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The rapidly moving ad tech landscape is filled with great ideas, false promises and a massive waste of time and money for marketers. For years, marketers pieced together different point solutions out of fear of putting all their eggs in one basket and as a natural result of vendor relationships and personal preferences. Frankenstein’s monster quickly emerged as marketers stitched together a data onboarder, DMP and DSP along with other necessary technologies including cross-device graphs, dynamic creative engines and attribution software.

A reliance on point solutions usually comes from one of two actors. Marketers either rely on their creative or media agency, who uses several solutions themselves, or they attempt to build a best-in-breed tech stack in-house. Both come with limitations and impact business. Working through an agency requires marketer’s to put their digital media buying in the hands of potentially inexperienced operators. The result is inefficient media buying compounded by inaccurate program measurement.  In-house, DIY tech solutions are usually driven by the aspiration of control and cost transparency. Some of the world’s most recognizable brands are making a push into the DIY space, letting hubris get the best of them; unfortunately, it’s a decision that usually ends poorly due to the failure to understand ad technology, how to run it, its limitations and how fast it changes. Hidden costs are not accounted for and there is rarely enough expertise in-house integrate and optimize these solutions.

The DIY approach is like buying an Indy Car. For the right amount of money, anyone can buy an expensive race car, but without a skilled driver, expert mechanics and savvy pit crew, you will never win races. Unfortunately, I’ve met with hundreds of marketers who make similar mistakes. It’s led them down, what I call, the 18-month “Road of Regret.” It starts with marketers’ desire to improve their digital media buying but goes awry from the start as they turn to agencies or their own solutions. Travelling down the road—along the timeline of procurement, integration, deployment—marketers realize tech implementation and media buying optimization is hard without the right driver or crew. In my experience, it takes 18 months of unrealized cost savings and a lack of efficiency before a marketer is willing to raise a white flag.

Save yourself from sputtering down the road. Consider the following five areas when making your technology decisions to assure success for your company and marketing teams.

  1. Identify and select a people-based solution. Vet solutions that are industry-leading in people-based identity resolution. You’ll want to identify solutions that offer a robust cross-device graph, that can deterministically match and reach real people (not just cookies) at scale and maintain persistence.
  2. Anything other than real-time digital marketing is unacceptable. Don’t settle for batch-driven digital media buying.  Find solutions that align identification to rich profiles that are updated in real time and are leveraging real-time artificial intelligence and machine learning to deploy dynamic creative in real time.
  3. Don’t fall for the easy integration hype. Don’t let software companies sell you the promise of easy integration.  Remember, they win when you sign the contract; you do not.  Find solutions that are outcome-based and are tied to your success from Day One.
  4. Understand total cost of ownership. Don’t fall for the consulting study that convinces you that it’s cheaper to build a solution yourself.  Media costs are just one of many expenses.  Factor in the total return on marketing investment (ROMI), which includes software, support, people, time, attrition, expertise, technology advancements.  Is this where you want to become an expert or do you want to rely on experts to execute your strategies?
  5. Don’t trust the “experts.” Be careful with agencies that offer their own trading desks and analysts who tell you which solutions to buy. As with any solution, do your homework to verify their claims or recommendations. Assume positive intent, but remember, their success may not be aligned with your own.

It’s a natural tendency to want to work with past partners or build your own solution. Both options provide a sense of familiarity that is often reassuring when you’re dealing with the massive undertaking that is digital marketing. What’s more, DIY solutions offer the promise of total control and ownership of your technology and data—and some degree of proprietary value—if successful.  However, as is the case with any venture, things may not always go as planned. That’s the entry point to the Road of Regret. Whether or not you make that journey is up to you.

This post originally appeared in Martech Advisor.

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