Four Steps for Embracing, Rather than Combatting, the Walled Gardens

Andrew Bloom Data Axle

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Andrew Bloom, Chief Commercial Officer of Data Axle.

Our industry spends a lot of time talking about “walled gardens” and the hazards that their policies pose to the broader digital ecosystem. But the protections these walls afford to consumers shouldn’t be ignored.

If you’ve ever watched the TV show “Vikings,” you’ve seen a historical (albeit fictional) portrayal of the many border walls that protected the vibrant and diverse communities of a long-ago age. Today’s digital communities aren’t altogether different. They each have their own cultures and unique flavor, and their digital walls preserve the safe value exchange happening within.

Perhaps it’s time for us to spend less time trying to break down these walls, and more time improving the roads that connect the “gardens.” Rather than pitting walled gardens against the open web, our industry needs to embrace the era of multiple walled gardens and well-lit communities.

What does this look like for the ad tech community and marketers? Here are four concrete steps to turn the narrative.

four steps for embracing rather than combatting the walled gardens

1. Broad support of identity frameworks

Throw your support behind existing and new, consensual identity frameworks that will help marketers to weather the cookie apocalypse—initiatives like LiveRamp’s Authenticated Traffic Solution, Lotame’s Panorama ID and The Trade Desk’s Unified ID 2.0.

Unified ID 2.0, which is now fully integrated with LiveRamp’s ATS, is gaining traction and scale due to the broad reach of The Trade Desk and a host of leading publishers, SSPs, and data and measurement partners.

Parallel to this adoption, content owners are following the leads of publishers like The New York Times and The Telegraph and putting their content behind a wall (paid or not), creating persistent—albeit hashed and salted—emails that enable relevant, personalized advertising to be delivered in a privacy-secure fashion.

However, consumers typically have multiple persistent IDs, which complicates the notion that a marketer using UID 2.0 or other identity frameworks can easily identify and target its customers behind each walled garden. Enter the need to translate and connect two or more persistent emails that a single user may be using to represent himself differently to marketers and each walled garden.

For now, it’s not about choosing one or the other of these identity frameworks. It’s about interoperability and embracing all of them.

2. Build strategic connections with walled gardens

 Direct integrations with the new cookieless frameworks being developed by both Google and Apple, along with emergent walled gardens like Walmart and Target, are a must. Why? Because they are big — and ultimately, it’s where your audiences reside.

Google’s announcement in March that it won’t support third-party cookies or use emails as a replacement identifier across the open web should not be confused as a statement that email should not be used as an identifier.

For its owned and operated properties like YouTube, you can be sure Google is using email as a continuing key for those who authenticate, and email is a preferred means of onboarding audiences for marketing.

For those publishers trying to monetize sites without authenticated users, Google’s embrace of cohort-based targeting will be an important component of an overall plan, just as the lungs of contextual targeting are being replenished with new oxygen.

But with so many consumers now sitting behind authenticated walled gardens, the value of these audiences sitting outside them is arguably diminished.

3. Deeper exploration of connected TV

Embrace connected TV (CTV) and explore all relevant opportunities there. CTV offers the benefit of digital targeting yet is unencumbered by the demise of the cookie.

In January 2021, eMarketer reported that U.S. programmatic CTV video ad spend rose by 36.3%, reaching $4.36 billion. Because many users have authenticated themselves through TV rundles (i.e., recurring revenue bundles, a term coined by Professor Scott Galloway), CTV can provide strong audience targeting, real-time performance metrics and the ability to interact with users beyond the ad they viewed.

When you add that to other important CTV capabilities, such as identity resolution through online and offline data matching, retargeting and message optimization to improve performance, it becomes clear why CTV represents one of the more exciting channels out there.

4. New dimensions for existing personas

Understand that your audiences have multiple personas as they move among the walled gardens. In some, they are business owners and workers. In others, they are consumers. In some they are married with kids. In others, they are single and wild. We are living hybrid lives now, where work and play have merged in inextricable ways.

The home office is the work office, and account-based marketing means personalized, relevant marketing to an individual who is connected to a wider team and account. We are chameleons moving among the gardens.

Remember: While it’s not in the walled gardens’ interests to help here, that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. These split personas need to be united to reach consumers across different walled gardens, especially when it means handling PII.