The line about marketing tech over the last few years is that it’s becoming more closely aligned with ad tech, for both brands and publishers. There must be some truth to that idea, then, if so many people in the industry have trouble explaining what the difference is between ad tech and martech.
If you really wanted, you could muddy the water, argue that advertising is a category within the broader world of marketing, and suggest all ad tech technically falls under the martech umbrella. I don’t want to, because it doesn’t help this discussion very much. Just saying you could.
Practically speaking, there’s a difference between advertising tech and marketing tech. Ad tech refers to processes used to find and speak to anonymized consumers or audiences among an ocean of data points. Martech refers to processes used to find and speak to known, identifiable consumers. Ad tech is about prospecting the unknown. Martech is about maintaining existing consumer relationships.
Martech and ad tech are both roughly involved in automating and optimizing that old “right person/right message/right time” bit. There’s a quote from a byline by Dave Helmreich from LiveIntent (a vendor that incorporates ad tech and martech functionalities) that I return to a lot when we talk about this stuff: “Marketing implies a continuing relationship with a known person, rather than shots in the dark. Advertising is more transactional.” Ad tech tends to focus on buying and selling ad inventory, and services that facilitate or enhance those transactions. Martech encompasses things like content management, email, CRM, social media. Martech focuses on custom communications, and on analyzing and optimizing the relationship between the business and the customer.
Ad tech, for the most part, has historically engaged in piecing together profiles of users, relying on cookie data to make an informed guess about any given user’s interests and demographics. Martech doesn’t need to make so many assumptions, because it’s used to communicate to people who are “in the system” already. You know who they are, and you have a lot of information about them, much of which they’ve given you willingly. They’ve logged into your systems, and you probably know how to reach them personally. The tech helps you understand how and when to reach them, and how to make that process more efficient.
Martech might be perceived as less “sexy” than ad tech—it doesn’t tend to go as hard as ad tech into things like machine learning and AI. But it’s consistently useful over time, when and where it’s implemented. The consistency factor is part of why we’ve seen VC investment on martech hold steady while investment in ad tech has cooled off in recent years, and why we’ve seen figures suggesting large companies across several verticals were spending as much or more money on their marketing tech capabilities than they were on advertising itself.
That leads us to one part of why ad tech people are increasingly in a position to be conversant about martech. The ad industry wants lasting relationships with consumers, not a series of fly-by-night digital pings. Martech holds a few keys to understanding those lasting relationships. The buy side wants the messaging in advertising to become more personal. Doing so will require digging deeper into consumer relationships with publishers and brands alike. Basically, ad tech wants what marketers have had all along, and there’s a lot of activity around stitching together and automating those two.