The End Of The ‘Black Box’: The Coming Self-Service Revolution

Let’s think back to the adolescent stages of the computing revolution, back when humans and computers maintained an awkward, sometimes rocky relationship.

Back then, there was a lack of trust, knowledge, experience, and feeling of control. Very few people really understood how computers worked. We all knew they were the next thing, and we all feared what might happen if our competitors learned how to use them faster than us. It was stressful.

Fast forward, and today’s devices have become so user-friendly that toddlers can operate them, and so ubiquitous that ... well, even toddlers use them.

Like the computers of the ’90s, marketing technology is making its way through that awkward teen stage. And it’s preparing for a huge growth spurt.

Marketing technology has experienced a rapid rise to prominence. And while programmatic and predictive targeting technologies have brought tremendous efficiency into digital marketing, we find ourselves with a familiar set of growing pains: concerns about transparency, difficulty understanding how they work, and very little control. Those pains beget a lack of trust between marketers and vendors, those who use the technology and those who provide it.

Neither side is to blame for this marketer-vendor dissension. Making the most of our newfound technology has required sizeable upfront investment in new talent and systems. Tech providers have tried to bridge the gap by making solutions more affordable and more actionable for the marketer. That has produced today’s crowded and dizzying ecosystem of solution providers, ever-expanding in number.

The problem is that, over time, the marketing technology landscape has developed into a complex marketplace full of black-box algorithms that are hard to understand and even harder to differentiate. Marketers are eager to use them, but it’s difficult to discern which solutions are really worth the time and effort and worth relinquishing control over data, campaign management, and performance. Even marketers who understand the value of programmatic, for example, still have a difficult time gaining visibility into the inner workings of platforms, leading to confusion and distrust. When it comes to data mining, audience targeting, header bidding--you name it--marketers desire transparency and autonomy.

Marketing Technology, All Grown Up
Marketing technology will get better, however, because marketers have seen the efficiency that comes with technology and automation, and they crave the results promised with the full maturation of today’s technology.

This is the motivation behind the self-service push for marketing tech 2.0. And we are seeing some of the earliest manifestations of this shift in control when it comes to the use of data for targeting customers.

Just a few years ago, if you wanted to run a campaign across a publisher, you relied on your DSP or agency to manage the campaign end to end because much of the data, targeting processes, and tools were cached as trade secrets. DSPs are increasingly morphing into technology platforms that give marketers more transparency and control over campaign data, targeting, and execution. They are providing more control to marketers and are enabling them to leverage their brand expertise when making choices over which data to leverage for targeting. The key for these DSPs will be to make campaign optimization more accessible to marketers without compromising the sophistication of advanced programmatic advertising.

Facebook is another example of a platform that has given marketers a peek behind the curtain, allowing for more control over the management of audience creation. Facebook’s Custom Audiences allow marketers to use existing customer data to create lookalike audiences as a way to reach new people across the social media site. It’s the beginning of a promising trend.

Self Service Is The Future
As the worlds of ad tech, marketing tech, and automation converge and technology become more accessible and easier for marketers to leverage, the self-service platform movement will accelerate. Marketers will have access to not only additional targeting data, but specific data and algorithms that drive targeting technology. Understanding data elements that drive audience models will ultimately build greater transparency and trust across marketers, vendors, and technology.

These next generation self-service platforms will solve the problems of transparency and bring more control to marketers. Marketers will be able to see, manage, and implement solutions from the touch of a button through interfaces that show them how one step leads to the next. This next wave will drive simplicity, efficiency, and transparency.

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