Keeping Up in AdTech. Remember: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Keeping Up in AdTech. Remember: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

(Published on MarTechAdvisor on 2/13/2017)

Over the past two years I’ve been fortunate to speak with hundreds of industry experts from a variety of players spanning the expansive digital Lumascape.  As a now neutral party in the AdTech ecosystem, I’ve been privy to an insider’s view of the successes and challenges faced by these digital leaders.  And, I have witnessed a universal and recurring problem.

I completely identify with the daily challenges my friends and colleagues face in the industry. I had, after all, walked in their shoes for almost a decade as the chief product officer at Jumptap and Millennial Media – two leading digital advertising platforms. I understand the pain and pressures they face. From my current perch within the industry, however, I have a new-found clarity on how to tackle this pressing problem.

We let fear get in the way of progress. Primarily, the fear of missing out; but also the fear of losing. I’ve watched it again and again - even amongst some of the best within our industry. We fall into the trap of giving fear undue influence in our product development decisions, resource allocation and business investments.

Fear of Missing Out. We’ve all been here before; clients demand a widget.  Companies become gripped with fear that they’ll miss out on future business if they don’t have the widget. So they partner and integrate to offer one. As your list of widgets grows, the cost of maintaining them begins to rob you of valuable resources needed to deliver on your core product roadmap. The widgets dilute your ability to differentiate.

In the end, the industry often integrates a vast selection of widgets – and a few of which build their own truly great solutions to the original problem. We’ve seen client demands drive this recurring cycle in Ad Tech. Think viewability, third-party data, location signal, and conversion tracking to name a few topics that received high prioritization.

Fear of Losing. As your competitors innovate - bringing new products to market – it’s understandable to feel compelled to spin up competing development projects just to try to keep pace and for fear of losing the next deal. By contrast, we’ve seen successful companies remain focused and true to their mission – innovating on what strengthens and extends their core competencies.

These struggles to keep pace are very real. Regardless of whether your company has a product-driven culture or not. We too often invest time, money and resources to build undifferentiated capabilities. Capabilities that we convince ourselves are “table stakes” – required to grow the business. The work needed to create these widgets might not be complicated, but yet it soaks up valuable resources. It distracts your business development, product management and engineering teams – and dilutes their ability to deliver truly differentiated products. APIs are integrated, data sets synched, and on and on…just so you can maintain a seat at the proverbial table.

If one surveyed the Ad Tech platforms around the industry we’d find many of the same sets of projects and internal discussions at any given time. This is true amongst supply and demand companies. Look no further than today’s fraud and viewability headline topics.  Active work is well underway from publishers to SSPs and from DSPs to advertisers. With the majority of roadmaps so similar, it’s not surprising that companies struggle to differentiate and grow.

It is time to reimagine our world – where the table stakes are acquired in a far more efficient manner. What if new data and services could be bolted in uniformly across all supply without burdening development teams? What if access to Lumascape companies delivering important value was ubiquitous to all inventory? What if investment dollars were entirely focused on core innovation that drives differentiation and value – algorithmic development, first-party data creation / utilization and whatever the next big thing is that will drive our industry forward? What if you could get out of the business of building widgets?

All of this is possible. We just need to keep our eyes on the prize. More accurately, we need to keep our eyes on our respective prize. Build what’s core to your business – and then hire the widgets you need. Collectively, this is how we’ll stop fear from slowing our progress as an industry.