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Martech vs Adtech: How to Understand Each and Become the Master of Both

Feb 19, 202410 min read
Stepan Krokhmal
Stepan Krokhmal, AdTech Writer
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Like Dante & Vergil, Batman & Superman, or Poland & Ukraine, martech and adtech are definitely not rivals, more like allies each with their own destination.

The confusion between the two is understandable – a regular web user rarely thinks about the difference between advertising and marketing. Both are “something related to ads,” so they use both terms interchangeably. Today, we’re here not only to enlighten you on the basics but also to analyze martech vs. adtech in their definitions, tech stacks, and practical use. Hop in; it’s theory time!

Advertising vs. Marketing = Adtech vs Martech?

To understand the difference between adtech and martech, we’ll need to dwell upon the fundamental question: “Where does the line between advertising and marketing go?”

Advertising is a process of buying advertisements to promote your business. Yep, once you start buying ad placements (slots for sponsored content) on various media channels, you are essentially advertising. Choosing the correct ad formats, paying the best price for them and measuring their performance – these are the tasks in advertising.

On the other hand, marketing means finding what people want and selling it to them. Unique selling propositions, buyer personas, and correct channels are all points of a marketing strategy.

Marketing is a much broader term; in theory, advertising is a subset of marketing activities. But it really depends on the task at hand.

To explain adtech/martech in simpler terms, just imagine we’re in an old-school samurai movie.

Now think of the advertising as the quality of your katana and how well you deal with strikes with it, whereas consider marketing to be your combat strategy, knowledge of your foe, and the fights you choose to participate in.

The first (advertising) doesn’t make sense without the second (marketing), and the second is useless without the first.

Blade of advertising

With that knowledge, it should be easier to understand the premise behind adtech vs martech.

What Is Ad Tech?

Speaking of martech/adtech, they have different tasks at hand.

The goal of adtech is to make the purchasing/selling ad placements as simple, profitable, and effective as it can get, as well as to set up, launch and manage advertising campaigns.

The difference between adtech and martech is that the former mostly concentrates on the relationships between:

  • Advertisers – people who buy ads to promote their product/service/business (the demand side);
  • Publishers – people who generate revenue with ads on their content resources (the supply side);

However, the user list doesn’t end with advertisers and publishers. Ad agencies and ad networks also require adtech stack for their businesses to thrive.

Since this whole blog is a large love letter to ad tech, the following information will echo most of our content, so don’t be afraid of multiple hyperlinks and speedrunning of complex terminology. If you want to know more about each adtech solution – just check the Epom blog.

What Is Adtech Software?

As mentioned, at its core, adtech is used for buying/selling ads. Consequently, it also helps to optimize your ad spending and make the most of your monetization models.

The stack consists of:

Demand-side platform / DSP

Okay, let’s do it one more time.

A demand-side platform is the software used to buy ad inventory from multiple supply sources automatically and optimize this process to achieve better results. A DSP is an advertiser’s center of operation in programmatic ad buying.

What is programmatic? In short, it is an auction-based process allowing to automatically buy and sell ad placements. It happens in real-time (in +- 100 milliseconds) via automated bidding with the help of real-time bidding protocols like OpenRTB.

Programmatic auction

Like most software in adtech/martech, if you want to work with a software provider (and you generally do because in-housing is difficult), a demand-side platform requires a subscription. However, in the case of a DSP, there’s also a free option. The difference is the following:

Self-serve DSP

A self-serve DSP is a free tool that has the most basic functionality of its big brothers. Of course, it loses to a white-label DSP in terms of traffic choice, customization, cost-effectiveness and so on. However, the platform is still a good option for beginners in programmatic.

White-label DSP

A white-label DSP is a DSP created and supported by a provider that lets you use it as if it were your own. To not dwell hard on details, we mean UI customization, custom traffic choice, role permissions, and a variety of features. A white-label DSP is a great balance, evading the rawness of a self-serve DSP and the hardships of creating your own platform.

The rabbit hole goes much deeper, but for your sake, let’s continue with adtech vs. martech.

Supply-side platform / SSP

Simply put, a supply-side platform is a multitool similar to a DSP that exists for publishers. The platform lets them sell, manage, and optimize their ad inventory to have the best prices for it.

In a programmatic auction, it is the SSP that offers the audience data to DSPs, thus starting the bidding process. Both platforms are like autonomous agents that let publishers and advertisers sell and buy ads quickly.

Ad server

Programmatic media buying is efficient and easy to use, but it has one major flaw – you (as an advertiser or publisher) never know where the purchased ad placement will show up.

That’s why we have direct media buying. Think of it as a more “premium” buying method, where the advertiser and publisher “discuss” where and which ad goes where.

This all happens with the help of an ad server – a web server that hosts information about ads and delivers them to digital platforms. In the past, an ad server was the only tool to buy & sell ads, and throughout the years, it has changed a lot.

In addition to campaign optimization, modern ad servers can even support OpenRTB and act as SSPs. Ad servers come in many different forms and differ depending on:

  • User’s access to placements (1st-party vs 3rd-party vs unified);
  • Creative type (display/video/rich media/mobile/native);
  • Source code (open-source vs hosted ad server);

Ad exchange

The ad exchange is a digital marketplace in programmatic auctions. Think of it as a platform where the publisher’s platform (SSP) sells ad placements to the advertiser’s platform (DSP).

The ad exchange pulls the info on the bidders that suit the publisher’s website, matches their audience, and uses that information to distribute the ad inventory at a certain price.

Ad exchange interconnections

What Is the Strategy of AdTech?

Now for the quintessence of martech vs. adtech comparison, how and when do you use the latter?

As we’ve figured out from the tech stack, the ad tech is primarily used for paid ad campaigns. Its primary goal is to reach new and unknown audiences; however, you can use advertising at different parts of the sales funnel.

Likewise, if we’re talking about targeting (cookies are still alive at the point of writing), as an advertiser, you mainly operate with third-party data. But there’s nothing stopping you from partnering with first/second-party data providers and perfecting your reach options.

As an advertiser, you primarily work with media buying channels like:

  • Display advertising
  • Video
  • Mobile
  • Native
  • Pay-per-click
  • Over-the-top (OTT)
  • Connected TV (CTV)
  • Digital out of Home (DOOH)

Now that it’s dealt with, let’s concentrate on the second participant in the adtech and martech match.

What Is Martech?

Martech is the software that you use to identify your audience, their needs, and how to satisfy them with your product/pricing.

Like with adtech, both advertisers and publishers can use marketing tools. However, this time, it’s not about “How do I buy/sell ads at the best price,” it’s more about “How do I make my product/platform more appealing to the user?”

What Is Martech Software?

Since marketing is such a broad term, it also implies a broad, like really broad, range of tech. Seriously, by definition, data analytics tools, content creation software, and even adtech are all “marketing technology.”

Martech stack

It would be impossible to cover each and every ingredient of this digital soup, so don’t be mad if we miss out on your favorite.

Customer relationship management / CRM

We have a weird feeling that in 2024, even people absolutely detached from the martech and adtech world have heard of the term CRM at least once.

And there’s nothing surprising about it. CRM is the ultimate tool to manage, record, and interact with customer data to lead your customers at every step of the sales funnel. A refined CRM unifies:

  • Campaign management – finding and developing quality leads by automating events and email campaigns;
  • Sales – creating reports and analytics that help effectively use audience data (user profiles that contain demographics, engagement, and purchase history);
  • Customer service – recording the customer’s actions, interacting with the customers, and creating their profiles.

Content management system / CMS

A content management system is software that lets marketers create, update, manage, and optimize content on the website/app without coding. It’s an effective instrument for A/B testing or quick edits on the website when your front-end developer is on vacation.

A CMS tool consists of two parts:

  • Content management application (CMA) – lets you add and manage site content;
  • Content delivery application (CDA) – backend princess that takes CMA inputs and makes them visible on the resource.

SEO tools

A search engine optimization tool is any software that improves a website's visibility on different search engines like Google. Just like “marketing,” SEO is quite a broad term, and the variety of tools in this area is huge.

What are the exact functions of this software? With SEO tools, you can:

  • Generate thematic keywords;
  • Check/change keyword difficulty;
  • Evaluate webpage performance;
  • Add title tags/meta description/OG tags/ meta tags to your webpages;
  • Detect SEO issues;
  • Find email addresses for link outreach;
  • Generate sitemaps.

Web analytics tool

As the name suggests, a web analytics tool is software that lets marketers analyze customer behavior on their website. This includes reporting, reviewing, and tracking of data.

Which data? Traffic sources, page views, conversion rates, and referring sites – web analytics tracks them all. Naturally, when you have a large piece of compiled data, you have to make use of it. The best option is integrating your web analytics tool with your CRM.

What Is the Strategy of Martech?

As we’ve concluded, martech and adtech are pieces of the same pie. So yes, besides advertising, the goals of a marketing strategy can be summed up by three main tasks:

  • Overall strategy implementation;
  • Automating routine processes;
  • Reaching/re-engaging with the client base.

That’s why the “channels,” in this case, are not specific and focused as in adtech. We mean:

  • Social media
  • Email
  • Conversational marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Video marketing

As we’ve mentioned at the beginning, the strategy, in this case, is the way you view the battlefield, but that’s not all there is to it.

Adtech vs. Martech. Can They Work Together?

Yes, they can, and they should! Before the final dose of explanations, let’s summarize all the established differences between adtech and martech.

AdTech MarTech
Purpose purchasing/selling ad placements, managing ad campaigns dealing with a huge variety of promotion/management tasks
Channels Display, video, PPC, CTV, OTT, etc. Social media, email, direct sales, conversational marketing, video/content marketing
Targeting Usually based on 3rd-party data, unknown recipients. 1st/2nd party can be obtained Usually based on 1st party data, identified user profiles
Pricing Fixed monthly fee, ad spend commission, bid markups Fixed monthly or yearly fee
Users Advertisers, ad agencies, website owners, app developers, ad networks Marketing teams, sales teams, freelance advertisers
Tech stack examples Ad server, demand-side platform, supply-side platform Customer relationship management tool, content management system, web analytics software

Every element of this table (except, maybe, for pricing) is a crucial piece of the adtech/martech puzzle. By now, you’ve probably understood how interconnected both spheres are; well, if you want to master both elements – cement your knowledge on both tech stacks.

Wrapping Up

As detailed as we got with the differences between adtech and martech if you’ve read carefully – you’ve got our point. Whether it’s thanks to the fact that the adtech is (technically) a part of the martech or overlapping software for both, like data management platforms – the line is blurry.

If you want your business to thrive, you surely have to understand the differences. But what’s even more important is that you can’t neglect both adtech and martech.

We hope that this article gives you fresh air of enlightenment. Don’t forget, we provide both white-label DSP and the ad server – the essentials in the adtech industry!

Stay on top of adtech with Epom programmatic solutions!

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