Editor's Cut: I just referenced “walled gardens,” and now I feel a bit dirty…like I should take a shower to cleanse the stink of buzzword usage off of me.
If you have been paying attention to recent news about video measurement gaffes over at Facebook, you have likely heard lots of mentions of walled gardens. But what is a walled garden, and should we really be that upset by them?
On most days, the thought of sitting on a bench in the serenity of a walled garden—away from the crowds, pollution and general din of humanity—sounds pretty darn great. With creeping vines, wandering paths, fountains and sprays of flowers all protected from critters, intruders, frost and wind, a walled garden is the embodiment of “Serenity Now!”...it is downright delightful. Sadly, this is not what we are talking about.
A walled garden means different things to different people. From an IT perspective, a walled garden is a closed system that limits access to specific applications or services. Specific to content, walled gardens have been created to control access. Take, for example, Facebook and the introduction of Instant Articles. On the surface, the move sounds great for a user—you get the articles and content that are of interest to you without navigating away from the app experience that you have opted into. But when you consider that Facebook only invited specific publishers to include in this tidy garden and that it limits the data and intelligence collected, it takes the concept of “democratization of the web” and openly laughs in its face, not to mention at the publishers and advertisers who assumed that more time within the Facebook garden could deliver more understanding of the customers doing the wandering.
Just as marketers are focusing on the connectedness of the customer experience, working tirelessly to realize an omnichannel approach, walled gardens threaten to segment and silo experiences and the data that these touchpoints can add to the customer profile.
While it is easy to identify and chastise the walled gardens built by publishing giants like Google and Facebook, it is far more difficult to turn that truth back on ourselves to ask if we, as marketers, have built a walled garden of our own. We like to call it customer experience, but as our own CMO Council research has shown, far too often what we call the omnichannel customer experience is really just a closed collection of marketing-owned touchpoints that we have carefully curated and connected.
When we asked marketers where they got the most valuable data to create and optimize their customer experience, all of the top 10 sources on the list were channels and touchpoints created, controlled or heavily influenced by marketing itself. At the bottom of the list sat those pesky points of customer engagement like customer service and support, in-store relationships, supply chain and operational inputs, and even HR. When we asked what was holding marketers back from being able to utilize all of the data that was available about the customer from across the organization and beyond, data trapped in silos topped the list. Go ahead…feel free to swap out “silo” for “walled garden” to really drive the point home.
The reality is that the entire ecosystem, from brands to publishers and agencies, has been expertly crafting its own beautifully manicured walled gardens for years, choosing to become gardeners of convenience. But at some point, we need to realize that the higher we build these walls, the further we get from our customer and meeting their expectations.
The cruel trick to all of this is that as we democratized the web, our customers listened and realized they could not only roam where they pleased, but they could also take control of their experiences and actively choose when, where, through which device and for what purpose they wanted to engage or use the tools and experiences that we carefully laid out. Rather than taking their lead, we tried to portion off another piece of the garden, steering customers back into the protected confines of marketing’s architected landscape.
The risk we run by luxuriating in these walled gardens is that we will lose sight of our customers. We will miss the signals that show they are planning an escape over the wall and into the landscape of their own design. And if we keep pelting them with irrelevance, customers could turn the tables and start building walls of their own, cutting off data streams and demanding that we not have access to this critical intelligence.
If we stand by and watch the customer leave, we will prove that not only did we lose sight of the customer, but we also lost sight of the business we are working so hard to grow. So, while running the risk of drowning in a buzzword tidal wave, it is time for marketers to look around and acknowledge the boundaries of all of the gardens— including the ones we have built ourselves—and actively decide how we can and should be connecting more dots instead of trying to build a moat around more fortified enclosures.
Until next month!
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P.S. We have tons of dinners planned through the end of 2017. If you want to see if we will be in a city near you, be sure to bookmark https://cmocouncil.org/authority-leadership/events.