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Adtech has evolved: is your media plan fit for 2021?

The industry is rapidly changing and coming to grips with the imperative need for more independence

This is every marketer’s dilemma: you’ve got a brief, a budget, performance goals to hit and many adtech partners and platforms to pick from to execute your plan. So how do you choose which one? Doesn’t it seem like it was easier just a few years ago?

Let’s step back and remember how we got here. Eight years ago, ad networks began appearing out of the woodwork with varying high-impact creative offerings and channel-specific publisher networks that had privileged or sole access. They were the sandcastle-sized walled gardens of their time. So as a strategist or planner, it was a logical choice to include a variety of partners on a given plan, because each one offered differentiated data and/or inventory across display, mobile and video.

Speed ahead a few years as traditional demand-side platforms evolved, dare I say, into the most overused term of 2015 and onwards – omnichannel – which accelerated a brand’s ability to reach the same audience in multiple environments through a single platform. This moment signalled a storm of ’consolidation’ to squall through the industry.

From a macro perspective, companies jumped at the opportunity to invest, merge or acquire properties, technology or data access that substantiated their unique value to customers and gave them an upper-hand opportunity when it came to ’eat or be eaten’.

As the natural evolution of industry consolidation continues, this has left us with what Gartner neatly describes as the walled garden giants, media and telecom giants, advanced operational enablers and full-stack demand-side platforms – the last of which began with the desire to maintain independent neutrality between buyers and sellers.

For a marketer, this consolidation trend brought to light how collapsing the number of partners a brand worked with – and demanding transparency of media budget spending – could eliminate the over-saturation of audiences, duplication of targeting efforts and campaign cannibalization that had likely been occurring. With a regimented, stable framework for identifying users online across channels via third-party cookies, the advantages spoke for themselves in the cost savings attributed to this consolidation strategy.

However, some brands were extreme in selecting only a few preferred partners, which may have made sense given the expected commoditization of the DSP market. But that didn’t quite happen. What did happen was an obsessive push by tech platforms to drive differentiation by ascertaining unique data or inventory that made them a ’must buy’ – offering them the ability to reinforce their own castle walls by restricting access to other buying points or refusing to share the data outside their ecosystem.

This resulted in many brands selecting walled garden giants to consolidate with (for simplicity’s sake), leaving them at the mercy of a third-party technology partner’s roadmap. More blatantly stated, marketers had to sacrifice their own brand’s strategic vision.

But the industry is rapidly changing and coming to grips with the imperative need for more independence. Instead of ceding power to walled gardens, there is a steady drumbeat among today’s marketers to balance the scales by selecting a combination of walled gardens and independent players that give them access to the inventory they need without falling prey to exclusively ’bundled’ terms that lack the support, servicing, product innovation and freedom they need to succeed.

Don’t surrender to the fate of being a small fish in a big pond

Ironically, what this ends up looking like is a return to more partners on the media plan – circa 2015. But we’re smarter this time around. We can apply a stringent focus on cross-silo measurement to ensure the byproducts of multi-platform plans (most importantly, media waste) don’t occur.

When it comes to measurement, it boils down to data access and an unbiased source of truth. And with many partners refusing to share an advertisers’ data outside their own ecosystem, marketers are working harder than ever to play inside the lines and limitations being set. You wouldn’t put a pot of gold in someone else’s home and then ask them to tell you the number of coins left, right? So why do that with your data? Data is arguably the most valuable resource on the planet, so why lock it inside another platform’s house? Find partners that make data exportable.

With an unbiased source of truth, measurement and analytics can tell you what happened and why it happened within certain channels and environments, but it is critical to feed that exportable data into an independent attribution model to better understand the entire scope of your marketing outcomes.

All in all, mix-and-match your tech stack partners to reflect the solutions your brand needs. While it may be required to work in a walled garden world, that does not mean you need to make that your foundation or surrender to the fate of being a small fish in a big pond with no control. Your tech platforms should support and complement your own internal technology investments by offering a data-in, data-out approach.

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