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The 90/10 Rule of Ad Tech

In a week that saw a high-flyer of Ad Tech sell for a 90 percent discount to its IPO price, I was reminded of a longstanding rule of thumb.

The reminders of that rule are all around me on the consumer tech side – the Apple Watch that sits unused on my nightstand, because I’m too lazy to learn about all the features that might lead it to take up permanent residence on my wrist, the Raspberry Pi that sat in a closet for two years before I figured out it makes an awesome substitute for the NES Classic, the extra buttons on my computer mouse that could save me all sorts of time if I had the motivation to learn how to use them.

“Ninety percent of our users use only ten percent of our features,” was how I heard it described by one of our first clients, a well-known pioneer of Ad Tech that still serves the digital marketing business today with industry-standard tools.

Another reminder of that sad fact hit me yesterday while I was sitting in a training class, learning how to use a new platform.  There, right in front of me, were all the tools needed to put together a well-thought-out retargeting strategy, including ways to dial down the appearance of retargeting ads over time, and a way to avoid displaying those ads to people who already bought the product.

In an era when I can merely glance at something on Amazon and have ads for that product follow me on nearly every content website I visit, even if I already bought it, why does it appear that few marketers take advantage of features that are so obviously built out to address their needs?

There’s that rule of thumb again.

Over the years, I’ve even seen features that were built to address specific needs tossed out, due to underutilization.  Used to be that most ad servers could target anything that came across in a typical http request – including things like the corporate domain someone was accessing the Internet through.  While the past decade has seen sweeping changes to how many people access the Internet at home and at work, if your company was targeting people who work for a specific business, wouldn’t you want to consider bidding on ad inventory coming from the target company’s domain as a potential tactic?

Ask your favorite adops tech whether that capability still exists.  Most of them won’t be able to give you an answer.  Many of them won’t know it was once a staple feature of most ad servers.

That’s one pain point for ad tech companies, particularly those looking for uptake on their platforms – many users learn the basics and rarely take it further.  And in a world where distance learning is no longer wonky, and where power users have created both official and unofficial content to help people become power users, it’s simply inexcusable.

Yet, it’s human nature.  On the consumer tech side, I became a power user of Logic – a music recording and editing package I have on my Mac.  To get there, I used LinkedIn Learning (the former Lynda.com) to get access to courses, instructional videos and even tests to ensure I was absorbing the material.  Later, I decided to try their Microsoft SharePoint class.  Just the first couple hours of the SharePoint course revealed a number of helpful features that could increase productivity, through features that I wouldn’t likely discover on my own through trial and error.

Again, the cues tend to come from the consumer tech side, but when we start to think about inefficiency in Ad Tech, we should also be thinking about all the features that were built out to make things easier for us, but that we’re currently not using because we don’t know they exist.

Commit yourself to taking mental stock of what tools you’re currently using, and thinking about whether you’re a power user or just know the basics.  Maybe take a refresher training course, or delve into a higher-level training than the last one you completed.

You might learn something new that saves you a lot of time, or boosts your effectiveness significantly.

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