AdExchanger 2017 Industry Preview: Data and martech/adtech.

By Stephani Estes, Vice President, Digital Strategy and Implementation Director

On January 17 and 18, AdExchanger hosted its annual Industry Preview conference, bringing together the ad tech and programmatic community to talk about trends and predictions for the year ahead. Two major themes stood out: marketers have more access to data than ever before and martech/adtech landscape for leveraging that data is more complex than ever. Given that this data and technology exists for one primary purpose – delivering a more customized and relevant consumer experience – it’s a complexity that the industry is rapidly trying to figure out.

Data, Data…Everywhere

Much of the conversation at the conference revolved around measurement data and identity data.

The conference kicked off with the bold claim from Gary Vaynerchuk that the industry needs more “common sense” in our approach to media. One of his big points was that the “metrics and the sales don’t match up”. This was echoed over and over again throughout the conference with calls for more focus on business outcomes, not just the media metrics our industry tends to rely upon for measuring success. Brad Smallwood from Facebook discussed the platform’s integrations with sales data partners to help better measure impact on sales outcomes. This mindset is expanding into offline channels like television. Initiative’s Maureen Bosetti indicated that she has yet to close the loop on whether shifts into more advanced TV buying are paying out on business outcomes, and that they are actively pushing for client conversations around business metrics rather than traditional metrics.

Beyond the measurement of performance, the measurement conversation also included a discussion around verification. Day one included a panel featuring the “usual suspects” in ad verification: Integral Ad Science, DoubleVerify, Moat, and White Ops. While each had a slightly different perspective on solving for ad verification, they all predicted that a universal currency isn’t likely to happen in 2017. Wayne Gattinella from DoubleVerify and Scott Knoll from IAS both believe that any currency will be customized to advertiser need, rather than generically universal. Jonah Goodhart from Moat highlighted the need for agreement between both buyers and sellers on any currency, while White Ops’ Michael Tiffany argued that the question will be around acceptable standards rather than a currency. Perhaps the most anticipated discussion on verification, though, was with Facebook, in light of their recent measurement errors. Facebook’s Smallwood shared the platform’s recent measurement partnership additions, which cover audience measurement (including viewability), brand outcomes, and sales outcomes (called out as the largest measurement bucket). Facebook’s approach seems to be that they will make the raw data available, and marketers will be able to focus on whatever is most important for their business. What isn’t changing, however, is Facebook’s policy on advertisers carrying their own tags – meaning there’s still no way for advertisers to collect their own data from the platform.

The majority of conversation centered around identity data – which is unsurprising, given that it’s this data that powers the identity graphs that allow us to deliver custom and relevant consumer experiences. As Neustar’s Venkat Achanta pointed out, creating an authoritative identity is the foundation of any graph. But unless you’re Facebook or Google, creating that identity is incredibly difficult, as the data needed is so fragmented. Liveramp’s Anneka Gupta called out the need for an identity layer that can pull all of those fragmented data pieces together to create a cohesive picture of a single user across multiple channels. The development of these identity graphs is the new arms race in the data world, as evidenced by recent acquisitions by ad tech and agencies alike. WPP’s Matt Sweeney highlighted the POV that the agency should own the ad tech in order to get the identity layer right, as GroupM has done with their [m]ID.

The key takeaways on data:

  • Identity data is the most coveted data out there right now. We’ll continue to see ad tech companies and agencies alike grow their people-based targeting capabilities. Because it’s not easy to come by outside of the walled gardens, there will be a need to vet this data thoroughly, which won’t be easy either.
  • Everyone wants to move past media metrics to business outcomes, which is a good thing for our industry (and something we at C-K take very seriously as an outcome-based agency). This is going to intersect with identity data, as the best way to measure that accurately in our fragmented media landscape is through people-based data.
  • Verification data became a hot topic in recent months, thanks to Methbot and Facebook’s measurement errors. Our eye is fixed on Facebook’s rollout of third party verification.

The MarTech and Ad Tech Landscape: It’s Complicated

Making all of this data actionable requires a whole host of technology, and more often than not, it requires cobbling together multiple pieces of technology, which can result in what Art Muldoon from Amnet called a “Franken-stack”. Still, the marketplace is trying to shift towards consolidation – one example of this is the “mini battles” between start-ups and marketing clouds that Brian Andersen from LUMA described. Start-ups tend to have the orchestration and the data, while marketing clouds have the infrastructure built to maximize that data. He predicts that this tension will result in more consolidation between start-ups and marketing clouds.

When it comes to putting together a tech stack, Joe Stanhope from Forrester recommends shifting the mindset from a checklist to a prioritization based on business value. He outlined the critical components of an enterprise marketing core, including: continuous engagement across channels, interaction distribution, journey intelligence, real-time processing, and identity resolution.

Understanding this complex landscape is a double-edged sword – it’s absolutely necessary for marketers and agencies alike to navigate this ecosystem, but building that knowledge can result in equally as complex organizational structures (or what Brian Wieser from Pivotal Research called “marketing death stars”). There’s often confusion about where this technology lives, or who the owners of this process should be. John Gallagher from IBM argued that managing data isn’t a marketing or sales question – it’s an enterprise question. The leaders of agency trading desks Xaxis, Cadreon, and Amnet all believe it’s critical for agencies to own ad tech, including investing in developing proprietary identity layers. This is an unsurprising position from agencies, given that this complexity has opened a door for consulting groups to edge in on their territory. Glen Hartman from Accenture Interactive spoke to this point, framing the role of consultants as helping marketers understand how to scale their technology.

The key takeaways on martech/ad tech:

  • The marketplace is incredibly complex, and that’s not going to change in 2017. But we will continue to see strategic consolidations as the big players in the martech space seek to establish themselves as a one-stop shop.
  • The North Star for this complexity should be your business objectives. Martech and ad tech have applications beyond just media or marketing – the key stakeholders for those departments should have a seat at the table, but ultimately this is a broader business question.
  • It’s imperative for agencies to invest in understanding martech and ad tech – not only to fend off consultants who are edging in on their territory, but because it’s critical to understand how to leverage this technology to make smarter media and marketing decisions. Agencies who fail to invest in understanding this space will be left behind in a big way.