Insider’s View: Ad Tech & MarTech Q&A With Seth Ulinski [Part 8]


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So far in our Insider’s View: Ad Tech & MarTech Q&A series, we’ve featured members from the media, CEOs, and directors – just to name a few. But for this edition of our Q&A, we caught up with Seth Ulinski, Senior Analyst at Technology Business Research, Inc. (TBR), to get his analytical point of view on the Ad Tech & MarTech industries.

Seth has over a decade’s experience in the technology and digital marketing sectors. You can follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and expertise in the ad tech and martech industries?

My career in ad tech started as a campaign manager, which helped me understand the nuts and bolts of ad serving. I’ve worked on the publishing side as well as with tech vendors leading the charge in areas such as programmatic and viewability. I then transitioned to work as an industry analyst and consultant, expanding my coverage into martech.

2. What is the mission of Technology Business Research and what are you responsible for?

Technology Business Research, Inc. (TBR) is a market research and consulting firm that empowers the world’s leading technology companies with strategic insight, transformational frameworks and market intelligence to scale and drive profitable growth.

As a member of TBR’s Digital practice, I’m responsible for recognizing and understanding key trends across the ad tech and martech landscapes – two major pieces of the customer experience (CX). On the vendor side, this includes capabilities, market positioning and business performance. A few of the key segments I cover include demand side platforms (DSPs), data management platforms (DMPs), and enterprise marketing clouds. The other side involves connecting with enterprise buyers and their agencies to understand factors that impact their decision making when it comes to ad tech and martech investments.

3. What have been some of the biggest changes in ad tech and martech that you’ve seen over the past five to 10 years?

It’s interesting to see the impact of programmatic platforms on the digital ad industry — particularly self-service tools. Through technology, small in-house or external agency teams now have the ability to plan and launch complex global multi-channel campaigns optimized to a variety of key performance indicators (KPIs). Ten years ago this would have required a massive team. Even five years ago this would have required significantly more people compared to today. The scale, targeting and analytics these technologies provide are impressive.

Also, the shift from a desktop world of cookie-based targeting and tracking technologies to a mobile world where device IDs and deterministic & probabilistic methodologies rule continues to have a massive impact on industry stakeholders.

4. What are some of the current trends in ad tech and martech?

While insourcing or use of self-service tools (e.g., DSPs) by marketers is in its early days, I think the trend will continue. The convergence and integration of ad tech and martech will help fuel this, as an integrated stack enables better customer experiences.

Programmatic TV advertising represents another nascent, high-growth area. The ability to combine capabilities in today’s online and mobile realm with linear and cable TV is driving investments by content owners and communication service providers. As an industry analyst, it’s fascinating to see these worlds converge via ad tech.

5. What do you see as the biggest challenges ad tech and martech face today?

From an enterprise buyer standpoint, the vendor landscape is still highly fragmented — choosing partners can be a bit overwhelming, particularly if your team is looking for a best-of-breed tech stack —creating opportunities for IT strategy firms, management consulting firms and digital agencies.

Another challenge is trust and business transparency between clients and agencies — the legacy media-buying model of agencies is at risk, largely due to adoption of programmatic tools. As a result, I think agencies and brands are in the early stages of identifying best practices for today’s programmatically fueled advertising market.

Additionally, the rise of walled gardens limits effectiveness of ad tech and martech platforms. While the industry as a whole favors APIs and openness, a few of the heavyweights (e.g., Facebook, Google) are leveraging unique data sets and/or media to capture advertising and ad tech investment. Placing campaigns on these hybrid vendors typically results in multiple tech stacks being used and/or ad hoc campaigns. This creates challenges in areas such as operational efficiency and marketing attribution.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the adoption of ad blocking by consumers resulting from an inequitable value exchange among consumers, publishers and advertisers. Ad blockers signal today’s advertising model is broken; consumers expect a better experience from digital media.

6. As someone who provides analyses on numerous ad tech and martech platforms, do you see more individual platforms emerging or more of a consolidation of platforms — e.g., companies acquiring others and offering marketing stacks rather than individual solutions?

The fragmented vendor landscape is ripe for consolidation, and we are starting to see both enterprise IT vendors and communications vendors make aggressive moves to own more of the digital consumer experience.

Enterprise vendors will remain acquisitive, as it typically makes more sense for them to purchase a vendor’s tools than try to develop them internally given the speed and innovative nature of the market. However, there is room for newcomers, so I think we’ll continue to see more individual platforms emerge.

In this vein, it’s good to see an ad tech vendor such as The Trade Desk maintain independence and launch a successful IPO in the U.S. market. This gives further merit to ad tech being not just high-growth but a profitable business segment.

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