For one thing, the conversation around DMPs two years ago was about display advertising. Now, it's about using data to expand a marketer's website experience and pushing more dynamic, precisely timed content into email. Display and cookie-based targeting is still the primary focus of DMPs. But it's now a given that the display placements and targeting that underlie it will be informed by those other plans as well.
Even so, the problems some agency and marketing executives see with DMPs aren't likely to go away soon. In an interview last year with AdExchanger, WPP MindShare CTO Steve Plimsoll complained that DMPs weren't living up to their fullest potential. For one thing, DMPs still have trouble connecting with marketers' offline data.
But, as O'Connell cautioned, "it's still early innings for DMPs." Plus, there are the ever-present consumer privacy concerns, which have slowed the development of DMPs' offline capabilities.
Differentiation is a problem for most ad-tech companies. After all, if several companies serve the same functions and use cases, how special can they be? With DMPs, marketers are finding various ways to employ them, and that has helped these companies craft clearer strategies and profiles.
In deciding which companies to select for its overview of the DMP marketplace, Forrester had five basic rules: the vendor had to have a standalone DMP offering and a "proprietary" DMP technology. It had to have at least 10 active customers, a client base made up of at least 33% marketers and another 33% who were "enterprise and midsize."
[X+1]: Ultimately, a DSP is only as good as the data a marketer pushes through it. O'Connell is impressed by the way [X+1] is used by major financial services firms to push complex first-party data streams to influence what a person sees when they land on a company's site. Also, predictive modeling is becoming a specialty.
"The whole ecosystem is based on cookies and the leading DMPs know that there are problems with that model," O'Connell said. "And they are all working, to varying degrees, to alter that."
In general, vendors are forming partnerships with offline data companies and mobile specialists to improve the way consumers are identified via their devices. [X+1]'s recent acquisition of mobile-marketing firm WDA is likely to be emulated by other players in the space over the next year.
Adobe: For Adobe, the point of distinction is its "integration of the cloud-based marketing stack," which involves bringing a range of DMP tools together.
BlueKai: O'Connell praised its efforts to move beyond the third-party data space and into using more first-party analytics. This goal is aided by its flexibility in connecting with virtually any kind of outside platform without needing a tight integration.
Aggregate Knowledge and CoreAudience: On the more traditional, media/display-focused side of the DMP spectrum, Aggregate Knowledge has carved out a niche by providing wider insights on audience analytics.
Proof of deep insights into consumer behavior is a necessity for DMPs like AK and Hearst's CoreAudience. The challenge in that space is increasingly coming from companies that tend to focus on display and media sales, like MediaMath and Turn, both of which have DSP and DMP functions. CoreAudience can claim the vast audience reach of Hearst's print publications and local TV properties, not to mention its main selling point: the integration with the publisher's in-house interactive marketing shop, iCrossing.
Knotice and nPario: Rounding out the relatively newer names on Forrester's list of "DMPs to watch" is Knotice, which links known profiles and anonymous data together to give marketers a broader picture of their customers, and nPario, which comes at the space from more of a supply-side position.
"If you think about Adobe's acquisition of [marketing-automation player] Neolane, it points to the future where big companies that play most broadly in the data-management space are going to try to bring together the cookie-based data world and the anonymous one," O'Connell said. "You're going to start to see DMPs and customer-management systems come together more closely. Right now, customer acquisition and customer-relationship management are largely held separately. That's going to change."