But as the threat of an oligopoly begins to emerge, there are rampant issues inside these cozy walled gardens. Before going all-in, there’s something to be said for a marketer being wary of the media bias and data limitations that prevail in these dominant domains.
Instead, they are opting for platforms with more open access to partners, data and metrics.
Let's take a closer look at what happens when the big guys emerge victorious—and what the perhaps unintended consequences are for the marketer. What unfolds is a picture of a closed, highly guarded, and arguably secretive system—with a one-way street in and no way out for the marketer.
What's it really like once they’re caught “inside”?
Media bias: Marketers choosing to do business with the big guys are faced with limited media options. Whatever is in the so-called garden is fair game, and heavily promoted. Whatever isn’t might as well be invisible.
Limited data sets: Google and Facebook make it hard for marketers to use their own data when buying ads on their platforms. That’s a big problem in itself. Further, the data they do offer is almost all deterministic. While marketers may be led to believe otherwise, deterministic data is not a silver bullet—it’s flawed by lack of scale, potential for fraud and ridden with inaccuracies.
Partner constraints: Google has been reluctant to allow marketers to use preferred third parties for measurement, fraud prevention and the like. Those forbidden partners are the same ones that otherwise help these marketers track how an ad campaign performs, fight fraud and minimize discrepancies.
Lack of transparency of data and results: When marketers operate within the walled platforms, data is not shared back with them and instead remains proprietary to Facebook and Google. The big guys get bigger, gobbling up the data, while the marketers come away with nothing. The new data become additive only to the platform, going in but not coming back out.
Limited view of the consumer: Most use on these massive platforms is mobile, not cross-device. Facebook for example is 90% mobile. But the only behavior captured is what transpires on these platforms. What about all of the other places a consumer goes and the devices they use during a 24-hour day?
Marketers become constrained by the available data they can leverage, only able to build a partial picture of a consumer's full scope of activity. Further, not knowing which users they are reaching behind the garden walls--and at the same time buying media on other platforms--inevitably leads to over-frequency, which of course diminishes the returns to the brand.
What if a marketer were to work across a combination of strong independent platforms? What do they get when they play freely in a wide open green field?
No media bias: Decisions are driven by efficiency and effectiveness, achieved across multiple players. There are no unnatural limitations of scope—and no forced decisions.
No data constraints: Marketers can bring their own data and use it across multiple platforms. They have access to the data and maintain control over it. It remains proprietary to them and not to the platform.
Partner diversity: Marketers can measure results via trusted third parties and deploy their own anti-fraud tools.
More data options: Marketers can take advantage of a combination of probabilistic and deterministic data sets, further enhanced by intent data or other essential data types, creating a higher degree of certainty in the final targeting set.
Broader view of the consumer: Marketers can leverage consumers' behavior across all 24 hours in the day and across all devices, creating a full and reflective composite of a prospect.
Rachel Pasqua, senior partner, Mobile Practice Lead at MEC summed it up: “The giants are important—we need their scale and reach and their data is undeniably valuable. But it’s not a zero sum game— we need the smaller and more nimble partners in that green field outside the walled garden to test new ideas and validate new data.”
Before we find ourselves acquiescing too quickly to the lure of the call of the Goliaths and the perceived "quick fixes” of efficiency and scale, let’s ask ourselves a few of the harder questions in the areas identified above.
Our answers tell us a lot about what type of benefits we’re really gaining and free us up to take a smarter course and accomplish something deeper with our consumers and more sustainable for our businesses.