Not Every Race is About the Finish Line

How to keep pace with the inevitable shifts of the advertising industry

Courtesy of Pavel1964 / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Pavel1964 / Shutterstock

Our days are more meaningful when we’re chasing difficult, well defined goals. Whether this goal is a business challenge or a milestone in one of our hobbies, there’s common ground for the principles that help us succeed. For those whose hobbies center around distance running, I’d argue that the meaning is rooted in the path along the way and the partners who are by their side much more so than in the finish itself. The same can be said for the rapidly evolving world of advertising technology. In a world where the landscape is continually shifting, we all win more by focusing on the steps we can control than by being overly focused on a destination that’s many twists and turns down the road. That means anticipating all the conditions we possibly can to set ourselves up for the best chance of success.

Recently, a few friends joined me for a run. It was a bit heightened from a usual jog we might set out on together, given that the friends each had a specialized mission in joining me for segments of a particular race – the Leadville 100, one of the world’s most challenging, and therefore most rewarding, ultramarathons – and that I was in the middle of trying to complete the full 100 miles in under 30 hours. A ton of time and thought went into preparing for this race and believe it or not, a lot of the lessons learned while working toward this goal translate to our world of ad tech.

Prepare for the Unexpected

When approaching an ultramarathon, it’s important to set yourself up for every chance of success by setting hard goals, meticulously preparing to succeed, and then keeping an open mindset that the unexpected will happen. As a marketer, taking time upfront to prepare for any situation allows you to stay nimble and get ahead of changes that occur suddenly or unexpectedly.

Advertising is constantly changing as mass personalization becomes standard and the industry looks to new channels to reach and engage with consumers. It can seem daunting to ready your business to meet the challenges of such a dynamic industry. Issues like data quality and user privacy require well thought out action plans. Companies may even find that challenges they worked through in the recent past, such as those surrounding data privacy regulations like GDPR, can come back as advantages later on when new consumer privacy acts are rolled out and companies have already put significant thought into their approach. Advertisers have the right to a fair and transparent open Internet, and technology partners must be proactive in maintaining a diverse advertising economy that promotes innovation and optimizes the user experience first. The right technology partners can help you define and maintain a steady approach to keep making forward progress.

Understand the Journey

Running 100 miles isn’t as straightforward as going for a really long run. It’s a full journey condensed into a period of 16 to 30 hours (depending on how fast you are). Understanding the course is crucial, then translating that into needs. It might mean having specific gear to climb tough terrain or run through overnight temperatures below freezing, or having a specialized nutrition and hydration plan. Even for the same runner, this preparation will look different depending on the course conditions.  

Just as ultrarunners thoughtfully adapt their training and preparation, customers have their own unique journey from awareness to consideration to sale. Whether it’s buying in-store but researching online or shopping via mobile instead of on web—if you treat shoppers all the same way, you risk losing consideration or loyalty. Every marketer needs to understand the customer journey to develop a personalized strategy that will capture today’s conversion and long-term customer value.

The right tactics to reach users during each phase of the customer lifecycle will look just as different as the gear needed to progress through each phase of a 100 mile race: breathable lightweight clothing for morning, sunglasses and a hat for midday sun, layers as day turns to night, a warm rainproof jacket for when evening storms roll through the mountains, and a headlamp to see in the dark overnight. Fall into the trap of thinking one type of gear will suffice from start to finish and you’ll be missing out on opportunity to gain precious ground.

Find the Right Partner

Ultrarunners are allowed to have a partner with them for some portions of long races. This partner is referred to as a “pacer” who accompanies the runner through the toughest parts of the journey. Main purposes of a pacer are to think critically through race tactics for a particular segment, carry gear to lighten the runner’s burden, and guide the runner to gain every advantage. The pacer has no competing goals of his or her own, but rather is entirely focused on helping the runner succeed.

The right technology partner is like a pacer for the ad tech world. This partner will take the time to understand the specific goals you are trying to achieve. Just like no two bodies are the same, no two technology vendors are alike. For example, let’s say I am looking for new sneakers for an upcoming race and have the option of going to a brand-owned store or a distribution retailer. The brand-owned store will give me one or two options regardless of the fit, the terrain I will be running or my overall goal for the race. At the end of the day, their goal is to make a sale. However, the brand agnostic retailer will work with me to find the perfect sneaker based on my individual goals and preferences. They place my values and intended outcomes at the core and then help me get where I need to go.

Enjoy the Path

While shifts in the advertising industry are inevitable, they shouldn’t hold you back from accomplishing your business outcomes. If you can learn to treat the challenges in your path as stepping stones rather than obstacles, you’ll be able to embrace the lessons that result from missteps. A mistake this week might teach you what’s needed to build a stronger advertising stack and future-proof your business in the long term. The journey ahead may have steep climbs and countless summits, but if you prepare for the unexpected, understand the entire customer journey and work with the right partners, you’ll soon hit your stride.

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