It’s 2017… Tear Down These Walled Gardens!

AdTech has manifested into a two-tiered ecosystem: independent publishers and “walled gardens.” The latter are the cool kids on the playground – you can play with them… just as long as you play by their rules.

Let’s start with some clarity: Facebook and Google are the poster children for the lot which includes Amazon, Snapchat, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Twitter… the walled gardens, AKA the “easy button.”  PRINTADTECH notes that all require the use of their own systems, dashboards and metrics. With that, these walled gardens retain significantly more of each dollar into their respective ecosystems.

Compare them to independent publishers, and the indies’ data doesn’t measure up. The walled gardens are able to reach a much larger audiences with deeper targeting power. At our last Roundtable it was noted that Facebook and NewsCorp (an independent publisher) hold different apparent value in the marketplace, and that is reflected clearly in a recent Yahoo Finance post, “The two tech giants [Facebook and Google] accounted for 103% of the growth in the digital ad industry, while everyone else shrunk 3%.”

Big buts, though. If your company makes its money by selling online ads, or you are an ad agency… your warm-fuzzies have vaporized. For you, easy-button companies have a different name: Frenemy. Industry professionals including Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, the world’s largest advertising agency, have argued that the industry must take action, and In a recent Huffington Post article, Mark Haviland, EVP at Rakuten Marketing Europe stated, “In order to combat walled gardens and earn the trust of advertisers, the digital world needs to be increasingly transparent.” Note the language here. “Combat.”

Put another way – AdTech as an industry cannot continue to allow the players to be the referees. DIGIDAY notes that Facebook and Google are restricting third party AdTech companies from operating on their networks, stating, “It raises questions about whether Facebook and Google’s AdTech products can be trusted to function objectively, or if they’re merely being used to funnel ad spend through their respective media networks.”

Forrester took a deeper look at the sacrifices made in customer intelligence when working with walled gardens, recognizing that the value coming back over the wall isn’t necessarily equal. Of the research, Media Post summarized, “The short-term benefits are the ability to leverage unique user identification for targeting the measurement. However, the strategic and operational downside of closed ecosystem is that they increase cost and prevent brands from reaching consumers across channels. They leave marketers with a dangerous blind spot, losing ownership of key data pertaining to their consumer over time and coming to depend on walled gardens for customer intelligence.”

Facebook admitted to its third measurement blunder, and advertisers are calling for more accountability. Procter & Gamble announced they would be cutting their investment in targeted Facebook advertising, and Sorrell notes on the Huffington Tech article, “it could even result in budgets being switched to focus more on traditional channels, such as TV.”

Substitution is not a remedy, however. If we are going to continue enjoying the fruits of the walled gardens – and they are juicy – a checks-and-balances initiative has to be implemented now.

Stop Calling It an AdTech Tax

We cringe when we hear it: tax. It feels awful, it sounds unfair. But taxes are additional costs tacked onto the original service or product that often have nothing to do with the deliverables themselves.

Weather transactional fees or SaaS, our fees are necessary to leverage all the amazing stuff we do for brands, agencies, publishers… AdTech has changed the game, embraced and continues to define the digital, attention-based economy. If we allow our revenue to be thought of as a tax, we will never define our value and maximize it openly and appropriately. And what’s worse, our hard-earned dollars will continue to seem somehow an unfair burden that nobody wants to pay for.

What we need is transparency, which will allow all parties to see the real value in AdTech.

According to Advertising Age, through the massive shift of programmatic revenue the IAB estimates that less than 45 percent of revenue into the ecosystem actually reaches the publisher. The IAB also notes that, “understanding where dollars are distributed across the stack from advertisers to publishers can be quite disorienting in the current programmatic landscape.”

…Well, that’s reassuring.

What happens if we have transparency, and all sides can see what-costs-what and who was involved in delivering an ad to real eyeballs? In our last roundtable, we quoted Mike Driscoll, CEO of MetaMarkets when working with a marketplace, “each time they increase the transparency they share with their partners, they actually see that market activity increases… transparency drives market activity.”

What happens when a marketplace is transparent?

  • Advertisers have the opportunity to spend their money more effectively
  • Advertisers have a POV from which to understand audience scarcity and understand the higher eCPMs for that audience
  • Publishers can stand behind the costs for reaching their high-value audiences
  • Publishers have the opportunity increase their revenue by selling smarter
  • AdTech can evolve to a more competitive ecosystem

The IAB agrees – and have essentially put their foot down by creating the Programmatic Fee Transparency Project. The initiative, led by Carl Kalapesi, VP-industry initiative at IAB, recognizes the lack of transparency that has undermined trust and liquidity in the marketplace, vowing “The IAB Programmatic Fee Transparency Project will develop guidance around fee disclosure and transparency within the programmatic ecosystem.”

Opacity is ultimately wasteful and counterproductive – we all know that trust builds lasting relationships. We will continue to deliver, innovate, and monetize our work, but our revenue is based on direct results. The first step in transparency is not calling our revenue something it isn’t.

So don’t call it a tax.

Who’s to Blame for the Current Ad Tech Trust Gap?

Recently, PluggedBD held an executive-level roundtable titled “Transparency, Measurement and Viewability in the Digital Age,” which began with a discussion about what Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard meant when he called for “… new [transparency] rules for agencies and ad tech to get paid.”

Not one of the panelists, representing every aspect of ad tech, could exactly answer the question, which prompted moderator Jonathon Shaevitz, CEO of Industry Index, to ask a second question: “Who’s to blame for the ‘trust’ mess we’re in?” That’s when the conversation got really interesting because solving marketing biggest “whodunit” is how we start down the road to redemption.

Who’s really to blame?

The angst in the room was palpable as the group struggled to solve this “whodunit,” with panelists assigning blame in equal measure to agencies, publishers and CMOs — all the while acknowledging they weren’t really sure whom to blame.

But to me, the culprit is clear. Without hesitation, I’d have raised an accusing finger at the one group not in the room: venture capitalists (VCs).

What’s the evidence?

The case against VCs starts with the basic fact most VCs tinkered in an industry they knew little about. As a result, they applied their typical investing formula — 1) “cool team”; 2) “cool tech”; and 3) “cool SaaS Model” — indiscriminatingly to marketing, with unfortunate consequences:

  1. “Cool team”: VCs overwhelmingly favored engineer CEOs (often young) who often lacked any understanding what their marketing customers really needed.
  2. “Cool tech”: Ad tech is now a fragmented, dysfunctional ecosystem because of VCs predilection for “cool” tech (versus useful tech), which heavily burdened the industry with so many similar startups that advertisers struggle to distinguish one from another. The knock-on effect is that most advertiser attempts at frictionless marketing management are doomed to end in failure. A most unhealthy outcome all around.
  3. “Cool, SaaS business model”: This is possibly the most damaging ingredient in the VC formula because it created a misaligned incentive structure that rewarded low quality digital deliveries instead of high quality audience interactions.

The real crime

It’s clear in hindsight that a lot of damage was done by the VC investment formula because it steamrolled marketing’s own, albeit “uncool,” formula that is equal parts art, science and execution. This fundamental mismatch directly led to ad tech becoming a toxic, adversarial brew that undermined long-term and trusted relationships across the marketing ecosystem:

  • Advertisers were pitted against publishers in a zero-sum game where advertisers “win” by getting the best inventory as cheaply as possible, and publishers “win” by selling the worst inventory possible at the highest price possible. No wonder everyone is twitchy.
  • Agencies and ad networks fight to deliver profitable media buys because too many people have their hand in the arbitrage cookie jar.
  • Everyone is playing a perverse metric, hot potato game whereby SaaS businesses are quick to pass the metric buck to anyone, ad networks blame other platforms, and everyone blames agencies for whatever they can get away with. Everyone loses.

The road to redemption

Blame is useful to help us to adapt a new attitude that gives us the fortitude for the long and arduous journey ahead. The place to start is for advertisers and agencies to fully appreciate that every dollar spent in advertising doubles as an investment for ad tech ventures. The VC model was not kind to marketer-led ventures, which is part of why there is such a lack of transparent, process-driven ventures. With this new consciousness, though, advertisers can wrestle control from VCs to determine which ventures thrive with these “investment” guiding principles:

  • Funnel marketing dollars to ventures that deliver a system level solution that integrates the art, science and execution of great marketing versus narrow point or SaaS solutions.
  • Reward platforms that develop pre-campaign proformas with business-centric KPI’s like Cost Per Visitor (CPV) to create transparency and trust.
  • Rethink the scale equation with a new sensitivity towards the realities of quality digital scarcity. Move away from tonnage metrics towards smaller and meaningful metrics that can be traced to revenue-generating activities.
  • Go the extra mile to hear new ideas in ad tech, especially from marketer CEOs. The effort has profound implications in reshaping the ad tech landscape of tomorrow.

It’s taken marketers over five years to get smart enough to challenge the black boxes that ad tech packaged itself in. The next five years will look quite different, as marketers create ad tech where trust is the norm, not the exception.

Roundtable Round-Up: Ad Transparency, Measurement & Viewability

Industry Index Roundtable 02-22-17

IT was only a matter of time. Marc Pritchard, P&G’s global chief brand officer, delivered the adTech industry at large a mandate on media transparency at the iAB Annual Leadership Meeting in January.

Moderator Jonathon Shaevitz opened our roundtable discussion recalling Mr. Pritchard’s demands for transparency – a rallying cry that many are happy to echo and get behind, to be sure, but what happens when we unpack this idea? What action is to be taken, and by whom? What do major brands like P&G mean by “transparency”? Who is responsible for fixing the problem? Is there true common measurement? Do we need to standardize and charge the Moats and WhiteOps of the ecosystem as the sheriffs of our (maturing) wild west?

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Anthony Katsur, President of Sonobi, was willing to start by suggesting the problem starts with following the money in the ecosystem to the source – the brand/agency economic model. Brands are expecting cheap buys, niche audiences and high viewability, whereas agencies are incentivized to spend their client’s budget in-full and opaquely so they can deliver to some client measurement while maximizing their own returns.  Others suggested that the agency/brand relationship was a big part of the opacity problem, as well-defined in the 2016 ANA report.

Others noted that the focus on audience targeting for the last 5+ years has lead to unrealistic expectations of price and value. Katsur noted that when buyers demand a specific audience, but only with the limited, white-labelled publisher list, they then complain that eCPM’s are $40 instead of the $4.00 eCPM’s they had realized with less-targeted publisher list. Mr. Katsur pressed, “We don’t price supply. There is scarcity in the Comscore 150… what we can do is quantify scarcity.”  Using a whitelist (e.g., from well-ranked companies in the Comscore) solves many issues with audience and inventory quality, but scarcity –and cost– become untenable factors, and the high-quality, smaller inventory publishers with coveted niche audiences are excluded.

Mr. Shaevitz noted that while there is a clear need for brands/agencies to have some intense couples-therapy sessions, there is plenty that adTech can do outside of that holding their breath waiting for brands and agencies resolve their differences.

Trip Foster, EVP at Adomik, expanded on this idea, stating, “If there were true transparency inside the adTech machine, it would actually cast light on that [brand/agency] relationship with a lot more clarity. [Brands] would see that on 20% of the dollars spent on media are reaching the publisher.”

Yes, there is strong evidence to support the brand/agency relationship being a major factor in waste. But the traditional pricing of adTech –where technology is bundled with media– causes obfuscation between the dollars into the ecosystem and the dollars out, and that many established companies benefit from the status quo.

As Mr. Katsur explained, “It’s the Prisoner’s Dilemma.” The market would grow if everyone was willing to share more and be transparent, but the supposition here is that neither party has the ability, or the desire, to communicate with the other.  Others argued that this inability to communicate is not real – Communication is possible, and it takes the adTech industry’s leadership to change the status quo.  “We [adTech vendors] can shed more light on the issue rather than waiting for the issue to be solved [at the agency/brand level],” Mr. Foster stated.

Getting SaaSy

Many felt that changing the pricing model to SaaS helps resolve many problems by effectively forcing transparency on the media transactions. A SaaS pricing structure allows them to provide a transparent data set to their clients. Mike Driscoll, CEO at MetaMarkets explains, “What we found in general when we work with a marketplace…each time they increase the transparency they share with their partners, they actually see that market activity increases… transparency drives market activity.”

Publishers, Pull Yourselves Together

Stephanie Layser, Director Advertising Technology at NewsCorp., offered to the roundtable that some responsibility for the state of transparency lies with old-guard publishers. While they have always understood their users better than anyone based on their first-party data, they have been behind on putting it all together and producing products that advertisers want.

“All these problems with viewability, transparency… didn’t exist ten years ago. Before we started this adTech ecosystem there was this 1:1 relationship between the publisher and the advertiser. Then it started to be [about] targeting audiences. We wanted to look for this person wherever they are, and we don’t care about where they are on the internet, and then it became this ‘1 to Many’ [targeting]. We [publishers] could sign up for four different platforms easily. For agencies… it made it a lot easier to look in four different systems and get it all done,” she said.

Publishers often selected the easiest short term solution and did not invest in talent and technology to create differentiation.  Some publishers and adTech companies also ignored the rampant growth of fraud and its impact to viewability and measurement. With the addition of fake news and entities like Methbot coming to light, the onus is also on legitimate publishers to provide transparency and real value. By using their internal resources to develop products and use adTech programmatically, publishers can deliver impressions within a better packaged framework. This will require publishers to demand transparency from their technology partners to keep the entire process open and accurate.

Transparency Now or Legislation Tomorrow

Regarding keeping the entire process open and accurate, our thoughts turn immediately to third party oversight. However, while companies such as Moat, DoubleVerify and WhiteOps all offer robust verification and protection, each is going to market with their own currency. In short, this competition to lead the industry and capture their own monopoly rent leads to some inaction and challenges with reconciliation when publisher and advertiser are using different methods and have no framework to account for discrepancies.  So while no one advocated requiring some sort of universal currency for transparency, many participants recognized that the status quo, particularly with bad actors impacting the market, could lead towards government incursion.

While some agreed that this can be solved on a case by case basis between publisher and advertiser (e.g., select one shared measurement tool and go forward), others argued that a more standardized currency would benefit the overall marketplace. All agreed that confusion of measurement is limiting growth.  

Further, as cookies are replaced with new tracking and targeting technology, accountability will become magnified continue to seep into the public. Building trust with transparency is a current imperative to avoid having outside entities dictate the rules of engagement. Michael Driscoll adds, “The truth is we need these guys because who else will do their work? The government?”

Using Your Head(er Bidding)

A clear trend in the industry over the past 18 months is header bidding. While the benefits of higher yield for the publisher on the same inventory are clear, it also adds data and clarity to the transaction between buyer and seller, if only as a byproduct.

Jonathon Shaevitz offered, “One of the things publishers have done poorly for the past ten years is control their data.” Where legacy SSPs made their money on each hop, members of the roundtable were quick to point out that each hop also created an opportunity for information loss and replacement with less-relevant data – and worse – false data injections, and trust was eroded.

Header bidding begins moving the needle of data control back into publishers’ hands, allowing significantly more publisher data to be transmitted, allowing the buy side to assess the quality of the environment and impressions with increased fidelity.

An increase in overall fidelity surely leads to a safer marketplace. The challenge again is to follow the money to the source. Publishers must work to present advertisers with clear value to explain why they are paying more for the same impressions.


  • There is plenty of blame for industry opacity and a lack of cooperation to go around the industry, and no one at the table shied away from accepting some responsibility. Admittedly, some is simply the growing pains of a maturing industry.
  • The flawed and opaque agency/brand relationship continues to play a large role in holding back transparency based on lack of communication and shared priorities
  • The SaaS model is helpful in keeping AdTech’s hands clean, letting dollars pass through the ecosystem without a hidden tech tax – but who will accept the tech invoice?
  • Legislative reach into the adTech industry may not too far away. Without clearer value on the publisher’s side and shared goals on the agency/brand side legislated regulation may significantly stifle innovation and evolution in AdTech.
  • Light disinfects. More data leads to more transparency. Header bidding isn’t daylight, but its flashlight is a step in the right direction.




Seho Lee, VP Programmatic Sales at Unruly

Jeremy Zeleznock, VP of Strategy at Genesis Media

Trip Foster, EVP of Revenue at Adomik

Stephanie Layser, Director Advertising Technology at NewsCorp.

Chris Smith, Founder & CEO at Stitch Video

Corey Kronengold, CMO at Smart AdServer

Anthony Katsur, President at Sonobi

Mike Driscoll, CEO at MetaMarkets



Jonathon Shaevitz, CEO at Industry Index




Post-cookie era coming?

Media We Like: “Post-Cookie Era Coming”

Here come the I.I. team’s picks for the week. This week, it’s (again) the end of cookie measurement. Is it for real this time? Both Facebook and Snapchat are the new TV. And TripleLift introduces a — wait for it — first price auction. (See our roundup of 2017 MadTech trends here.)

A view of the post-cookie measurement battleground (Digiday) – Jan. 18, 2017
(From Jonathon) Identity measurement is hot in online advertising, again. “It’s the beginning of the post-cookie ecosystem,” with GroupM joining this field where Google and Facebook currently dominate.

The Evolution of Data Journalism (The Content Strategist) – Jan. 17, 2017
(From Dorian) For content, data work.

Ad Viewability is All Wrong: Double Standards Create Lack of Consistency (ExchangeWire) – Feb. 8, 2017
(From Dorian) Currency has switched from a served impression to a viewable impression. But there are various standards floating and publishers are scrambling to redesign their ad space to maximize viewability.

The Radical Future Of Branding (Co.Design) – Feb. 2, 2017
(From Mark R.) Conventional wisdom has it that brands shouldn’t talk politics. Why risk alienating potential customers? That was before Donald Trump.

Facebook Steers Publishers To Long-Form Video (MediaPost) – Jan. 17, 2017
(From Mark C.) Facebook is encouraging its publishing partners to move away from live streaming video in favor of producing more long-form video, as it is poised to introduce new mid-roll video ad products. Oh, and have you heard that “Snapchat is the new TV?” (WSJ, Feb. 5.)

TripleLift Builds Server-Side Header Bidding For Native Ads (AdExchanger) – Feb. 7, 2017
(From Dorian) TripleLift will run a first-price auction among all participating partners, a shift from the OpenRTB spec of a second-price auction. The move could result in higher payouts for publishers.

(Join in! Tweet us or tell us on LinkedIn of some media that you think is worth sharing.)

93% Want It. Only 14% Get It

If you’re trying to please someone, would you try to give them something they want?

Thought so.

And, yet, while 93% of executives in a position to buy technology say that relevant research will positively impact their perception of a tech vendor, only 14% say they regularly receive research or thought leadership that’s relevant.

The executives say they want research-based content that’s useful and tells them something new. Such content, they say, will get them to look for and do business with vendors who provide it.

These are just some of the findings of our recent study, “Research + Content = MadTech Sales.”

Vendors are Misallocating Marketing Budgets

The study finds that while vendors think that trade shows and articles in the press are the most effective ways they can use their limited marketing budgets to generate interest and capture leads, the brand marketers and agency executives they are trying to reach most want research-based content.

They tell us they place research-driven thought leadership atop all other forms of outreach, including emails and trade shows.

Plus, it’s only research-based content and email newsletters that work for a majority of respondents to our survey. Everything else came in at under 50 percent. And email  works only when it’s extremely personal or includes something original such as, you guessed it, research. Which means research-driven thought leadership is the best way to increase the effectiveness of emails, not to mention trade shows and other forms of marketing.

“If there’s someone that’s actually trying to help me do my job better in some way, then that goes a really long way,” one CMO told us.

Download the study here for more information on what works when marketing to MadTech decision-makers at brands and agencies.

7 Deadly Sins of MadTech Marketing 

It may be obvious, but most MadTech companies don’t market, they do lead generation and demand generation and call it marketing.

There are many reasons for this:

  • Most MadTech founders are engineers and don’t like the squishy metrics of marketing
  • The prospect list is limited and often known, so why do a big marketing campaign when there are only 500~1,000 prospects? Let’s go sell them!
  • Brands are viewed as unimportant in MadTech, so why invest?
    • Maybe they are unimportant since most have names that sound alike and almost all use the same language including “optimize,  reach your audience, performance, unified, programmatic,” etc.
  • Budgets for start-ups and young companies are limited, so better to invest in a feature/function that a prospect or customer has requested
  • Most digital advertising is focussed on performance, so it is what we know
  • MadTech products are impossible to differentiate through marketing because they require a presentation or demonstration to understand.

These are all valid reasons. So what to do? First, what do MadTech companies do? They spend their “marketing” budgets on:

  1. Hiring sales people who have a great “list”
  2. Attending trade shows and conferences
  3. Sponsoring trade shows and conferences
  4. Email campaigns
  5. Running ads in industry publications
  6. Running ads on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter
  7. Spitting out some content



Hiring sales people who have a great “list”.

There is no doubt that a great sales person is worth their weight in gold.  And a great salesperson not only has a great list, but also understands how to talk about the technology itself (they may not understand how it does what it does, but they are able to describe the benefits in language a prospect can digest).

It is also true that great sales people are few and far between.  The model of converting a media sales person to MadTech sales person is littered with great lists and no sales. So, most companies play salesperson roulette, swapping the same 300 people (thanks Andrew Kraft), in and out, and paying ever hirer prices.

Alternatively, companies are beginning to hire from outside the industry or people simply interested in tech and starting to invest in training them. This works, but takes time.

Attending trade shows and conferences.

These range from awesome to awful.  From one year to the next the same conference can differ vastly, or simply be picked over, but attending trades shows and conferences works.  The right ones are target rich environments and people are there to meet, network, and do business.

The emerging challenges with trade shows and conferences include:

  • Real prospects, brands, agencies, publishers, are becoming like gazelles on the prairie, they blend in well and travel in herds to protect themselves from technology vendors quietly stalking them.  When separated, they tend to be bounced on by predators from all sides.
  • There seems to be an industry conference almost every day, so deciding what to attend is challenging.
  • Content tends to be broad and shallow.  The people who most benefit from the “content” are end users (brands, agencies, and publishers) and, as noted above, are hesitant to attend.
  • Content is often “pay to play.” Who needs to hears another pitch?

But, to reiterate, conferences work!  People are there to learn and do business. It’s just picking the right ones.

Email campaigns

Email marketing works, if you have a good list, are careful and treat your recipients with respect.

The problem is, few MadTech companies are very good at email marketing.  They track their open rates but not their ROI.  They fail to customize content, and much of their content is overly self-serving.  Also, MadTech companies tend to think in shorter terms. As mentioned in a previous post, the most important factors to email marketing are:

  1. Play the long game. Build a relationship.
  2. Don’t buy lists, build them. Find real people with real connections to your brand.
  3. Humans + Automation is the most powerful combination. It’s not one or the other.
  4. Relevance is critical.

Running ads in industry publications

We all know who raised a fresh round of financing, not by reading Crunchbase, but by reading Digiday, AdExchangerMediaPost, etc.  We know because their ads cover the pages for a couple of weeks.  Other companies use these channels as part of an ongoing branding strategy.  I have done the same myself, with Maxifier, Upfront Digital Media (formerly Legolas Media), Adomik, and many companies on whose boards I sat.  It is hard to know whether this worked.

These campaigns clearly help communicate the companies’ existence. But most of the readers are inside the MadTech echo chamber, so the advertising may work to sell to agencies and publishers, but probably not to brands we are also desperately trying to reach.  Given the industry we are in, it is surprising there is not more online advertising.  Part of the problem is that these campaigns tend to be short-lived and to focus on a feature function approach, not a problem solution.  Any brand manager worth their salt will identify key attributes they want their company to stand for and reinforce those attributes over many years.


Running ads on LinkedIn (Facebook, Twitter)

These promoted posts and native ad units clearly work for many companies.

While these data cross all industries, when selling B2B, the ability to target finely in these channels is clearly effective.  The key once again is to invest in these strategies over an extended period of time, which is difficult in an ecosystem that seems to changes every six months.

Spitting out some content

Content works.  Thought leadership REALLY works. However, for content to work it has to serve the interest of the reader not the author.  Most content is glorified sales pitches wrapped up in article.

A 2016 study by The Economist Group and Hill+Knowlton Strategies reported:

The qualities executives most associate with compelling thought leadership are

  • Innovative 40%
  • Big Picture 36%
  • Transformative 36%
  • Credible 35%

The qualities executives associate with unimpressive thought leadership are

  • Superficial 34%
  • Sales driven 31%
  • Biased 28%

Credibility is based on the quality of research, not the brand; nearly half of executives would consider a new source of content if it were a “source of hard facts”

  • Quality or nature of research analysis 55%
  • Credible data 55%
  • Expert opinion 33%
  • Evident or declared interest by the provider 14%
  • Secondary data validation 13%
  • The brand plays an active role 7%
  • The media / public profile of the provider 5%
  • No branding at all 3%
  • Other, please specify 1%
  • I do not trust thought leadership 1%

Much of the content written by MadTech companies is poorly thought out, and driven by the desire to quickly stand out in the market.  It so often rarely does, that people often blame the medium instead of the message.  We all know that the world has changed and we are competing for attention.  Consumers, whether trying to pick a movie or purchase  a $1 million piece of software, are selecting what they choose to consume, pulling that information to their screen, and quickly engaging or passing based upon their perception of the quality, credibility, and insight.

Buyers are also increasing influenced by high quality content.  The study by The Economist Group and Hill+Knowlton Strategies further reported:

76% of senior executives are influenced in their purchasing decisions

67% would be willing to advocate for that brand or organization externally

83% would be influenced in their choice of business partner


So, in summary.  MadTech marketing is confused.  It is most driven by demand-  and lead generation, not traditional marketing, and almost never brand building. Many of these decisions are logical and make sense given the different pressures in the MadTech ecosystem.  All 7 of typical responses:

  1. Hiring sales people who have a great “list”
  2. Attending trade shows and conferences
  3. Sponsoring trade shows and conferences
  4. Email campaigns
  5. Run ads in the industry publications
  6. Run ads on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter
  7. Spitting out some content

All these methods can and do work.  Some maybe better than others, but the strategy to employ is often driven by the stage of the company and the maturity of the team.

However, the world is changing.  Success and consolidation have forced many companies to change their strategies. The young and new technologies will continue to be driven by the feature/function, and marketed based upon delivering the next key event in the company’s life. But many of what were “new” tech segments of 3~5 years ago are now established.  Think of the key technologies that were exploding on the scene: SSPs, exchanges, DSPs, DMPs, video, cross-device, etc.  These have all become established parts of the ecosystem, with multiple companies generating hundreds of millions of dollars of business (some much more).  It is now time for these companies to slow down in order to succeed in the next round of growth.

So, in summary.  MadTech marketing is confused.  It is most driven by demand- or lead generation, not traditional marketing, and almost never brand building.  Many of these decisions are logical and make sense given the different pressures in the MadTech ecosystem.  All seven typical responses…

  1. Hiring sales people who have a great “list”
  2. Attending trade shows and conferences
  3. Sponsoring trade shows and conferences
  4. Email campaigns
  5. Running ads in industry publications
  6. Running ads on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter
  7. Spitting out some content

… can and do work.

The Multiple Benefits of Research-Based Content

Our recent study found that research-based content is the best way to reach and influence senior marketing and advertising professionals. But the benefits don’t stop there and include:

  • Creating a virtuous cycle. Research can form the linchpin of a cycle of content discovery, thought leadership, influence, customer retention and lead generation all centered around the research findings.
  • More content germination. The research provides material to enhance and reinforce other content creation and distribution efforts. It can be the seed around which articles and blog posts are created.
  • Social media become more enticing when they can use aspects of original research and promise more upon click-through.
  • Email newsletters are made stronger when offering proprietary original research-based content.
  • Videos and podcasts get new source material.
  • Trade conferences are made be stronger for vendors who can hand out original research.
  • Panel discussions and presentations are enhanced by material that springs from original research findings.
  • It inspires sharing, further spreading awareness of the tech vendor’s brand. “Many times [brands and agencies] use it for the stats and data in their own business plans to justify and provide rationale around the budgets against a tech solution and to sell in that strategy,” says Sean Finnegan, Managing Partner, co/Star.
  • It extends reach more than a trade show booth.
  • It can generate press coverage. 
  • It leads to discovery of the tech vendor who provided it. Many marketing and advertising technology decision-makers will search for relevant content when they’re considering a purchase and then find the material.

“Research-based content establishes the vendor who produced it as an intelligent and useful potential partner who knows the spheres in which it operates, who understands how to help customers achieve their objectives,” Finnegan says.

To see details of the findings and learn more, please download our paper, here.

Tips to Make Email Marketing Succeed

We told you that email marketing is (still) hot. Our friend Eli Mandelbaum (r.) of PluggedIn BD came up with four tips for making email newsletters work, based on our joint breakfast event:

  1. Play the long game. Build a relationship.
  2. Don’t buy lists, build them. Find real people with real connections to your brand.
  3. Humans + Automation is the most powerful combination. It’s not one or the other.
  4.  Relevance is critical.

“There is a reason email marketing has survived for over four decades,” Eli writes, in a piece that goes into more detail on the points above.

Come to our next breakfast, the Ad Viewability Roundtable, on Feb. 22 in New York. Discount code is “ii17” for 30% off. You’ll talk in an intimate setting about the current key issues of transparency and viewability with top executives from Sonobi, Viacom, Audience Science, MetaMarkets, Neustar, Beesswax, Smart AdServer, Stitch Video and Wired magazine.

See you there?

What I Learned at IAB Leadership

If your goal is to meet with senior people in the industry, the IAB Leadership Conference  is among the best of the year.  The conference draws mainly senior people, has fairly good content (high praise for MadTech conferences), and everyone is under one roof (unlike CES, Mobile World Congress, SXSW, etc.)

It does suffer from a common problem, however: There are more vendors than buyers. But ratios are better and the people who attend – including publishers, agencies, and brands – are senior and engaged.


  • MadTech is capable of solving the #FakeNews problem. We helped create it, therefore we have to own our portion of the solution.
  • Transparency is the new watchword for 2017:
    • Procter & Gamble have thrown the gauntlet down, calling on the digital media industry to become transparent in the face of “crappy advertising accompanied by even crappier viewing experiences.”
  • Mobile continues to grow and is making life more complicated and evermore “real time.”
  • Storytelling still matters (organizers could recycle this talk every year — it will not change).
  • Measurement and attribution are going to be top industry focuses in 2017.
  • Google, our personal misgivings aside, continues to push ideas, tools, and commitments to an “open web.”
  • Data is getting smarter and performing better. It is also consolidating quickly, creating new challenges, particularly if everyone is using the same targeting data.
  • Content is still king, but the good publishers have valued short term revenue over their readers and viewers, and have let Facebook and other walled gardens dis-intermediate them from their community.
  • Consumers have the all the power to select which content they choose.


Observations from outside of the formal conference presentations:

  • Around 1,000 people paid to attend; another 200 showed up to hang out in the bar.
  • Attendees are getting older – far fewer people are staying out until 4AM.
  • I still had to get on an airplane to meet with people who work within just a few miles of me.
  • It remains a male-dominated industry, but the signs of change are definitely clear. This change needs to move along a little faster.
  • Diversity. Why is #IABSoWhite ? And it doesn’t stop there.
  • This industry is still driven by geeks, nerds, and misfits (thank goodness)!