The advertising and marketing industries are currently facing two seemingly contradictory problems. First, there’s the confusion of “too many,” the result of a vendor ecosystem that has grown at an unbelievable pace. Second, there’s a problem of “too few,” stemming from the overwhelming dominance that Facebook, Google and, now, Amazon have in the digital advertising ecosystem—dominance they’ve achieved through walled garden strategies.
The too many problem will, most likely, work itself out, whether through acquisitions or companies simply throwing in the towel in a too-competitive environment.
The too few problem, on the other hand, may be growing. And if you’re an omnichannel marketer, for whom the holy grail is centralized audience management, anything that closes access to the invaluable consumer data that powers your campaigns could be a potential disaster.
Add to this tempest the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which institutes stricter requirements for consumer opt-in for data processing, and Facebook’s data use changes in response to recent furor over data misuse. With the announcement that Facebook is shutting down its service that enables third-party data providers like Acxiom to offer their targeting directly on Facebook, it seems like the walled garden has been encircled by a brand new moat.
So, what is an omnichannel marketer to do? If we’re not able to connect data sets, how can we properly execute, measure and evaluate cross-platform campaigns? If external data sets can’t be widely used on Facebook, will that platform essentially become a customer-relationship-management tool? And if GDPR limits the ability to do advanced granular targeting, will we end up with strategies that look more like the old, mass, blunt reach of traditional media?
Unfortunately, for those in digital advertising, this is not a new problem. In an ecosystem where the dominant platforms’ walls were already high to begin with, we are all too aware that unification is not the natural state of our industry. We’ve always needed multiple systems to manage and measure campaigns if we wanted to operate in a sophisticated manner, but that’s becoming unwieldy. The alternative—“settling” on a single partner for the sake of ease—comes with the knowledge that the lack of choice can result in missed opportunities for richer and more profitable performance.
So, how can you get the ease of operation that comes with having a single partner, along with reach, flexibility and visibility across multiple vendors? What we need is someone to normalize and unify the data, as well as the results, which would enable us to transact more freely and more effectively across the entire ecosystem.
We’re already seeing demand for action from the brand side. In fact, in a recent report, Forrester Research marketing analyst Joanna O’Connell recommended that brands audit their existing tech partners based on what “omnichannel” means to them and to look for the vendors providing the “connective tissue” of the ecosystem that helps various marketing technology and advertising technology tools talk to and work with each other.
And while that omnichannel definition may vary from brand to brand, it’s unlikely to include current status quo of siloed metrics and transaction methods.
I’m hopeful that the impact of these recent developments will bring about positive change, increasing industry cooperation and development of tools that will support data unification and ease of execution across both walled and open systems.
And even as some are building up their walls, others in the industry are already working more cooperatively. For example, media giants Viacom, Fox and Turner worked together to create OpenAP, a cooperative, advanced advertising platform that has already signed on more than 800 media agencies.
Another step in the right direction is the IAB’s acquisition of DigiTrust, a neutral ad ID service that, with the support of the IAB, should see rapid, global adoption. Other industry darlings like blockchain and ads.txt also smack of greater cooperation and unification of measurement and shared data ownership.
Omnichannel is a wave that will not be denied. As marketers increasingly demand the ability to find their audiences across a growing number of screens and formats, it’s the partners who support unification and communication across the ecosystem that will have the strategic advantage.
Kerry Bianchi is president and CEO of programmatic technology company Visto.