Demystifying Ad Technology Through Magic and Logic

Don't sell the tech, but how to use it.

The Sunday Times recently ran a story about how ordinary families could make money out of YouTube’s new policy of rewarding those who upload popular videos with a share of the revenue optimised against that content. To illustrate the point, the writer hung the story on the success of the ‘Charlie bit my finger‘ video with its 11,783,905 views and the piece really got me thinking.

That Sunday, as I finished my English breakfast and gulped down my properly made hot tea, I folded the paper in half and proceeded to read. The article had caught my eye – here was a story told in a language many of us working in the advertising technology bubble would barely recognise, illustrated with pictures of children and normal families instead of bar charts and graphs. There weren’t even any three-letter acronyms!

Instead plain English was used – like ‘money coming from advertising alongside the videos.’ The writer made no assumptions about the reader’s knowledge and instead seemed hell bent on explaining things simply and making the story interesting. In other words, the writer was doing his job.

Now you could say the editorial content was contextualised and optimised for a pro-beneficial consumer-sided experience. But it would be better to say it was just a ‘good story’ and what good journalists and media influencers do all the time – tell stories through the eyes of people, not in the language of machines, data or platforms.

The article really stood out as a good example of something I’m always banging on about to senior figures within the ad tech sector. As CEO and founder of Propeller – a London based PR agency that shares content with influencers in the media, advertising and technology space – this is my pet subject. B2B technology businesses, especially services in the advertising and media industries, might have some of the best technology and programmers around, but often don’t know how to tell a good story.

They may have the product, but do they have the people skills to explain what it does? They may have the technology for their clients to reach the right audiences, but are they able to reach their own target audiences? Can they spray a dash of colour on the black box?

Sadly, too often the answer is no.

In the Way That You Use It

And yet this is exactly what you need to do when you are trying to build and brand a business – it is as much about magic as it is about logic. The need for story-telling skills is getting more acute, as the ad technology space gets ever more crowded, with more and more technology providers jockeying for position, looking for customers and trying to get quality time with ad agency networks, publishers and brand owners.

I was having breakfast with a European head honcho of one of the leading agency networks a couple of days after the Sunday Times appeared and used the opportunity to ask the best way a potential tech partner should approach them. Between mouthfuls of bacon, eggs and coffee, the message came across loud and clear.

“These sorts of businesses are always trying to get in and see me,” said my CEO contact. “But they nearly always forget that the technology is not the sell. The technology is an enabler, it’s how you use it, that’s the sell.”

The exec continued: “Everyone claims to have the best technology. I can get that checked out. What I need are examples of how it will make a difference to my business and my clients.”

My CEO friend’s no-nonsense reply cut to the core of the problem – there is clearly a demand for more show and tell and a more touchy freely approach where potential customers can play with and trial the kit.

From the Ground Up

Another point lies in the industrial psychology of the decision-making process. My breakfast companion noted that the new business development default for ad tech providers seems to be to get into the C-suite of the agency group, win friends and assume these heavy-hitters will hand down orders for their staff to commission the latest piece of kit.

“That’s a hospital pass that annoys my people,” was the comment. “They’d be better off winning friends and influencing people within the company and getting them passionate about it and enthusing about it.”

Trickle-down selling to the generals will only get you so far if the foot soldiers aren’t ready to go to war for your product. You need to spread the word from the ground up.

Tell Us a Story

So how do you get people in the industry enthusing about your technology – liking it, sharing it and telling their mates over a beer how good it is? I believe that more than anything you need a story and you need to know who you are telling it to. At the risk of using jargon myself, you need a content strategy and influencers to share it with.

Using your own data to create an interesting story for consumers and peers is one way. BlueKai’s blog, which is written by their CEO, features a master class of shareable content, such as their ‘future of online shopping’ infographic or their ‘decoder for the ad tech industry’. But as it took me a while to find this content, I’d ask are they targeting the right people with their content? Are they sharing it pro-actively with influencers in and beyond their sector?  

As I said, Propeller’s job is shaping and sharing interesting content for clients, using online, offline and eyeline channels. For one of our clients, the online video distributor Goviral, we initiated a social media campaign to find ‘the game changer’: the most popular online video of the decade. The campaign was a great success and engaged their influencers. We separately researched and released the top 10 most popular virals at certain times. With Kylie Minogue being front runner it made our job a lot easier to get national coverage for Goviral.

You only need to read the surveys that run in newspapers and on websites every day of the year to know that data like this is pure gold for spinning into stories and getting people interested. And they communicate what you offer in a more engaging way. It’s ironic that ad tech companies, who sit on mountains of data, often can’t see the opportunity to exploit it.

Another voguish route that can bring a tech story to life is the infographic. Done well, these provide digital shareable content that can spread the word for you in a more appealing way than spreadsheets, PowerPoints and white papers.

Communication skills combined with technical know-how is the key to promoting and marketing the complex story of the ad tech industry. We know you’ve got the logic sorted, now give us some magic.

In other words, give your audience a few more ‘Charlie bit my finger’ moments.