By David de Jong, CEO of Screen6
In the ad tech industry, we spend a lot of time talking to ourselves. Our industry tends to congregate at a series of events throughout the year — Advertising Week, Dmexco, Cannes, and a half a dozen others — and everyone’s “must attend” list is eerily similar.
That’s a problem. This traveling ad tech roadshow tends to become a repetition of the same people, events, and conversations. It is taking a toll on our businesses, as well as the innovation of our industry. Here’s why:
The Same Ideas, the Same Opinions
The topics discussed and the opinions presented during the annual roster of ad tech events are disturbingly unchanging. This year, it’s all about GDPR, fraud, and ads.txt. Next year, some of these topics will shift, and some will remain the same. But in general, it’s a corporate version of the movie “Groundhog Day.” The same people. The same conversations. Rinse. Repeat. As an industry, we’re spending a lot of time not only talking to ourselves but also talking about the same topics in the same way.
Stifled Innovation in the Echo Chamber
Perhaps worse than the repetition in our industry conversations is the fact that, when attending ad tech events, we’re among like-minded individuals. In terms of advancing our industry, this is a terrible recipe for innovation. We might talk about potential remedies for already publicized industry problems, but we’re unlikely to willingly reveal new ones where truly novel concepts are required. After all, that could be uncomfortable. We have to be willing to challenge our own industry’s standard practices as being insufficient.
We’re Ignoring the Voices That Matter Most
In addition to spending too much time among ad tech colleagues, we’re missing opportunities to talk to the people who matter most: the clients. Brand and agency marketers are the people whose opinions and pain points might actually challenge our products and services and point out new opportunities for innovation—but we forget to ask for these kinds of insights.
We might consider tried-and-true companies like airlines or food producers to be stagnant and boring compared to our own. But we forget that these companies innovate, too. They’ve done so to a point that their mistakes—a plane malfunction, a product recall—are the rare exceptions, rather than an accepted underlying current. Considering the fact that we’ve willingly shrugged aside widespread inefficiency and inaccuracy for years, it would appear we might not be the most enlightened and advanced industry out there.
Breaking Out of the Echo Chamber
As ad tech executives, we need to break out of our echo chamber if we are to progress as individual companies and an industry as a whole. We need to have the tough conversations with our clients. We need to ask where we’re failing and where their needs are not being met. We must inject that line of questioning into our routine check-in calls and deliver the received insights back to our internal organizations. After all, it’s in our areas of failure where the true opportunities for innovation exist.
Instead of filling out a travel calendar of “must attend” industry events, we need to look beyond our own walls and go to unexpected places. Attend a leading airline industry conference. Be present at a food manufacturer expo. Go places where no one in the room knows or necessarily cares who you are. Learn and be inspired by unlikely people and insights. And then bring that inspiration back to your own company and our industry at large. We need it.