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The allure of ad technology is simply the promise that, at long last, we can present the right online ad, with the right message, to the right person. For the right price.

Big Data lets us identify audiences more accurately, calculate their value, and send them customized messages instantly. This is a boon to marketers and publishers.

But it has also become something of a headache.

The crowded field of players is frustrating to navigate. And because marketers are now under pressure to reorient their strategy toward targeted, data-driven customers, they have to actually understand all of the new ad technologies out there.

“No one can afford not to know the technology, because it’s technology and analytics together that will determine if the process is working,” says Ed Montes, CEO of Digilant, a marketing technology company.

Many of the ad technology companies are training media buyers to use to use their management platform and then analyze and bid on their own.

“Teaching people to fish is better for the ecosystem than selling fish,” says Brian O’Kelley, CEO of AppNexus, a large ad exchange.

An understanding of technology is also essential for publishers who want to be paid what they are worth. Only by understanding the technology can a publisher give marketers valuable specifics such as when and where an ad was posted, and the demographics and geographical distribution of the people who viewed it.

“The thing I hear from a lot of people is that the situation would be a lot better if the system were a lot simpler—more transparent about who does what, who gets paid what for what, and who contributes what looks like success,” says Tom Hespos, founder of Underscore Marketing, which develops, manages, and measures media programs for health and wellness brands.

Ultimately, marketers and publishers want to maximize ROI on advertising. And now they have tools of which previous generations of ad men and women could only dream.

But the trick is to understand how the ad technology industry can translate the digital breadcrumbs left by consumers into real-world results.

Navigating Planet Ad Tech is a new report that breaks down and demystifies the players in the ad technology sector, clearly communicating their value propositions, business models, and histories to help marketers ask the right questions.

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