Why Ad Tech Companies Need a Data-Driven Product Strategy

Opinion: It’s guaranteed that a data-driven priority list will not mirror any one stakeholder’s top 10

Most of the companies I’ve worked for in advertising and media technology take a top-down approach when deciding what products to green-light. A top executive will come back from a conference jazzed about the latest buzz and call an emergency team meeting. “I know we still need to finish ABC, but we need to jump on XYZ immediately! How soon can we get it done?”

The exec will explain how XYZ is required to “take us to the next level.” They’ll say that if so-and-so releases it first, we’ll be out of business. Any early comment about how resources are already stretched will be met with shouts of, “We’ll hire more people,” or, “We’ll just clone Susan, ha ha ha!” When presented with strong top-down product direction, stakeholders tend to fall in line and rally around the ideas presented by leadership. We all want to please the boss.

Even when a more measured, less-reactive product review is conducted, shiny new things get disproportionate time and attention. Less-glamorous ideas are given short shrift or ignored altogether. Enhancements to existing systems take a back seat to new efforts.

While a top-down product directive is better than a total lack of vision, it can lead to wasted resources and team whiplash. It’s also possible that innovation is eating into potential revenue and vanity projects are negatively affecting your bottom line.

Why not put the hottest ideas to the test and see who’s right about top priorities? If your organization’s leadership is plugged into the company and industry, many of their top-down ideas will bubble up. But it’s guaranteed that a data-driven priority list will not mirror any one stakeholder’s top 10.

By following the data-driven process outlined here, your team will be fully invested in the outcomes and excited to be part of a shared vision. Here’s how it works:

Stakeholders—the ‘who’

First you must identify a group of leaders who can speak for key constituencies within your organization. This often involves the heads of sales, business development, tech, client services, partnerships, marketing, finance, legal, etc. These folks comprise your product strategy team and should be fully engaged in the prioritization process. They must actively solicit ideas from their respective groups and come into the process prepared to articulate a strong point of view.

Ideas—the ‘what’

Bring your product strategy team together for a conference. Lock everyone in a room for as long as it takes, and don’t let them out until there is a complete list of every possible product feature or idea.

At this stage, there’s no debating priority or pitting one idea against another. There are no bad ideas, and the goal is to get everything out in the open.

It sounds crazy at first, but most of us come to the table with lists of projects already in motion, a backlog of ideas on hold and some out-of-the-box concepts we’ve been mulling over.

The discussion can be facilitated by functional area, systems/subsystems, roles, organization structure—whatever works best for your group. The result is a firm list of ideas and a shared understanding of each goal and potential scope. Even after exploring the outliers—“Why don’t we shift gears and get into a completely different core business?”—each participant will eventually agree that all of their ideas have been captured.

Ranking factors—the ‘why’

Now you must choose four to eight ranking factors that speak to the needs of your organization. Consider what matters most when allocating resources this quarter. Time savings and efficiency? Revenue from new and existing clients? Competitive necessity? These will form the basis of your survey of stakeholders, with participants ranking each factor on a five-point scale.