Why We’re Having a Different Ad Tech Conversation
I’ve been in Ad Tech for a long time. Lycos, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves-long. Through the years, I’ve touched most aspects of the industry. I’ve worked in display banner ads, mobile SDKs, Facebook campaigns, video OTT and everything in between. It’s an industry and career that I’ve really enjoyed. The industry is filled with brilliant, revenue-leaning individuals that never stop thinking. Not to mention that there’s never a boring moment because everything moves so quickly. What’s hot one year completely changes the next. For over fifteen years, I’ve had conversations and meetings with ambitious forward-thinking people discussing how to tap into the next big market. It’s really treated me well; it’s been fun, and I’ve made a tremendous number of friends. I have no regrets… except maybe one.
For some reason, even though we are technically in the media business, there’s an invisible wall that separates the content and the monetization side. Ad tech is not content, and content is not ad tech. There have been some attempts to cross the barrier, but none with any tangible success.
Crossing the Content and Technology Chasm
I’ve always been a little jealous of the creative ideas and free-thinking minds that come out of content companies. It seems way less heavy. Don’t get me wrong, strategizing how to yield higher revenue through optimization innovation is creative free-thinking in a way, but it feels much more mechanical than the idea of planning your next journalistic piece or learning how to draw connection through storytelling. Day in and day out, publishers are out there sharing their view of the world and affecting change. They create because there’s something intrinsically inside them to share.
We may forget it, but in ad tech, we too are in the business of creation. Our work is more than just spreadsheets and page metrics. Our creation is the technology that powers the internet. That technology allows anyone with a voice to reach millions and be financial rewarded for sharing their creations. We keep the lights on and empower the lives of publishers. We enable freedom through storytelling.
The Business of Storytelling
A central element of good storytelling is empathy. I’m a big believer in empathy and compassion. I believe that they’re the keys that open the door to a fulfilled and self-expressed life. But, for some reason, similar to how I had bifurcated ad tech and content, I had mentally classified business and empathy as separate entities. Then a light bulb went off: Why can’t I apply the conversation of empathy to my customers?
What does applying empathy to my customers really mean? I could provide value by showing publishers how to “squeeze all the juice from the fruit” through their ads, but that wouldn’t help me understand the struggle of making content. As I came to find out, content creation is exhausting. Journalist Gene Fowler said it best, “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at the blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”
It was only when I set off to create content and see the world from a creators’ lens that I truly felt empathy toward my customers. I started to think, no wonder publishers don’t want intrusive ads smattered all over their page; they worked hard to create that beautiful content!
Applied empathy is an ongoing process. It’s listening to and understanding every story. I’ve spent tens of thousands of hours speaking with digital publishers and, trust me, everyone has a story worth telling. I’ve loved hearing the stories over the years, and recently, I’ve been taking the time to dive in, ask questions and take notes.
I’m now learning everything from the lifestyle digital publishing enables to the daily struggle of producing consistent, quality content. I plan on sharing these stories and participating in a different type of ad tech conversation. Instead of discussing CPMs and fill rates, I want to know what problems you face and what inspires you to keep going. This is my journey and I hope you can join me.