Today’s Ad Platform Dilemma: If You Built It, Will They Come?

If you're like most digital marketing agencies today, you'll start by servicing your clients’ advertising directly in the respective search engines (AdWords, Bing Ads Editor, Facebook Ads Manager). As your agency grows it's client base and Strategists team size, it becomes clear that it is not scalable to continue to grow and operate in this fashion. It is at this point that you'll be faced with the unavoidable fork in the road of whether to build an ad platform internally or partner with a platform provider.

The end goal of build vs partner is similar. You're seeking an effective, scalable solution that allows your Strategists to service your clients’ needs and stay focused on strategy without being overwhelmed by tedious tasks. But the road to that destination can be a bit muddled with misconceptions, an underestimation of time and effort, and budget requirements.

Let’s break down both scenarios:

Option 1: Build

The appeal of building proprietary software to differentiate yourself from your competitors is alluring. All you’ll need to do is hire a handful of uniquely smart, talented engineers and you’ll have this thing built in a couple of months. From that point forward, you’ll operate your business smoothly and no competitor in your space will be able to touch you.

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t work this way.

Building a sophisticated advertising platform is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking. Even in the best of circumstances, you’d have to hire 2-3 engineering scrum teams (assuming you can find the right talent), and dedicate 2-3 years for Version 1 release. And by that time, you’ll have missed the window to service your clients effectively, and your competitors will have leap-frogged you in market share.

The less obvious complication is that an ad platform is never finished being built. Search Engines and social channels continue to evolve by adding new ad formats, layouts, channels, etc. And the infrastructure of the platform must be sound and constantly up to date for anything to function properly. So, now that you’ve dedicated a massive amount of time and money into building a platform, you’ve also inadvertently transformed your company from a digital agency into a software company in perpetuity.

Option 2: Find a Partner

Deciding to partner is a heavy strategic decision, and deciding with whom to partner is even more of a commitment. The key to growing and scaling your business rests squarely on the shoulders of how well your team operates, and a good ad platform will empower operational excellence.

There are a lot of excellent tried and trued platforms, but not all ad platforms are created equally. We’ve put together some questions that we recommend all agencies consider when selecting the right partner:

  • Does your agency service a low volume of high spending accounts, or a high volume of low spending accounts (SMBs)? (This question has massive implications and is probably the most important item to unlock the right partner.)
  • How will the ad platform help your company grow and scale?
  • Does the ad platform have an open API to empower your technical teams?
  • What are the 3-5 most powerful components to your ad platform and how does that align with your needs?
  • Does your agency have incremental or hyper aggressive growth goals?
  • Will your ad platform help you sell more, faster?
  • How will the ad platform differentiate your agency from competitors?
  • How long would it take you to launch 500 accounts on the new ad platform? How about 5000?
  • Are your client-to-analyst ratios going to improve?
  • How long will it take to install and train your staff on the new ad platform?

Understanding your options in how to scale your business and service your clients is critical for today’s digital marketing agencies. Making a poor or uninformed choice can cost you and your clients time, money and market share.

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