Industry structure may play a bigger part than technical complexity in the ongoing disconnect between advertising technology and marketing technology, according to the co-founder and CTO of Ion Interactive and editor of, Scott Brinker.

Over the last year, through interviews with industry leaders here and in the US, in round tables, and in videos and podcasts, Which-50 has dived deeply into the story of the merger of AdTech and MarTech.

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We complete the series by interviewing Brinker, who has tracked the industry’s growth from just 150 companies in 2011 to over 5300 companies this year.

He shares his view that in many companies AdTech remains sadly disconnected from the rest of the MarTech stack, even as the sector has seen a move to merge — especially with M&A activity out of the major marketing clouds.

Chiefmartec’s Marketing Technology Landscape features over 5000 companies this year

“Part of this is the fault of the technology. But truthfully, more of it is the fault of the structure of the advertising and media industry. For most brands, agencies have been the operators of AdTech infrastructure, while the rest of the MarTech stack was run by brands in-house.”

That is starting to change, he said. “More and more brands are moving audience data and advertising bidding systems into their own operations.”

Partly there is a cost incentive. Companies are hoping to save money by cutting out the middle man. But at a time when data is becoming a critical infrastructure asset, there is perhaps an even more important motivator.

“The bigger opportunity is to seamlessly connect the different pieces of the AdTech and MarTech stack together at a data level for personalisation and analytics.”

According to Brinker, “We still have a lot of marketing systems and data repositories isolated in these different channels. If you want a connected and cohesive brand experience, you’ve got to invest in fixing that. It’s a lot of work. But in a digital world, it’s either that or obsolescence.”

He also stressed the importance of looking beyond the technology platform. “To truly take advantage of integrated AdTech and MarTech capabilities, brands will need to develop new organisational capital that manages advertising and the rest of marketing in a more cohesive fashion.”

This would require marketers to introduce changes to the structure of the extended marketing team, implement new processes, and bring in new talents. (In fact he sees talent, rather than technology, as the place where the most important investments will be made.)

“Adapting the human dimension of your organisation to the entanglement of AdTech and MarTech will take longer and require much more effort than just connecting the technical plumbing at the software layer,” he told Which-50.

Over the Horizon

There is, however, a bigger picture for marketers to focus on, said Brinker.

Concepts like paid, unpaid or earned marketing activities are, in his words, “… down in the weeds. Nobody other than marketers cares about those distinctions. Everyone else just cares about the outcome and the experience.”

In fact, he believes that non-marketers — including the most important constituency, the customers — probably have the most intuitive understanding of what’s important for the marketer to do. “Find and engage new customers. Keep existing customers happy. Optimise that process to be capital-efficient, so those savings can be applied to creating better products, at better prices, with greater profitability.”

However, for this to happen, marketing needs to operate holistically. “It can’t have a bunch of disconnected systems and data repositories scattered across its agencies and its own internal organisation. How can you deliver a connected and cohesive brand experience if the technical infrastructure behind such experiences is disconnected and incohesive?”

It’s not you, it’s me

We also asked Brinker how he saw the relationship between brands and their agencies changing.

The need to take control of delivering great customer experiences has led brands to bring the foundational elements of technology and data in-house, he said.

“A brand can hire agencies and service providers to help it craft that experience, but can’t outsource its operation. It’s got to be embedded with the rest of the organisation — not just technically, but culturally,” he said.

And he said that, as all media will eventually be programmatic, there will be no meaningful margin for agencies in that business. “The place where agencies can thrive is delivering strategy, insight, creativity, perspective — and, when necessary, on-demand resources to execute.”

Brinker’s advice to marketers is to excel at orchestrating the hub of an amazing customer experience, from the first touchpoint through long-term loyalty, inside his or her company.

“The strength of the agency needs to be helping that marketer see the world from a fresh point of view, free from the mental constraints of operating inside that company.”

Why merge?

Brinker sees AdTech as a subset of MarTech. Ultimately, however, marketers want to track audience profiles across all of our customer touchpoints, he said.

“Not just advertising, but email, social, call centres, our own web site, retail stores, and so on. We’d also like to optimise campaigns across all of those channels too, so it doesn’t make sense to think of ad bids in a hermetically-sealed silo.”

“Getting hung up on the boundaries between that AdTech subset and the rest of MarTech, in my opinion, isn’t productive. We want to think holistically about marketing. Therefore we must think holistically about marketing technology.”

About the author

Andrew Birmingham is the director of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit (DIU) and the co-founder of The adtech/martech merger series was supported by AdRoll,  a corporate member of the DIU. Members contribute their insights and expertise for the benefit of our readers. Membership fees apply.


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