Over the last 10 to 15 years, the balance of power has shifted clearly in favor of the walled garden approach as compared to that of the open web. The integration grid a marketer creates to show the interactions of each technology platform in their go-to-market motions can be overwhelming to the untrained eye. Actually, it can be overwhelming to the well-trained eye, too! So we look for ways to simplify -- and the walled garden approach satisfies that need, even if it potentially hurts the future of the web as a marketing medium.
What we commonly refer to as the walled gardens represents an oligopoly of partners who control the majority of the ways for marketers to effectively reach an audience. The oligopoly has changed over the years, but these days it refers to primary companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon with AT&T, and Walmart now playing in that space as well. In the B2B space, I would add Linkedin.
Other companies are trying to wedge their way onto the list, but all in all we’re talking about fewer than eight to 10 companies in total. These companies offer a blend of coverage and composition of audience, plus a plethora of solutions that range from ads and micro-sites to email, TV and mobile solutions.
Marketers find this helpful because it's one-stop shopping. You can build a relationship with a single company or a small group of companies and you reach an audience, build frequency, and create brand and demand generation efforts that drive measurable business results. You aren’t going out on a limb when you work with these companies, plus they understand infosec and procurement and are used to working with large companies.
Of course, working with the walled gardens means you are likely not engaging with innovative tech companies as much as you would like, but those companies have their own hurdles to jump. It is more difficult for them to get approved by enterprise IT. They have to carry larger insurance to work with brands on the Fortune 500. Digital media and technology may be available to everyone, but the marketers today have criteria that has to be met and not all of these smaller innovation-oriented companies can meet those needs.
Given that paradigm, what does the future look like for marketing and advertising technology? For one thing, the consolidation has already begun. I see an email almost weekly about deals and mergers taking place in the space. The LUMAscape is getting smaller and easier to read.
That makes the landscape easier to manage. I also think many of the companies left to the open web are going to focus their efforts outside North America. The ad networks, DSPs and “platforms” that still exist will be doing more of their business outside the U.S. The EU seems more favorable to a broader landscape, even with the constraints placed on marketers via GDPR. Competition is fierce, but there is opportunity and the data challenges enable first-party sources and creative contextual environments to gain a stronger foothold. Marketers like those options in lieu of pure reach.
So why do marketers like the walled gardens? Simply put, our lives are difficult enough. We don’t need to further complicate things by trying to manage a 150-line chart depicting the channels we choose to work with on top of the technology that resides on our respective stacks. Walled gardens may seem like the easy way out, but they offer options -- and options balanced with simplicity are the right offering for today’s modern marketers.