Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Marketing the adtech marketers: rising out of the sea of sameness

NDA hosted an exclusive panel to discuss how adtech vendors can stick out like a sore thumb – in a good way.

If you’ve seen the Lumascape lately, you’ll be aware that there remains a baffling array of adtech vendors out there, ready and willing to perform for clients. Each has their own USP and the right vendor for the right client is no doubt an explosive combination. But how can you make sure that, as a client or agency, you’ve chosen the right vendor for your needs? And, as an adtech supplier, how do you stand out in this increasingly crowded field? 

At our Marketing the Marketers event, moderator and New Digital Age editor, Justin Pearse, brought together three leading experts in the field to discuss how all parties can make the most of what has the potential to be a fruitful relationship. On the panel were Lucinda Southern, Adweek Managing Editor of Media and Technology; Laura Collins, Managing Partner, Media Excellence at Omnicom Media Group and Seb Bardin, Unilever’s Head of Ecommerce Marketing. 

The panel wasted no time in getting to the gnarly issue – how to stay relevant and useful at a time when every adtech penny is scrutinised in a precarious economic climate. Lucinda Southern admitted that cash is a concern “publishers in the US are just looking for whatever they can do to maximise revenue”. Laura Collins added that adtech vendors need to demonstrate their worth, not just in terms of pricing bit “as a provider that will help clients find efficiency.”

The good news, as Seb Bardin revealed, is that the market hasn’t necessarily shrunk because of cost-cutting: “We believe we shouldn’t stop advertising. It’s important that we’re still visible. But we have to make sure we deliver cost efficiency.”

So, the knowledge that adtech is very much in demand and that there is certainly scope for growth is encouraging. But having a market for their product is only half the battle for adtech vendors. One of their biggest challenges is that they all seem to swim in a sea of sameness.

“It’s very hard to differentiate a lot of the time,” Collins warns. “A lot of the time, your products are broadly the same as your nearest competitor. It’s not something we can solve overnight.”

It’s a truism across the marketing, branding and ad industries – whether you’re client or vendor. The advice: Stop thinking about product, start thinking about value. “You have to understand what value [your service] will deliver to the business,” Bardin claims, adding that his particular needs would be to see “what incremental sales they are driving tro my business and, as a global team, we don’t just want to do something in a few markets. I will be looking at how you can grow with us.”

Southern adds that, from an industry media perspective, the hot topics for her are around “CTV, identity and authentic identifiers and the strategies that are actually working”. Crucially she’s after details that are “tied to a case study” – real facts and examples, not hyperbole, please.

Picking up on some of their clients key struggles is also a winning strategy, and right now one of the biggest is around sustainability. It’s a pretty big nut to crack, they admit, with Southern noting that she has seen a lot of press releases around adtech vendors partnering to meet Scope Three, but reveals “we haven’t seen a great deal of evidence of it delivering a material difference yet.”

Bardin points out that sustainability is absolutely central to Unilever’s DNA. If any organisation is serious about sustainability,  the criteria should be part of the procurement process.”

Collins notes that, while it certainly has the potential to deliver competitive differentiation, she’s also looking for some kind of collaborative effort, if only to have a combined effort that shifts the needle Southern is looking for:

“We’re putting effort into beefing up sustainability credentials and trying to align on a method, but the whole industry needs to take a non-competitive approach to it.”

She also adds that not every brand partner will be in the same position regarding sustainability so “we need multiple options”.

Now we could be said to be properly in a post-COVID era, adtech vendors do have a golden opportunity to supercharge their connections in a way that has been lacking over the last two-to-three years. Industry events are back with a vengeance, with Bardin noting that Cannes and Advertising Week and so on are “a great opportunity to meet new partners. There are a lot of choices and it facilitates the discovery of new vendors.”

Collins agrees: “[Events] are so valuable for networking opportunities. That’s what we missed out on for so long.” It’s also a chance for clients like Bardin to talk to peers and gain word-of-mouth recommendations – something that is so important when you’re confronted by so much choice. 

Aside from the marquee events, building a sustainable practice and digging deep into the value, our panellists concluded that standing out from the competition also came down to good old legwork “In doing great work for your clients, the cream really does rise to the top,” Southern insists.