Walled Garden Data Reliance – Hindrance, Annoyance or Myth?

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In this special guest feature, Aman Khanna, ProfitWheel Co-founder, highlights why relying on walled garden data is not best for brands. With close to 20 years in digital advertising in the US, Aman has worked across the agency, publisher, DSP and measurement space. His last stint at Visual IQ was pivotal in its acquisition to Nielsen where he spent 7 years. As a Co-founder of ProfitWheel, he is responsible for driving clients & operational growth in the Americas.

When it comes to data the word privacy is not too far behind. We have all experienced that sense of “the machines listening” when we are at a party discussing the latest celebrity gossip or having a business call about a partner company, only to find ourselves bombarded with ads or promotions on those topics when we log onto social media or visit a website. 

As individuals, this can be a very off-putting if not creepy feeling, but as business leaders, as advertisers, as marketers, we also know the huge impact that data and data analytics can have on a company’s success.

This brings up that controversial question – do we want them to listen? For many of us, the answer is both yes and no.  As a privacy-conscious individual, I want to be able to retain my privacy or at the very least have control over who has access to my data and when they have access to it. As a businessperson, however, I want to know more about my customers & prospects. This is because I know with data-driven targeted advertising I can reach the people who most need to hear my message while avoiding those who do not.

This is not just a question we face as individuals or as business leaders, it is something almost all industries are dealing with and something governments are trying to find solutions to. With existing laws such as GDPR and CPPA in place and potential legislation on the table, including American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA) a change to the data landscape has already started.

These changes in corporate and governmental policy around data is fundamentally shifting the way that brands are able to access data, and what data they are able to access. While data collecting platforms such as Facebook or Alexa are always listening and scraping information, it is no longer an open door for advertisers to have carte blanc access to that insight. 

The Cambridge Analytica scandal may have been the turning point in how user data is treated, but it was not the end of those changes. For example, when advertising through Facebook any user-level data is gone along with; audience Insights, iOS attribution, biddable interests relating to ethnicities, diseases, social causes, political leaning and most recently, the evaporation of bidding on special ad audiences for those advertisers in Credit, Employment or Housing.

All of this points to an event horizon for advertisers, marketers, and the brands they represent. There needs to be a fundamental shift in how they collect and use third party data while optimizing their own first party data pools. If corporate data strategies do not start restructuring now, they are in for an acute headache down the road, when that data access vice tightens even more and they are left not knowing who they are advertising to due to signal loss. 

Let’s double click into these issues as this relates to functionality no longer available if you are a Meta advertiser:

  1. Disappearance of Audience Insights & Analytics in FB – Brands are now left to their own devices to understand their off-platform converters/psychographics. 
  2. iOS 14 and its changes – iOS 14 needs to be broken down and understood by how advertisers are frustrated with:
    1. IDFA deprecation (iOS 14.5) – this was a game changer when going from one app (FB) to another (brand) to track the journey of a user
    2. Not tracking across sites – no 3rd party tracker allowed to track from one to another site. Making only in-platform events effectively trackable
    3. 3rd party cookie blocking – the FB conversion pixel can no longer operate efficiently and uses statistical modeling to predict who converted. A huge issue for Safari users – and makes attribution for FB ads to off platform conversions inaccurate for FB
  3. ‘Privacy related’ – FB disallows advertisers to bid on ethnicities, diseases etc. as interests. While this might be justified to an extent, it is still reducing FB functionality for advertisers

Now, we all know that the audiences in platforms such as Meta are huge and likely a great prospecting ground for most brands; just surgically reaching them has become difficult and the spray-and-pray method has become the  status quo. Using ‘broad’ approaches and trusting Meta to find you more customers seems to be a theme I have heard many advertisers complain about.

In speaking to leaders at various brands and agencies – they recognize their dilemma and want to get more from their advertising. No one wants to invade a user’s privacy but would like to learn about their customers in a privacy safe manner and find effective ways to scale their advertising without burning a hole in their budgets. 

So, what can brands do to make their data more analytical? In other words, how can they get more from the same if not less:

  • Secure your data – It is the most powerful weapon in any brand’s arsenal. If you want your 1st party data to work for you, make sure it is available in a safe and accessible manner. You can use Google Analytics to create 1st party cohorts that perform a desirable action on your site and/or use the FB conversion pixel to constantly augment/update your converters. These pixel based audiences are privacy safe and very reliable to unpack as well as activate on with the right partners in place.
  • Invest in knowing your customers outside of your relationship with them – This could be in the form of a DMP, CDP, Data Warehouse, Data Partnerships or Customer Intelligence Platforms. Search for a partner that can added deterministic consumption without guesswork or random 3rd party data augmentation to know more about a customer without infringing on their privacy.
  • Import your secure 1st party data into walled gardens – Turn your seed audiences into 1% lookalikes and view performance/insights on them in Meta.
  • Experiments across various types of targeting – While re-targeting is always proven to be a healthy tactic, try using your 1st party data to advertise to the prospective twins of your most valuable customers.

As a collective, we need to raise our voices to benefit the entire eco-system till we get a semblance of transparency and control over our data assets. Accepting the status quo not only isn’t sufficient it will be flat out detrimental to a companies advertising and marketing objectives. We need to be proactive in shifting data strategies and  move towards a state that’s always open to change, to disruption. Complacency, when it comes to how we treat and use our data, will only result in false analytics and detrimental decisions. We have the opportunity now, before things change to much to reclaim control of our data and how we treat it.

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