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.
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.
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.