By James Moore

MarTech is teeming with acronyms and buzzwords, but media buyers beware: some terms mean different things to different people. James Moore, CRO of, teaches businesses to improve their sales processes — and buyers to improve their decision-making — by watching out for five MarTech buzzwords with multiple or misleading meanings.

Martech vendors are in an ongoing dogfight to create a box they can call their own in the LUMAscape. Thousands of companies are competing for media buyers’ time and dollars. Each company is staffed with engineers perpetually sprinting to generate something new, while also responding to some capability their competitor already offers as table stakes.

These vendors are competing to appeal to brand and agency decision makers with increasingly shrinking bandwidth and low tolerances for lengthy sales conversations. In her best-selling book “SNAP Selling,” author Jill Konrath explains that sales reps are contending with “Frazzled Customer Syndrome.” Decision makers are busy, demanding and easily distracted. They don’t have time for the multi-visit, consultative sales process of yesteryear. This approach has been replaced with rapid-fire sales calls. And in the interest of efficiency, complex technology concepts have been packaged into pithy sound bites, otherwise known as buzzwords.

But these concepts are too nuanced to be adequately summarized with a word or two. Buyers might think they understand what a sales rep is talking about, but since these buzzwords have many meanings, they may not understand what they are being sold. Thus, the entire industry needs to be wary of pervasive buzzwords and their tendency to lead to misunderstanding. With that, I present you five multi-meaning martech buzzwords too often used with reckless abandon. 

1. Premium

Often, “premium” is code for “watch your checkbook because this is going to cost a lot.” In digital, the term is used to refer to the caliber of the advertising opportunity. A premium ad was once defined as a highly-trafficked or well-respected publisher on a certain page or at a certain time. But as marketers gained access to more data, the definition of premium changed.

Today, “premium” should be less about the cache of a distribution channel and more about the results an ad delivers. In data-driven marketing, “premium” means reaching a user who has exhibited strong signals of intent, at the right time and with the most persuasive message. Buyers and sellers alike need to realize that performance determines what is and is not premium advertising, and that premium advertising should deliver a competitive ROI. This runs counterintuitive to many buyers’ assumptions that premium warrants higher CPMs based on the content being viewed alone.

2. Transparent

Now here is a fan favorite. Many companies brand themselves as transparent, meaning honest and forthright. But what does the word mean when it is used to define part of the digital advertising process? Does it mean a vendor takes full accountability for where each and every impression is delivered? Is it the antithesis of the black box that is prepackaged data segments? Or perhaps it refers to pricing and making sure a buyer knows how every penny of each dollar spent is allocated.

Transparency could also mean being upfront about which solutions are your own and which are white-labeled from other vendors. I am not saying we can’t use this word. I am saying it always warrants elaboration—otherwise, it is at odds with the openness it suggests.

3. Proprietary, Unique or Exclusive

Sure, many publishers clinging to old-school direct sales models, or to the digital version of these old-school networks—private marketplaces and deal IDs—have the right to call their inventory proprietary and unique. But when people use these terms to describe data, it makes me giggle. Even if it is true, companies often have trouble scaling first-party data and end up blending it with other sources via audience expansion tactics and lookalike targeting. And have you ever seen a report that indicates which data point within a multi-variable algorithm tipped the scale and caused the technology to serve each and every impression? In other words, what role does that exclusive data really play?

This claim is also hard to prove—or disprove. There is no third-party validation system for confirming if data is exclusive or not. My point is, the p-word that matters is “performance.” Most serious marketers want the data that drives performance regardless of origin.

4. Platform

Most of us understand a platform as a group of technologies that serve as a foundation upon which applications can be built. But to illustrate the breadth of questions this term elicits, one needs to look no further than the world of demand-side platforms (DSPs). What makes a DSP a DSP? Does it need to run on proprietary technology, or does it qualify as a DSP even if it is built upon white-labeled tech? Does the pricing model of a DSP require complete pricing transparency for technology, service, media and data or does any level of arbitrage make you an automated ad network? It’s America so I suppose anyone can call themselves a platform.

“Platform” is part and parcel of another widely-interpreted concept: managed services versus self-service. What constitutes a self-service platform? Does it mean users can log in anytime to pull reports, or that they are solely responsible for executing their marketing buys? Every customer I have ever asked in the last decade has had a different definition of self-service—no two were the same. So sellers, don’t use this term and assume prospects know what you are describing. And buyers, whenever you hear this phrase, dig deeper.

5. Cross-channel

While we are at it, let’s include “omnichannel” in this category, too. Both are terms people use with confidence, yet they can be interpreted in different ways. In digital, cross-channel can mean across devices, across creative formats or both. It can also mean you are advertising across digital and non-digital channels. Ask 10 cross-channel platforms for an in-depth description of what they do and you will get 10 different answers. Trust me, I have done it.

Bonus buzzword for 2019: CTV

Seriously, are there any terms more debated and misused than CTV & OTT? In their video guide, the IAB and the MRC both define OTT as a streaming video experience within the confines of a television screen. This means the same streaming experience occurring on smaller screens such as a smartphone, tablet or computer are considered CTV. This definition has been embraced by virtually every supply-side ad exchange. However, I have lost count of how many articles and vendor materials inverse these terms while referring to the opposite definition.

I think we all know what happens when an industry as big and fragmented as ours unofficially adopts a definition: we all say different things. And it doesn’t stop at streaming video content. Vendors have adopted their own explanations of CTV itself. (For the record, I think we should agree to use “big screen” and “small screen” when talking about video inventory.)A

When buyers, sellers, and everyone in between are unaligned on what words mean, there will inevitably be problems. Buyers may be frazzled, but it is in everyone’s best interest to avoid whitewashing the above concepts. They always warrant explanation.