Help, I’m Trapped in a Walled Garden! Five Common Pitfalls of Walled Gardens


I’m wild about musi­cals. At least four or five times a year, you’ll find me in the queue out­side the Lyceum, the Prince Edward, or anoth­er West End the­atre. One thing I love about musi­cals is the feel­ing that you’ve entered a world where every­thing is big­ger and brighter, where every­thing you could pos­si­bly want or need at that moment is right there, with­in easy reach. The the­atre-going expe­ri­ence is a trick of sorts, though. Once you cross the thresh­old, you’re their cap­tive. Drinks, sweets, and sou­venirs are all read­i­ly available—but for a steep price. And don’t you dare try bring­ing in your own treats—they’ll stop you at the door.

Mar­keters increas­ing­ly find them­selves in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. Con­sumers’ atten­tion is frag­ment­ed as nev­er before, but many brands are drawn to the ser­vices offered by a sin­gle plat­form (a social net­work or con­tent-shar­ing engine, for exam­ple), because they promise con­ve­nience and a huge audi­ence, but there’s a cost—they wind up relin­quish­ing most of their con­trol over the user’s expe­ri­ence and the con­tent with­in that space. These “walled gar­dens” restrict third-par­ty com­pa­nies from oper­at­ing on their net­works, lim­it­ing the data and ana­lyt­ics that mar­keters can access to track the effec­tive­ness of their cam­paigns. It can neg­a­tive­ly affect a brand’s bot­tom line.

Brand Safe­ty
Once in a walled gar­den, any infor­ma­tion about what an adver­tis­er gets for its mon­ey is con­trolled sole­ly by the walled gar­den plat­form. Brands are forced to rely on the infor­ma­tion that plat­form pro­vides, unable to ver­i­fy it inde­pen­dent­ly because of the pro­hi­bi­tion on third-par­ty data analy­sis or ver­i­fi­ca­tion, to mon­i­tor their ads.

That means brands vie for reach and engage­ment, which becomes prob­lem­at­ic when small brands are pit­ted against Inter­net giants, or pre­mi­um, or paid content.

Inter­rupt­ed Mar­ket­ing Messages
The pow­er of pro­gram­mat­ic is that it offers increas­ing­ly sig­nif­i­cant cre­atives to a sin­gle user. Whether you choose to apply sequen­tial mes­sag­ing over a peri­od of time, or rein­force a mes­sage over a vari­ety of part­ners, you can use var­i­ous strate­gies to dri­ve brand aware­ness and advert impact, all of which are impos­si­ble when stuck in a walled gar­den setup.

For exam­ple, say a brand wants to run a string of adverts pro­mot­ing children’s bicy­cles. For the first two weeks of the cam­paign, it might run ads from a pho­to shoot of kids in sum­mer clothes, sit­ting on or near bicy­cles. Lat­er, in the two weeks lead­ing up to the sale, it changes the focus and tar­get­ing of the ads, cre­at­ing a call to action with infor­ma­tion about price drops. This type of sequen­tial adver­tis­ing only works if you know who saw the first ad, so that you can retar­get them. With a walled gar­den, that data is unavailable.

Inef­fec­tive Tar­get­ing and Reporting
With walled gar­dens, there is no way to ver­i­fy the data about audi­ences, con­tent, or engage­ment, mak­ing it impos­si­ble to effec­tive­ly deliv­er mes­sages across mul­ti­ple chan­nels or part­ners. A brand must rely on the data sit­ting with­in the walled gar­den to make its buys. Of course, brands can make buys across oth­er exter­nal part­ners, but that squeezes their bud­gets tighter.

To build brand aware­ness among its tar­get audi­ences, a brand may want to focus on dif­fer­ent plat­forms for dif­fer­ent demographics—say, mobile and social for mil­len­ni­als, but a dif­fer­ent mix that includes desk­top for old­er users. This kind of targeting—different plat­forms and adver­tise­ments for dif­fer­ent audiences—isn’t pos­si­ble with walled gardens.

Data Secu­ri­ty
In a walled gar­den, if you want to use your own data for your ad cam­paigns, you have to pro­vide it to the garden’s own­er to apply as it sees fit. This brings up a famil­iar con­cern: data secu­ri­ty. With a walled gar­den, you do not get any ver­i­fi­ca­tion that your data is safe with­in that plat­form, nor is there any way to track or mon­i­tor this.

Con­sid­er a sub­scrip­tion-based ser­vice. Via the user reg­is­tra­tion data it col­lects, it could effec­tive­ly retar­get users with a one-month-only dis­count offer. But if the ser­vice lies with­in a walled gar­den, there’s no way to be sure that the plat­form own­er won’t dupli­cate or copy the data and sell it to a competitor.

Trust and Credibility
Walled gar­dens are reg­u­lar­ly in the spot­light for secu­ri­ty breaches—data leaks, hack­ers, and the like. If walled gar­den plat­forms were more trans­par­ent, and open to third-par­ty ver­i­fi­ca­tion, these data breach­es would like­ly have been iden­ti­fied and con­tained immediately.

And it has become clear that buy­ing with­out trans­paren­cy puts brands at huge risk. No mat­ter what you’re sold ahead of time, you can’t know if what you’re deliv­er­ing against is what you were aim­ing to buy in the first place. Trans­paren­cy is the only real­is­tic path to main­tain­ing trust and brand integrity.

The Way Out
The best way to pro­tect your brand is to avoid walled gar­dens entire­ly. Insist on trans­paren­cy and account­abil­i­ty from your providers, and work with part­ners that will sup­port your brand safe­ty efforts. Adobe, for exam­ple, offers its clients fraud pre­ven­tion and is active­ly involved in in an indus­try trans­paren­cy ini­tia­tive. Your brand equi­ty depends on your abil­i­ty to engage through mul­ti­ple chan­nels using reli­able and up-to-the-minute data. Adobe’s deep audi­ence intel­li­gence comes from the bil­lions of data trans­ac­tions we process across all of a brand’s touchpoints—along with our pow­er­ful machine learning—which enables us to use that data more effec­tive­ly. Don’t let your most pow­er­ful mar­ket­ing tools get trapped on the wrong side of the wall!

Read more about cross-device mar­ket­ing here.

Suzie Brown

Posted on 03-13-2018

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