A Publisher’s Advice For Ad Tech Vendors

tonyuphoffThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Tony Uphoff, CEO at Business.com.

According to Gartner's Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, a new technology goes through five stages.

The first, the Innovation Trigger, occurs when a disruptive technology is introduced, followed by a gold rush dubbed the Peak of Inflated Expectations. Then the negative press begins during the third stage known as the Trough of Disillusionment. During the fourth stage, the Slope of Enlightenment, second-generation products are introduced and best practices emerge. Finally, by the time a new generation of products debuts during the fifth stage, the Plateau of Productivity, market adoption has reached 20% to 30%.

I believe that in 2015, ad tech hit the second stage, the Peak of Inflated Expectations, and is now just beginning its inevitable journey through the Trough of Disillusionment. Does this mean that ad tech was overhyped? I would argue that, in some respects, the answer is yes.

But that does not mean that ad tech will not live up to its promise. Instead, I believe that the promise of ad tech is being reshaped. I have a few pieces of advice for ad tech companies continuing along this journey.

First, vendors should stop adding to marketing complexity. Multichannel digital marketing is difficult at best. At worst it’s a mind-numbingly complex ecosystem of highly disjointed parts.

In theory, ad tech offered the ability to automate several processes and thus take much of the complexity out of digital marketing. In practice, it did just the opposite. It added yet another series of fragmented platforms and applications that further challenged accountability, attribution and clarity. Ad tech fumbled the ball on its initial brand promise. Providers need to get back to basics by focusing on the specific problems their solutions solve and, in turn, reduce complexity for their customers.

Second, be wary of the Swiss army knife. Over the last three years, I’ve met with just about every ad tech provider in the marketplace. And there’s been one thing consistent between all of them: Whenever someone, whether in a conversation or presentation, brings up a feature offered by another provider, they always respond with, “Yeah, we do that too!” Literally every time.

Often, they likely could provide the feature, with the right amount of retrofitting and additional work, but it’s not their core competency. Ad tech firms need to be clear on what they offer and not be afraid of putting a stake in the ground on a specific solution, as opposed to being a jack of all trades and master of none.

Third, vendors should refocus on marketing and sales. I receive two to three unsolicited sales approaches a day from ad tech providers. Of all these emails, calls and LinkedIn notes, more than 80% have zero relevance to my business, which they could have learned from a quick look at our site. When I don’t engage, I get a series of increasingly unprofessional emails that demand I return a call or forward their message.

Here’s the thing: In today’s business landscape, sales and marketing should instead be called marketing and sales. Ad tech providers need to leverage content marketing that effectively articulates their market and brand value, then follow suit with sales. In addition, they need to put far more effort into sales training because inexperienced and unmonitored sales reps result in bad prospect experiences.

Lastly, put a halt on the growth story. Every business seems to want to tell a growth story. And yes, of course, it’s good to know that your ad tech company is growing. But bear in mind that the vast majority of ad tech providers are private firms, so no one with any experience believes the growth rates you’re claiming. Prospects do want to hear what other companies you’re working with – just make sure the companies are relevant and that you are naming actual customers. Prospects likely know someone at the company you mention and, if not, can search LinkedIn.

Ad tech has irrevocably changed advertising and media, and we’re still in the early stages of this exciting market transition. However, the industry needs to take a hard look at some of its practices so that the hype doesn’t exceed the value. I’d like to see extraordinary technologies help us all get to the Slope of Enlightenment and Plateau of Productivity as quickly as possible.

Follow Tony Uphoff (@TonyUphoff), Business.com (@businessdotcom) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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