The growth of walled gardens and the closing off of the open web

Walled gardens are here to stay, so marketers must quickly adjust strategy to make the most of them, writes Richard Knott.

Until recently, marketers experienced a golden age of customer data and options in technology partners, where access to valuable audience information was open and easily accessible, enabled client-side by your choice of any technology vendor. This gave marketing teams fantastic insight into consumer behaviour and the ability to target audiences through their own technology infrastructure.

While this is still very possible across many publishers that utilise open adtech infrastructures, from a scale perspective, this age is under serious pressure. Thanks to the recent rise of ‘walled gardens’, such as Facebook, Snapchat, Apple News, and some Google products, which have closed off this ‘open marketing web’.

Terms are now dictated by these providers as to what data can be applied, what data you can access, and what technologies you can use to market to their users.

Walled gardens are sites that don’t have open access to data or don’t allow access to be served through third-party adtech infrastructure. They rigorously gather and protect valuable customer data to build strong, personal connections with users across their networks, and have the ability to increasingly stop other brands from accessing that information or using alternative stores of data.

 

Facebook before Google

A quote taken from a recent keynote from marketing guru David Raab at CMO Momentum conference put into context just how big walled gardens have become: “You used to go to a store, with a shopping cart, then Amazon got you before you went to the store. Then Google got you searching before you got to Amazon. Then Facebook got you before you searched, so you didn’t get to Google.”

Sites like Facebook, Amazon, WeChat, Apple News, and SnapChat cannot be accessed by marketers through the open web, through a standard programmatic exchange. You can’t access this inventory without using their own technology or in some cases a small pre-approved list of vendors. Ultimately, the likes of Facebook often understand your customers better than you do. While the list of walled gardens is relatively short, Facebook, WeChat, YouTube, Twitter and the likes hold up to 80% of the inventory out there (and up to 80% of digital media budgets), whereas ten years ago it was all open web. So the days of the open web, which is easily accessible to any third party, are over.

 

All in the data

Perhaps the biggest limitation marketers face as a result of walled gardens is the inability to target audiences based on their own data store of audience segments. Further, the audiences that they can target – as dictated by the walled garden – are often not third-party verified in any way. It is in this instance that the walls in walled gardens are evident. The walls are for keeping others out and keeping data in.

If a marketer was to run an ad campaign on Facebook, for example, the data they get back may not correlate to any of their other marketing tracking – leaving the marketer in potential confusion.

 

Get the tech right

Walled gardens aren’t going anywhere so it is important that marketers and advertisers think creatively as to how to make the most of them. One of the ways of doing this is by using the right technologies.

There are some small changes happening for the better for marketers and advertisers.

Facebook, for example, recently lowered its walls slightly to allow more access the vast wealth of customer data it possesses. It now offers third-party viewability verification through a small number of selected vendors, in a move that will enable advertisers to more accurately measure ROI. This is an important step forward, albeit a small step, but one we can hope to see replicated across more walled gardens as demand for a more inclusive digital marketing ecosystem increases.

Creative management platforms offer an opportunity to further leverage third-party technology within these walled gardens. For example, you can build and publish your advertising creative in one place; publish across the walled gardens and the open web; compare performance metrics, make any required edits or changes – all in the one platform.

An example of this is the partnerships that we forged with SnapChat and Apple News earlier in the year to enable advertisers to easily build great creative on their platform.

Walled gardens are by no means in the wrong. It is entirely appropriate for a content provider to wish to curate the quality of technology and creative appearing on their site. It is also a necessity for sites holding vast personal data to have appropriate controls and management of who can access it. While they obtain important information, walled gardens such as social media platforms offer marketers and advertisers a huge amount of opportunity, such as greater amplification and precise targeting.

The key is knowing how to make the most of them. If you get that right you will thrive in the age of walled gardens and closing off of the open web.

 

Richard Knott is APAC regional director at Celtra.

 

Further reading

 

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