What do marketing automation and the adoption of self-driving cars have in common?

Ahead of this week's adtech conference Dmexco, Kirk McDonald, president, PubMatic, draws comparison between self-driving cars and marketing automation, and asks what it means for the future of the publishing industry.

We’re on the verge of self-driving cars. Earlier this year, these machines dominated both the floor and the discussion at numerous auto shows worldwide, not to mention at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada –with prototypes from most of the major manufacturers on display – and autonomous cars have taken over the headlines once again during the past few months as Tesla continues to test its autopilot functionality in Holland.

But what do self-driving cars and the automation of marketing and media have in common?

As both a car enthusiast and longtime veteran of the media industry, I’ve devoted a great deal of time to thinking about these two seemingly unrelated topics, and there’s more synergy there than you might think. Let me explain.

In the not-so-distant future the efficiencies we will gain from autonomous cars will outweigh our concerns – and, for some of us, challenge our passion for driving. Just consider the benefits of being able to use our travel time productively, or even for entertainment; not to mention the savings we’ll see from better gas mileage, etc. All of this will make self-driving cars not just practical, but even popular, especially as manufacturers continue to develop this technology to make it even more efficient than today’s manually operated cars. As the tear runs down my cheek, I sadly have to accept that in the future, the passion of driving will become a recreational activity done only occasionally.

This is not unlike the wave of automation that has transformed the media industry over the past 10-15 years.

As a car enthusiast who truly loves the experience of driving, I feel a bit queasy when I think about the amount of control I’ll give up in order to take advantage of the benefits of self-driving cars. This is not unlike the feeling I imagine many publishers are experiencing today as they realize how much control they’ve given up in the name of the greater efficiency and efficacy being driven by technology automation in media.

The major difference between these two scenarios is indicative of the biggest (and perhaps most overlooked) risk publishers are taking in an industry that has evolved from a more level playing field into a duopoly led by Facebook and Google: control over your destination.

While I cringe at relinquishing some control to an autonomous car, I still have the ultimate control of choosing my destination as the functional value improves how I get from point A to point B. The reality of our situation in the media industry, however, is that publishers have ceded more than the operational/functional control as they have become passengers to an uncertain destination. There are now fundamentally borrowing/leasing what used to be their most valuable asset: the relationship with the consumer.

How did we get here?

Consider the ultimate goal of advertising: delivering the right ad to the right person at the right time. Technology has exponentially improved our ability to do this at scale and at the real-time speed of media consumption. There really have been no other choices here; as audiences became more savvy, marketers and publishers were faced with the real challenge of staying relevant and meeting their increasingly complex demands. The solution? More technology, of course.

In self-driving cars, however, the car owner essentially is making the technology work for him or her; in other words, the car drives you where you want to go. But in today’s media environment, the predominant technology or technology provider seems to have an intelligence of its own. It seems to work often in the best interest of itself, and not in support of its occasional employer.

The problem is that there have not been enough credible independent technology suppliers to offer alternative scalable options, and it’s led to a dangerous imbalance in how dollars are being spent in digital.

What Does This Mean for the Future of Publishing?

According to Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising is expected to go to either Google or Facebook. This means that every other publisher in the media industry is expected to continue to grow their businesses off of their share of what is a shrinking 15 per cent that remains.

The bright light is that 15 per cent of an industry growing to $55bn globally by 2018 still leaves a lot to benefit from, however this trend should still cause concern.

Facebook and Google are not villains for running smart business. They are very healthy for the entire media ecosystem, and we should all want them to continue making content sharing and discovery more consumer-friendly. However, more choice has always been an important pillar to drive innovation and healthy business growth. We need more support and adoption of independent, credible, scalable technology that supports a healthy competitive alternative for publishers and marketers. And, the good news is that the options exist and are here today!

Regardless of which technology partner (or partners) you choose to work with, what’s most important is to keep your hands on the wheel—to think critically about your business needs and to develop a long-term strategy that translates to success not just today, but tomorrow and for the foreseeable future.

To learn more about whether publishers are really in control of their digital strategy, join Kirk McDonald, President of PubMatic, and Amir Malik, Programmatic Director for the Trinity Mirror, at Dmexco on Wed., 14 Sept. at 16:00 or Thurs., 15 Sept. at 11:00 at the PubMatic Booth, located in Hall 8 Aisle C069.

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