Rethinking the Ad Tech Industry

January 3, 2018

Clutch Magazine sat down with Chris Lien, Marin Software CEO and Founder, to discuss how ad tech providers can rebound and regain advertiser trust.

Confidence in the ad tech industry is rocky, and its reputation with brands is at a crossroads. Over the course of 2017 industry critics concluded that there might be too much fraud and too little quality. Christopher Lien, Founder and CEO of Marin Software, spoke with Clutch about how ad tech providers can regain advertiser trust.

In Germany, it’s very much about viewability, safety, and transparency in digital marketing. Does ad tech have a trust issue? Are different countries having different discussions (such as US, UK, FR, Asia)?

Lien: Safety and transparency are top-of-mind for most digital marketers. Advertisers want to know that they’re receiving value and performance for their advertising investments. Ad tech hasn’t always done a good job in terms of its business practices, and this does create a trust issue. Also, there’s a bias to "trust the technology" that can lead to mistakes such as ads running alongside content that’s not brand-safe.

I think the various issues raised over the past year by advertisers, plus some of the high-profile mistakes, have led ad tech companies and publishers to take a good look at their business practices and how they can do better for their advertisers (and the consumer). Marin has always been an online advertising management platform that’s transparent and focused on the success of the advertiser.

Marin's customers always know where their ads are running, what they’re paying for those ads, and what they’re paying for technology to measure, manage, and optimize those advertising placements. More of the industry is now embracing transparency. But, there are many players in the ad tech industry (and publishers) who are comfortable making money off of more aggressive business practices that we at Marin view as not in the interest of advertisers and consumers.

Psychology defines elements of trust-building as openness, reliability, and integrity. These traits are also often considered relationship-building characteristics. Where does our industry have problems regarding these traits? For example, with integrity, what about the conflict of interest when publishers are offering a bidding tool or an attribution tool at the same time? Also, who owns the data?

Lien: To be fair to the ad tech industry, there are many advertisers who just want to provide a budget to a provider and don't want to take the time to understand what they’re buying from that provider. These opaque, managed services providers then often take advantage of their advertising customers, as they’re not pushed to provide transparency and performance details.

Also, when advertisers use the publishers’ own tools to purchase media on that publisher, there’s an inherent conflict of interest in monitoring where the dollars are being spent on media on that publisher.

What needs to happen, and what do the players need to do to win back trust and confidence from advertisers? What would really make a difference?

Lien: I don't see the current situation as one where all trust has been lost in the ad tech industry ad tech providers, publishers, and advertisers. I do see where we now have more of a dialogue on how the industry builds or rebuilds trust based on transparency and performance. Advertisers need to demand more from their publishers and their ad tech partners, and the publishers and ad tech partners need to do more to act in the interests of the advertisers.

I also believe calling out bad actors in the ad tech industry is a good step, too, and highlighting cases where advertisers have been taken advantage of by low-quality providers.

When it comes to trust, does it matter if the provider is based locally or globally?

Lien: I don't think it matters where the company is based as long as they’re high-quality, focused on delivering performance, and acting in the best interests of their customers, the advertisers. I do think, understandably, that there’s a bias in Germany to want to contract with other German providers. At the same time, Germany's ad tech industry is smaller than the global industry, so German advertisers should take advantage of contracting with best-in-class partners who often aren’t German companies. Non-German companies, of course, have to be compliant with all local laws and regulations.

Marin Software is a US company that’s been very active in Germany for several years. Are the Germans particularly difficult? Is it especially difficult to gain trust of German advertisers?

Lien: Germans are demanding customers, but Marin welcomes their demands. German advertisers generally want to understand the technology they’re buying, how it works, and what the performance is. Those are good signs of an educated advertiser. Additionally, there are unique rules to do business in Germany due to the EU’s regulations on data protection, privacy, and server location. Marin is compliant with all of these regulations and counts among our customers many of Germany's leading companies, including Volkswagen and companies within the Otto Group, for example.

Digital Advertising 2020—what can we expect?

Lien: Digital advertising in 2020 will be quite similar to digital advertising in 2017. This is a world where more and more consumers are spending time online and therefore advertising dollars will continue to flow into online channels, principally search and social.

Access to the internet via different devices, with mobile gaining an ever larger share, will be commonplace. Advertisers will seek to leverage data to deliver a personalized advertisement to each consumer based on various signals and knowledge of that particular person on some anonymized, privacy-compliant basis.

We also know that many goods and services are marketed over the course of a consumer journey beginning with creating awareness, providing information to spark intent, and then moving to fulfill this intent and to ultimately re-engage the customer after the purchase. Marketers will leverage technology platforms such as Marin’s to deliver the right message at the right time on the right device.

I think the biggest changes we’ll see by 2020 will be the availability of ever-faster mobile internet access speeds, in particular 5G, which will make the ability to consume video and rich media even easier. Large video files will be able to stream in real time, which will enable more immediate, immersive, and customizable advertising experiences. I also believe we'll see, by 2020, adoption of augmented and virtual reality for digital advertising opportunities enabled by advances in technology and access speeds.

Finally, we’re now seeing the early stages of voice-activated and chatbot-driven user experiences, and I believe by 2020 both of these activities will be very mainstream for digital advertisers. So, 2020 will look a lot like 2017 in many ways, but there also will be many exciting advances that I expect will be in pretty wide use to create engaging digital advertising experiences for consumers.

What’s your vision for the Marin Software platform?

Our vision for Marin is to provide the world's leading brands with the best-in-class cross-channel, independent, and open performance advertising platform. When we look at how consumers become customers on the internet, about 85% of their time is spent between the properties of Google and Facebook across a variety of devices including desktop, laptop, tablets, and smartphones.

Leading marketers need a platform that enables them to coordinate the management of these two walled gardens to acquire customers and to drive revenue. Marin's platform enables advertisers and their agencies to measure, manage, and optimize their online advertising investments to drive financial performance, time savings, and better business decisions. To do this, advertisers need an open platform, one that’s independent from any publisher, to be their digital ally as they look to make sense of the complexity, scale, and fragmentation of the digital landscape. As part of this, advertisers will look to leverage their first party data to better target their prospects and customers, as well as using second and third party data.

Marin’s open architecture and our ability to support the world’s largest brands enable us to partner with advertisers to help them achieve their marketing objectives. Digital advertising and how advertisers leverage it to drive revenue and to acquire customers is still at a very early stage. We at Marin are excited to work with our customers to help them run better digital advertising programs that deliver better business results.

Thank you for the interview, Mr. Lien.

This interview first appeared in German, in Clutch Magazine. Interview by Cara Hönkhaus.

Maria Breaux

Marin Software
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