Suddenly, “ad tech” is a bad term, and a chorus stretching from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley is screaming “mar tech” at the top of their lungs. In just a few months’ time, we went from a shotgun wedding that promised to merge mar tech with ad tech, to declarations that ad tech is “dead.”
To paraphrase the bank robber Willie Sutton, it’s time to rebrand, because mar tech is where the investment is. But before the rebranding zealots throw the baby out with the bathwater, shouldn’t we take a moment to understand mar tech and what it means to our clients?
From a strategic standpoint, there’s a big difference between ad tech and mar tech, despite the fact that the technologies—the operational nuts and bolts, if you will—share a good amount of DNA.
The lifeblood of ad tech is media activation, a task predicated on the cookie. Yes, that cookie has obvious limits. But despite ad tech’s current Chicken Little mentality around challenges like fraud, viewability, and ad blockers, the core mission remains: engage audiences through media. What’s changing is the context; instead of being housed inside a media silo, ad tech will live within a much larger, more complex context called mar tech.
Mar tech is about bringing offline data into a functional digital environment where it can be combined with a brand’s other data sources to create a more complete understanding of the individual consumer: a 360-degree view of each individual customer, across all channels and devices.
The question of the moment is whether mar tech, with so many distinct inputs, can scale in the same way that ad tech (with its billions of cookies) has scaled. The short answer is yes, but we aren’t there yet.
Mar tech requires large front-end investments to both normalize diverse data sets and sync that information to a growing and fragmented universe of device IDs.
But mar tech is a challenge to standardize. This is because the data that fuels mar tech is incredibly diverse. Not only is each type of data unique unto itself, it is invariably unique in the way each company formats and holds that data. The arrival of mar tech represents a chance to pull together everything: offline, online, TV, and mobile.
What will help that process along is the convergence of ID syncing and ID management, a trend already underway in the telecom world. Last year, Verizon bought AOL. More recently, the Norwegian telecom company Telenor acquired Tapad.
As of right now, the ad-tech herd has clearly pivoted and begun stampeding toward mar tech. But let’s get real: the herd and the large majority of companies in the digital space are not there yet.
The truth is, they will not get there. Many will try, and few will succeed. But they won’t tell you unless you ask, and everyone in the industry will oversell and overpromise their capabilities until the real companies rise to the forefront.
Here’s a simple test: If the data you crunch and the revenue you bring in comes from cookies, you’re in ad tech. If more than 50% of the data you ingest comes from offline sources, you’re a mar tech player.
But remember, this isn’t a race to abandon the cookie; it’s a massive build to create a mar-tech stack that puts the cookie in its proper place as one of many important ID syncs. Put simply: ad tech helped break Humpty Dumpty into a million pieces. As we become mar tech, our job is to put him back together again.