A view from Dan de Sybel

How walled gardens hinder brands' in-house programmatic dream

The likes of Amazon, Google and Facebook employing closed marketplaces around their user data makes it harder for brands to do programmatic themselves, says Infectious...

Advertisers are increasingly looking to take programmatic in-house but the web giants’ moves towards walled gardens like this are a retrograde step that makes executing programmatic in-house much more difficult. I’ll outline why this is and, more importantly, what brands can do to overcome this.

Before diving in, it’s worth pointing out it’s understandable that Facebook, Amazon and Google want to use their might to force people into a more controlled environment where they can more closely monitor how data and inventory is used for advertising purposes. However, because not one of them is an all-out advertising monopoly, advertisers end up in the unenviable position of having to manage spend across multiple platforms.

Why is it an obstacle to in-house programmatic?

Well, firstly, walled gardens prevent programmatic from being as efficient as it promised to be. Delivering campaigns across a number of different platforms slows down the execution process. Managing each platform’s ad inventory also makes it difficult to cap frequency across the campaign as a whole, as is knowing when and how to redistribute money between them to optimise performance.

Finally, how can you truly understand the path your users take to conversion if each platform uses its own unique cookie space and presents data to you in a slightly different way? Advertisers have long trusted their media agencies to be on top of these issues but the reality is that most of these agencies simply don’t know how to. So, if many media agencies are struggling to do it, can advertisers in the early days of in-house programmatic have much more hope?

Ultimately, this situation has to go away. Digital marketing is already too complicated with too many metrics and too many problems, and multiple platforms only add to the melange. However, we’re still in the early days and right now, each ad-tech platform is doing just enough to remain relevant in today’s data and tech hungry world.

Overcoming the walled garden and going in-house

Thus, given the fact closed marketplaces won’t be going away for a while, here are four recommendations for brands to overcome the walled gardens issue and take programmatic in-house:

1. The first is the simplest and most obvious: make sure you have your own ad server.

While not all platforms support ad servers across all their buys, you can still look at all your users as a whole to allow for cross-platform analysis and to de-duplicate conversions. Although you may lose out on some platform-specific insight, you will get a feel for the user's’ path to conversion. You’ll also get some understanding of cross-device activity (if you are using Facebook’s Atlas or Google’s DoubleClick).

2. Reduce the number of platforms you use as much as possible.

Don’t jump on the bandwagon of having to test every new tech/data/inventory as soon as it becomes available. Not all will work for every advertiser, so tests should be conducted in sequential manner. Even if you have boatloads of budget, running multiple tests across multiple platforms at the same time will take a lot of management.

3. When you do run multiple platforms, try only using a new platform for its USP.

For example, Amazon has a number of owned websites and an enormous amount of unique data on what people buy. So, if your main demand-side platform is Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager, don’t run activity through Amazon’s DSP on the same inventory – only use Amazon’s unique inventory to test its data to find out how valuable it is to you.

4. Don’t expect miracles.

You won’t be able to constantly and reliably manage frequency across multiple platforms, nor expect a great deal of cross-platform intelligence. As mentioned above, if using your own ad server, you can get some view of the path-to-conversion across platforms, but understanding how Amazon customers behave on YouTube is not something you should expect or ask for.

These steps will certainly help but walled gardens still make in-housing a tricky process. Advertisers must ensure they don’t get caught up in testing every shiny new platform but, instead, remain focused on the crucial data and insight that programmatic provides. Tapping into one of these walled gardens takes time and expertise and, remember, sometimes the benefits are simply not worth the investment.

Dan de Sybel is the chief technology officer at Infectious Media