What the hell is the difference between ad tech and marketing tech?

Though most advertising and marketing pros won't admit it, a cloud of confusion surrounds the terms 'ad tech' and 'marketing tech.' In search of clarity, we queried a number of experts for their insights on the conundrum.

What is advertising technology? What is marketing tech? Do the terms overlap, and why should ad or marketing professionals care?

"Ad tech and marketing tech are like peanut butter and chocolate," says Jake Sorofman, research vice president at Gartner. "Ad tech targets anonymous audiences, while marketing tech generally targets known customers."

If only it were all that simple. The fact is all of the minute differences between ad tech and marketing tech aren't as important as what the technologies actually do. However, endless confusion on the topic exists in the tech and media markets. And while the definitions of the two terms aren't always clear-cut, some important divisions exist.

In an effort to chop through the mental fog that sometimes surrounds ad and marketing tech, we asked industry analysts, marketers and vendors for their takes on the differences between the two technologies.

What is marketing technology?

The tools that manage marketing processes, workflows, digital content and customer analytics are all part of the marketing technology ecosystem, according to Carl Doty, vice president and group director at Forrester Research.

Adam Kleinberg, CEO of advertising agency Traction, describes marketing tech as advanced CRM. Marketing tech targets existing customers and prospects that marketers already have on the hook, he says. "Sometimes you know who they are and sometimes they are just someone you've 'cookied,' but you have them in a database, you have a record of some degree of past behavior, and you can provide them with customized communications based on that."

Marketing tech covers all aspects of marketing, including CRM platforms, creative, design, SEO and even ad tech, according to Mike Rosner, chief revenue officer at Forensiq, an ad fraud detection and protection company. "Marketing tech is basically the creative, understanding the customer and [the] data science around optimization," he says.

What is advertising technology?

Technologies that enable the programmatic buying and selling of advertisements are commonly referred to as ad tech, according to Doty. The ad tech umbrella covers the vast databases of digital identities called demand-side platforms, and data management platforms, or the ad networks and exchanges that publishers use to sell their digital ad space, he says.

Ad tech lets organizations hone their focus on specific groups or individuals, according to Kleinberg. "If buying TV was like a nuclear bomb and buying websites was like a shotgun, then using ad tech is supposed to be like having a sniper rifle," Kleinberg says. "There are a lot of problems with the scope on that sniper rifle, but that's the general idea."

The full foundation of ad tech is somewhat shaky considering the problems it can cause, Kleinberg says, who likens the tech to robots buying media. "Robots run on software. Software runs on logic. Logic has rules, and rules are made to be broken. This is why there is so much waste and fraud in the space."

The irony, of course, is that ad tech can potentially eliminate huge amounts of wasted ad spending, particularly with direct-response marketing, according to Kleinberg.

Combined 'marketing and ad stack' confounds confusion

Large marketing cloud vendors such as Adobe and Oracle acquired ad tech companies and integrated the features into their own products to build a "full marketing and advertising stack," a trend that's expected to continue, Doty says. "What's happening in the market now is a consolidation across these categories."

For this reason, ad tech and marketing tech are in some ways one and the same. They share commonalities, and much of the confusion over the difference relates to the fact that advertising is the most visible form of marketing, according to Vish Sastry Rachakonda, CEO of digital marketing firm iQuanti.

"[Ad tech and marketing tech] are both broadly based terms used to describe an assortment of technologies and data sources" and "they are both fundamentally aimed at reaching the right audience with the right message at the right time and place," Kleinberg says.

The overlap occurs in the use of customer, or potential-customer, data for single interactions versus long-term strategy, according to Rosner. The struggle over ownership of that data, and how it should be used, is largely responsible for the confusion that hangs over ad tech and marketing tech, he says. "If data equals power, who owns it amongst the key stakeholders: CTOs, CIOs, CMOs?"

As long as this question remains unanswered, the overall value and effectiveness of both ad and marketing tech will remain at issue.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

Conversations over a cuppa with CMO: Craig Davis

​Leadership resilience, startups scaling up, marketing best practices, customer insights - these are just a few of the topics we manage to explore in the latest episode of Conversations over a Cuppa with CMO featuring Craig Davis.

More Videos

Good day sir / madamWe CLOSED JOINT-STOCK COMPANY AO KAYUM NEFT OIL COMPANY is one of theleading Oil & Gas trading companies in Russi...

BARYBKIN ALEXANDER ALEXANDROVI

3-pronged marketing approach for property disruptor Brickx

Read more

Good day sir / madamWe CLOSED JOINT-STOCK COMPANY AO KAYUM NEFT OIL COMPANY is one of theleading Oil & Gas trading companies in Russi...

BARYBKIN ALEXANDER ALEXANDROVI

Oath to fully acquire Yahoo7 from Seven West Media

Read more

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Definitely bookmarked for future reading! Check this website https://a2designlab.com/ with lots of ...

Ryota Miyagi

Brene Brown: What it takes to be a brave leader right now

Read more

Well said! It is high time to look into the cultural values and beliefs of the audience before serving with the ads. If it is against the...

Praveen Kumar

The X factor in multicultural media planning and buying - Digital advertising - CMO Australia

Read more

I completely agree with you. High-quality customer service only strengthens loyalty to the company and helps to increase sales and increa...

Natali

Mercer CMO: How B2B brands can achieve customer love

Read more

Blog Posts

Life beyond the cookie: 5 steps to mapping the future of marketing measurement

​There’s no denying there’s been a whirlwind of response to the imminent demise of the third-party cookie from all parts of the industry. But as we’ve collectively come to better understand the implications, it’s clear this change is giving the digital advertising industry the opportunity to re-think digital marketing to support core industry use cases, while balancing consumer privacy.

Natalie Stanbury

Director of research, IAB Australia

Ensuring post-crisis success

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed brands’ CX shortcomings and a lack of customer understanding. Given ongoing disruption, customer needs, wants and expectations are continually changing, also causing customers to behave in different ways. Just look at hoarding toilet paper, staple and canned food, medicinal and cleaning products.

Riccardo Pasto

senior analyst, Forrester

A few behavioural economics lesson to get your brand on top of the travel list

Understanding the core principles of Behavioural Economics will give players in the travel industry a major competitive advantage when restrictions lift and travellers begin to book again. And there are a few insights in here for the rest of the marketing community, too.

Dan Monheit

Co-founder, Hardhat

Sign in