"Marketer's Note" is a regular column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving, digital marketing technology ecosystem. It is written by Joanna O'Connell, Director of Research, AdExchanger Research.
I don’t think I am alone in saying that the digital marketing ecosystem has always had mixed feelings about Rocket Fuel.
From a performance standpoint, I’ve heard buyers (whether marketers or agencies) say it’s always been a solid, often great, player. And that matters. A lot. It brings buyers back time and again. From a business model standpoint, however, it’s faced more suspicion and criticism. As its programmatic media brethren – MediaMath, Turn and the like – have increasingly weaned themselves off of “managed service” deals - programs run, for all intents and purposes, as black box ad network campaigns of old – Rocket Fuel has continued to operate primarily as a managed service company. So while it’s often referred to in the industry as a demand-side platform (DSP), I’ve always argued that this is wrong – a platform that isn’t accessible to the end user for direct management of campaigns is not a true DSP (something I formalized through the DSP Wave several years back, while still an analyst at Forrester). And I’ve not been alone in this sentiment. Calls by agencies and, more importantly, marketers for “transparency” and “control” in their media management get louder by the day.
[X+1], on the other hand, has been met for years with head-scratching. It had become a familiar industry trope – “What do those guys do again?” “What business are they actually in?” But for those who’ve spent any time looking at what they’ve got, the story is compelling: a predictive optimization engine (they call it POE) that feeds off of client first party data to make real-time decisions in on-site and off-site environments. And while they did fair to middling in the aforementioned DSP Wave, they did great in the more recent one focused on data-management platforms (DMPs) as much because of their DMP capabilities as their broader strategy for connecting digital marketing dots beyond paid media.
So, I am pleased by the new marriage of these two companies, but am keeping a very careful eye on what happens next.
Here’s the opportunity: Take the real time media optimization capabilities of the Rocket Fuel platform and marry them with the strong first party data management and real-time cross platform decisioning capabilities of [x+1] and you are one step closer to an actual programmatic digital marketing platform (not one that exists only in the marketing materials of 1000 ad tech companies).
Here’s the challenge: Combining two very different platforms into one is a lot tougher than anyone would care to admit, yes, but the larger challenge I see is one of business decision-making. What I’d love to see is Rocket Fuel wean itself off of the massive, easy money that comes from agency insertion orders and really commit to being a platform company. If they do, they’ve got a real long-term business opportunity on their hands.
Rocket Fuel, don’t let me down!