in marketers’ first-party customer data for modeling and targeting, we are still operating entirely in the world of the anonymous, and still largely for the purposes of acquisition. On the other side of the equation are systems for “campaign management,” “marketing automation,” “CRM” (which goes beyond marketing) and the like, where giants like IBM play. This is a world we all would do well to spend some serious time trying to understand. At its most basic, what we’re talking about is some pretty digestible stuff – think email, direct mail, on-site offer management. But a critical differentiator is that these systems typically operate in a consumer’s (or customer’s) “known” state – via name, email address, phone number, etc. When the CMO of Teradata, therefore, talks about “master data management,” I expect she has in mind a whole different realm of data sets, processes and applications than what we in ad tech may be talking about (my bet is, though, with some overlap).

The big question, then, should be: How do these worlds come together? Because when every CMO talks about delivering “relevant, 1:1 experiences,” she’s implicitly expecting that the technology will show up to help her do that. If you look at Adobe, you see a company that has recognized the necessity of interconnected technologies across the “data management” and executional spectrum and has bought its way into many of the critical pieces – a DMP (Demdex, now called Audience Manager) for anonymous digital data collection, segmentation and distribution; an SEM platform (nee Efficient Frontier) for search and display management (though if I was a big display buyer, I’d go elsewhere); an analytics platform (Omniture) with massive adoption; and now, a campaign-management system in the form of its recent Neolane acquisition (oh, and of course, there’s their myriad creative asset development and management tools, not to mention tools for data warehousing and more). This is a company building an open, integrated marketing technology stack – the whole has thepotential (emphasis intended as there’s lots of work yet to do) to become greater than the sum of its individual parts.

This is why we would all do well to watch companies like IBM, Oracle, Salesforce and SAS very closely. How well do they get our world? Not very well, I’d venture to say. But what they have, which we don’t – as much as we’d ,like to tell the world we do – is very deep, embedded technology and (consultative) relationships with the largest organizations in the world. I can guarantee that a foray (for some, like SAS, a further expansion) into digital advertising is just around the corner. The opportunity for advertising technology players, in light of this, is huge: Demonstrate how you are a complementary enabler to marketers’ existing technologies – how, without you, they have only half the “marketing” story covered. (This could manifest as either a partnership or acquisition opportunity – if you’re a digital DMP or DSP, you’ve got something these big guys might want.)

For marketers, the opportunity in light of this is to look at the massive number of ad-technology vendors as gap fillers – what does company X do that is not currently possible with the tools in my marketing technology stack? Does it bring me real-time media-buying capabilities? Allow me to collect digital first-party data in a way I haven’t been able to before? Help me translate the data in my traditional database into something anonymous and targetable in display? In my dream world, every organization would have a person or group with ultimate stewardship over marketing technology – they would hold the master marketing technology map, and therefore would be able to identify: a) points of redundancy, and b) gaps in the stack. It seems like that would make technology decisions both clearer and cleaner. I’m starting to find examples – ask me about the cool way that is thinking about this – but I’d love to hear about more (I’m researching this now).

There are a million caveats to everything I’ve said – companies make bad acquisition decisions; technical integrations are delayed or, worse, simply don’t happen; account management drops the ball. But I remain convinced this march toward integrated marketing technology is inexorable. And, for my part, I’d rather understand what it all means than try and wish it away or, worse, ignore it.

As always, my goal is to spur conversation, not to claim that I have the answers. Thoughts, anecdotes, questions are welcome!


Follow Joanna O’Connell (@joannaoconnell ) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter. 

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  1. I couldn’t agree more!

    This “collision” has been in the making for over 2 years and is only just starting to be recognised by the industry. The evolution to greater attribution of advertising is following the same (but significantly accelerated) evolution of direct mail – first we sent generic “dear occupant” messages to everyone, then there was targeting based on where people lived and eventually personally attributable, targeted, time sensitive and personalised messages …sound familiar? We even saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by suppressing messages to low value customers or prospects not likely to convert…

    We need to ensure we do not make the same errors or start again from scratch, we need to learn the lessons of direct marketing (identification, enhancement, scoring, multi-variant testing, control groups, etc) and apply them appropriately to the new attributable channels be they Online Display, Mobile, Interactive Out of Home or TV.

    We should not be differentiating between a “single customer view” and a “data management platform”, they will eventually merge. Cookies, device fingerprints (and whatever comes next) are just new “identifiers”, no different from physical address, fixed line phone, mobile phone or email, all allow us to recognise, understand and engage in conversation with a “known” consumer be it 121, cluster / segment or anonymous (remember, you can still buy a list of left handed golfers who live in London and send them direct mail, even with all the PII regulations)

    The technologies and channels may be new but the principles and best practice of “Adaptive Marketing” are well established.

  2. Dead on Joanna. The M&A activity in Marketing Tech certainly suggests that the convergence of the MarTech & AdTech is accelerating.

    I think what everyone is starting to realize at the same time is that while media buying (read: prospecting) is great and required to fill the top of the funnel. Engaging and communicating with your actual customers is how you grow enterprise value and revenues. Your former colleagues at Forrester stated we are now in the “Age of the Customer” and that customer obsessed companies (Amazon, salesforce, Macy’s etc…) are going to be the winners in the marketplace.

    If communicating and engaging with your customers is what’s required to compete in today’s world….then who better to lead the way than traditional CRM vendors? They have the data, expertise and the segmentation capabilities already within their wheelhouse. All they need to do is build out their technology stack to enable the onboarding of CRM data and use it effectively across channels & devices. Adobe is a great example as you highlighted, of a company that sees this future. I’d argue that does as well, which is why I think they purchased ExactTarget. Think about the 1st Party CRM data that is stored within ExactTarget. With all of those email addresses salesforce can now build out 1:1 cross channel, cross device marketing solutions.

    It’s kind of funny how in the not to distant past, email was passé and often overlooked. And now it stands alone as the pillar of the integrated Marketing Stack…while vendors are busy building these tools, brands need to be focused on getting as many email’s on file as humanly possible. Without them, you won’t be able to take advantage of any of this tech…

  3. Would love to hear more about the cool way that 1800Flowers is thinking about this. Can you expand on that comment?

    • Dave, what I really like about what 1800Flowers is doing is that they are explicitly focused on migrating to a model where they have a master customer ID – so that regardless of how someone comes in, which brand(s) he/she interacts with, Flowers will be able to provide a relevant experience. They’re explicitly focused on breaking down organizational, technological and data silos. Oh, and the directive comes from the very top of the organization down. And that’s the kind of focus and action it takes to be a truly customer-centric org.