How Marketers Can (Finally) Beat Walled Gardens


Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft… these companies know people. They know your interests, your search behavior, the food you like, the clothes you buy, who you talk to and what you chat about… they know you. 

And it’s all thanks to data. Data they collect and keep locked up tight in walled gardens. 

These media giants are — understandably — very protective of their data for two big reasons: 

  1. Privacy: They understand that if their users feel their privacy has been violated, they will move on and it’s going to hurt. 
  2. Money: They obviously have a vested interest in keeping all that data for themselves and charging advertisers a premium for access. That's business, right? 

Why walled gardens are a problem

For the reasons mentioned above, these companies do not allow advertisers to take any data back into their own business. What is means, though, is if you serve an ad via a walled garden and want to follow up with your prospect on another channel, you won’t be able to do that in a data-driven way. Why? Because you don’t have the full picture of that prospect’s interactions with your content. 

As a result, advertisers are serving duplicate and/or irrelevant ads to people without even knowing it. In other words: spam. It’s annoying and off-putting for customers, it damages your brand, and it’s a waste of money for your business.

The classic walled garden workaround

The only time you can take data out of a walled garden is if someone chooses to interact with your ad. This is done through tag management — if an ad is clicked on, 9 times out of 10 it takes the consumer to a website, and then you can see where they came from. You might then be able to connect this to other data — if the customer has logged into that environment before — and then link that up with an existing customer profile. 

It sounds like a decent solution, right? Perhaps not. 

Walled gardens = black holes in your customer journey

This is because banner click-through-rates are 0.1% – 0.3% on average, meaning that at least 99.7% of your ad impressions are basically immeasurable. You can still see what kind of audience you’ve reached through the channel’s own analytics, but you won’t know where the overlap is. That means it’s possible — and highly likely — that you’ve already reached the same person dozens of times on other channels. 

What it all boils down to is that if you want to orchestrate an effective customer journey from start to finish, walled gardens are going to be a big issue because they are creating black holes in your journey that you can’t account for. 

How to smash walled gardens for good with 1st party data

Many marketers have accepted walled gardens as a necessary evil. You could take that route too — just set KPIs per channel and move on. But if you’re working toward truly customer-centric journeys, that’s not going to cut it. 

The real answer to scaling those garden walls lies in first-party data. If you only target people you know from your own first-party data set, you’re relying on your own data signals rather than those of the walled garden, and you know who you’re reaching. 

In practice: Battling walled gardens with 1st party data

Smashing those walls with your own first-party data isn’t actually that complicated in practice. 

Simply upload any piece of first-party data to the walled garden, tell it to target those individuals, and if they match then the ad is served. When you avoid using data signals from the walled garden, you keep that data available for use on any other channel. 

For example, you could set a trigger in a journey to use an internal data set. Start with a channel like Google and target your audience. Some people will click through, and you can then follow up with a different message. If you know who clicked through, you also know who didn’t click through, and you can then use the non-click list to target those consumers with a different message.  

The key is to making this possible is to collect a rich set of customer data, rather than relying on data from walled gardens who will never allow you to recognize individuals for who they are. 

When to rely on walled gardens vs. your own data

There are certainly times when it’s perfectly fine to leverage the rich data already available in walled garden platforms. If you’re launching a new product and want to reach as many people as possible, this is a great way to do that. 

Blast campaigns are great for 2nd and 3rd party data signals with generic offers. But more and more, businesses are finding they get better results when they offer individual, personalized customer journeys — and for that, you need to use your own first-party data to orchestrate journeys in real time across channels. 

Do you want to talk to current customers and focus on loyalty, retention, repeat purchases, etc.? This is when you should be using your own data to send highly personalized messaging based on how they’ve interacted with your company in the past. 

Shifting to a customer-centric advertising strategy

Not sure where you stand? We suggest you start by asking yourself these questions: 

  • Are you constantly evaluating your customer experience from a customer point of view?
  • Are you serving your customers in a personalized way that makes sense across channels?
  • Are your processes smooth and automated? 

If not, now might be the right time to evaluate your strategy and look at how you can better leverage the signals from your prospects and customers. 

A great place to start is by taking a closer look at your customer journeys — journey visualization tools can be really useful in this. Try mapping out your touchpoints and see where you are losing data in black holes created by walled gardens. These are opportunities to use the first-party data strategy above to gain better insights and ultimately serve your customers and prospects better. 

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