The uncomfortable similarity between ad tech and auto repair

Wunderman North America CSO Matt Tepper
Wunderman North America CSO Matt Tepper

Wunderman's Tepper shares key tips to make sure marketing is truly data-driven.

Managed service ad tech is like auto repair: not enough people know how it works, so many of them get taken advantage of. When you need to fix your car, you might try to find a "guy" you like and trust, all the while suspecting you’re being fleeced. You brace yourself, and just hope it won’t be too bad. Unfortunately, it’s been the same story for ad tech. It’s time to change that story and create more transparency.

Ad tech-based marketing is not new anymore, but remains one of the most complex forms of marketing.  While it generates results, brands have struggled to understand how best to run it.  "Managed service" partners were born of necessity to fill the gap.

Initially, it was easy for providers to run managed service pilots, and brands quickly saw positive results. Those results drove incremental investment, which, in turn, drove even more positive results. The industry scaled from there. Yet because of its complexity, there weren’t enough people on the brand side (or in the industry in general) who really knew how ad tech worked – and partners could get away with blind trust – "We’ve got this. You give us money, we’ll give you returns." Unfortunately, over the years, a lot of bad actors slipped into ad tech, and no one has taken the time or effort to hold the industry accountable.

What’s at the heart of the problem? Data. Data is the dirty underbelly of ad tech. Most of the bad actors in ad tech are utilizing inaccurate, un-vetted or, at worst, fraudulent data. Layer on multiple levels of abstraction (marketplaces, exchanges, networks, etc.), and you’ve got the recipe for a fundamental inability to hold anyone accountable for data quality.

Enter the era of identity-based marketing.  

The industry, technology, and data are finally at a tipping point around identity-based marketing and brands have started to move the lion’s share of their digital spend from cookies to identities. This is a critical shift, because identity-based data is accountable data - we can track the origin of the identity data and any data that has been attached to it. What’s more, it’s often tied to a government source of identity – think driver’s licenses, change of address or vehicle registration databases – which means we can know exactly who the person is and build out what we know about them from a base of truth.

Fortunately, a lot of brand-side marketers are now familiar, and have worked with (or even within) ad tech - and they’re demanding more transparency and accountability. It’s time for brands to take back control of their digital marketing and integrate it strategically, technologically and functionally into their overall marketing plan.

It won’t come easy, though, considering that a new study Wunderman conducted with Penn Schoen Berland found that while 99 percent of global decision makers believe data is critical to achieve success, 62 percent are unable to turn data into insights or action. What’s more, although 74 percent of brands have access to the latest marketing tools, 68 percent can’t bring data and marketing technology together in an advanced way to deliver a seamless customer experience. 

Even so, following a few key steps can help brands get to a place where their marketing is truly data-driven – based on solid, accurate and fully utilized data. They must:

  1. Find the right identity-based marketing partner. Brands should dig deep into the partner’s data so they’ll be able to distinguish between data owners and data resellers. Brands will also need to vet the partner’s identity graph, making sure to consider their mobile identity graph.
  2. Ensure transparency. Once they’ve found the right partner, brands need to fully understand the data. Specifically, which data is being used, how it is being used, and what it costs.
  3. Own and integrate. Brands should strive to house and organize their first-party data for activation. Then they need to integrate third-party data into their own first-party data environments.

Ad tech, once a complex and often misunderstood realm of a brand’s overall marketing strategy, has never been more critical to their success – and future readiness. The good news? It’s becoming more manageable. With the right partner, the right data and the right approach, brands can fully utilize the tools available today to maximize the impact of their investments. After all, taking a car to a new repair shop is a crapshoot but understanding and applying data to inspire consumers doesn’t need to be. 

Matt Tepper is the chief strategy officer for Wunderman North America.