The Pure Play-Platform Conflict

Mike Margolin is interactive marketing director at RPA, a full-service, independent advertising agency. Follow him on Twitter @mmargolin.

Working in an agency, you see all sorts of interesting technology businesses. Some are looking for a quick exit via acquisition, some strive to become best-in-breed for a particular niche and still others have much greater ambitions – to become the de facto provider for a whole suite of marketing services. Lately, it seems like the latter two are becoming more in conflict than complementary.

There’s little doubt the sheer number of providers is a problem. An agency needs to vet point-solution vendors for attribution, landing-page testing, creative optimization, ad serving and data management. Each of these companies brings distinct advantages that are particularly compelling in highly competitive marketing categories. But managing the results and insights of the work provided by these disparate vendors can be daunting: different tagging and tracking methodologies, siloed optimization paths and varied report outputs.

One solution is to build custom dashboards for each client based on their collection of tools. But that only solves the client communication problem; it doesn’t address prioritization and workflow issues that many agencies and marketers face. Pure plays each know their specific niche well, as well as how to integrate with complementary areas. But I’ve seen very few with a long-term vision of how their technology should be used in concert with other best-of-breed pure plays, in a greater marketing process.

In contrast, a leader at a large marketing platform provider once told me, “It’s up to us to provide you such a compelling workflow that you’ll want to use us for all these things.” If they can pull it off, that would be pretty powerful, too. But how do these large organizations (with multiple P&Ls) keep up with so many focused, hungry, upstart businesses that benefit from the freedom and flexibility to innovate and iterate outside a corporate approval loop? Platforms offer a whole suite of services on a single stack (and even a single SOW) but can they innovate fast enough to become (and remain) best-in-class?

Yes, I realize there’s no ideal “one size fits all” model, but I probably speak for many agency people and marketers when I wonder if both types of firms know where they’re heading in relation to future marketing processes. So while acknowledging that both pure plays and platforms have their benefits, I ask representatives from each camp, “How does your business model fit into the future of marketing optimization?” Platform providers: How do you plan on closing the gap between your offerings in specific areas and the many hungry pure-play providers? Pure-play specialists: How do you see your product fitting into our workflow, knowing that we’re working with at least a half-dozen other specialty providers?

If you work at one of these firms, please consider this an invitation to pitch your future here (in the comments or in a response column). We agency guys and gals want to learn more.

Image via Shutterstock

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