The Dangers of Buckets

We’ve got a bad habit as an industry. Perhaps it’s laziness, or perhaps it’s ignorance. More likely, it is our craving for clear shortcuts amid a fragmented and hectic terrain. In our quest to quickly identify where an individual, an ad tech product or service, or even a company fits into the media equation, we tend to force them into buckets with only a quick glance so we can stay on course. Or so we think.

This has been an ongoing challenge for many companies, including buyers and sellers who strive to be flexible for their clients and partners by expanding their offerings while maintaining their core identity and raison d’etre. For example, on the product or inventory side, it may sometimes seem that media planners want to put your company into a bucket for convenience and their client budgets. They’ll say, “Are you a network? An exchange? Are you a DSP? You offer retargeting, right? Just break this down for me.”

For those on the agency side, does the following sound familiar? “So you buy media, right? What do you mean integrated marketing services? You buy banners. What’s your commission? I just want to understand the basis for the “services” fee. What services? You’re just executing my buy, right?”

Mitchell Weinstein, svp, director of ad operations at Universal McCann, recently explained it to me in a way that resonated. There’s a certain level of responsibility on both sides of the table, he said, but “as tempting as it is to put companies into a bucket, it is much better to keep an open mind and take a company’s description for what it’s worth, without comparing it to other vendors in the space. At some point in history, someone had to be the first ad network, DSP, DMP, etc., and had to explain the concept to a perplexed buyer who could not find the right bucket for them. In those cases, the mold was broken.”

In many ways, bucketization is unavoidable. In such a fragmented, intricate, ever-changing marketplace, the urge to simplify and summarize becomes a reflex. It’s daunting to slow down and take the time to truly understand, and we almost involuntarily try to make our own lives easier by dumbing down the madness that is media tech. When faced with this, it’s your own responsibility to slow the train down and educate. But the key is not to over-blow that responsibility and overwhelm the conversation.

It’s important to know the ecosystems and articulate where you fit into the picture. Understand that you are, in fact, part of a system of interrelated parts, and know your own capabilities. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to correct misstatements. Authenticity is key to setting and delivering on (and hopefully exceeding) expectations. And don’t fall back on jargon. Nomenclature is a vital part of any industry, but we must not assume it speaks for itself.

It’s worth remembering that the excitement brought us into this fast-paced, constantly changing industry in the first place. So why in the world should we be lazy or complacent within any of our dealings with each other? There’s no reason to make the person on the other side of the table — and this goes for both buyers and sellers — do all the work to understand the proposition. We must mutually commit to clear expression and understanding, and we need to be authentic in how we lay out our capabilities and the promise of working together.

Christopher Hansen is the president of Netmining, which provides real-time targeting solutions.

Image via Shutterstock

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