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Walled gardens: a marketing curse in disguise?

The so-called "walled gardens" are proprietary publishing platforms, where the owner controls the publishing of and access to applications, content and media within its environment.

They present an excellent way of disseminating marketing content, enabling these publishers to reach at scale audiences, in a data informed, hyper-targeted way, with proven performance.

Of course, there are concerns around content ownership and how this affects publishers, as well as the drawbacks of a brand not being in control of one of its most important publishing and marketing channels, as we have discussed in a previous article .

However, this isn’t what I want to focus on here. I’d like to briefly examine walled gardens in the context of the modern marketing drive towards convergence, specifically “convergence around the customer” or customer centricity. It is in this endeavour that walled gardens might be a curse in disguise.

The big advantage of walled gardens

There is no question that walled gardens offer a big advantage when it comes to customer centricity. They solve the severe challenges of connecting first-party data to media environments – something that even the likes of Adobe and Salesforce are still grappling with.

While technically possible for the cloud vendors to enable this, making it easy, and doing it at scale are not yet realities. Walled gardens like Facebook are making it simple for brands to integrate their data in this way and offer reach at scale.

Are they a long-term solution?

While the flow of marketing dollars to these platforms proves their worth, we need to question at what cost, and contemplate whether they are encouraging or hindering true convergence and customer centricity.

Not only do brands give up control of their content; they give up control over their data, and their access to customer insight. The walled gardens typically do not return data that is granular enough for use outside of their precincts, but because they are superficially so effective and easy to use, brands simply iterate their tactics across the various platforms. To a large degree brands are handing ownership of their customers to the platforms, in the same way CPG companies over the years have handed ownership to the trade. This is dangerous in a world where customers’ expectation has been forever re-set by the likes of Amazon and Netflix.

…brands need to find a way to deliver the same performance, in media neutral environments.

These considerations beg the question: are walled gardens a long-term marketing and publishing solution for brands?

One could certainly contend that there is a least a degree of strategy that a brand can bring to bear on walled garden marketing. There is still room for smart thinking and insightful use of the various tools that the platforms provide. The sheer levels of nuance in the targeting abilities at ones disposal are a good argument for walled garden marketing in themselves.

Walled gardens, or just another silo?

There are however strategic drawbacks. The biggest drawback is that the very concept of walled gardens runs contrary to the rapid trend towards convergence around the customer, and simply creates another silo within which to manage customers.

By and large the platforms operate independently of each other, and there is no doubt new silos will be created. Sleeping giants like Amazon wait in the wings and the activity in the telco sector is destined to bring more. All of it largely self-serving, which will only create more fragmentation in a marketing world desperately trying to converge around the customer.

In effect, then, the current walled gardens are merely replicating the siloed legacy situation and lack of orchestration in a new realm. In an era where the wind is blowing in the opposite direction, a shrewd brand would do well to not create too much of a dependency on them.

But to solve this, brands need to find a way to deliver the same performance, in media neutral environments. That requires better organization of data, improved operating models and customer centric go to market strategies, and critically, media-neutral technology platforms that can not only replicate the success and scale of the walled gardens, but the simplicity and ease of workflow. While a lot of this responsibility sits with brands, much is also incumbent upon the marketing cloud vendors. I don’t believe that Salesforce or Adobe are there yet, but looking at their strategy, acquisitions and cloud re-structuring, I’d say the race is on.

About The Author Grant Keller - CEO

Grant is a senior executive and highly experienced digital marketing practitioner.

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