Data Sharing: A Powerful Alternative to Walled Gardens

Imagine if people who visit your site and use your apps arrived with a little message stating their name, email, purchase history, and current interests and preferences. As a publisher or advertiser, wouldn’t that make your job easier! You would be able to skip the hard work of identifying your customers, and move on to shaping the customer’s experience for maximum conversion and satisfaction.

But alas, that’s exactly what doesn’t happen. Some digital experts estimate that login rates may be as low as two percent of ecommerce site visitors, and login rates for publishing sites vary widely. If this is frustrating on your company’s own site, the problem grows larger when you’re trying to find your customers across the great expanse of the web, mobile, email, and in stores. If you can’t recognize your site’s visitors, you can’t do known targeting at scale, you can’t do personalization, nor can you suppress ads from reaching the people you don’t want to target.

So how can brands get the scale they need to do the targeting they desire?

The answer: By joining forces with partners.

If you’re not Google or Facebook, your first-party data probably falls short of the scale needed for sophisticated targeting and personalization strategies. Data sharing expands the pool of recognizable visitors, and can be especially effective when partners with complementary customer pools share data with one another. Brands and publishers can work together to share their data in ways that are mutually beneficial—while still safeguarding privacy and retaining control.

Companies of all stripes, from multinational retailers to high-profile publishers, are starting to band together, finding strength in numbers. In March, four major publishers—The Guardian, CNN International, Thomson Reuters, and the Financial Times—joined forces to create the Pangaea Alliance, which will programmatically sell ad inventory across the audiences of the members’ sites. These publishers recognize that sharing their data with one another makes each of them stronger.

This makes sense because marketers and publishers alike have relied on cooperative data for years. Catalog retailers have long shared their lists with other retailers, in order to reach customers beyond their own. Likewise, financial services companies have pooled data to protect against fraud. In the travel industry, airlines and hotels have found more customers by sharing data with one another to identify in-market travelers.

Working together is especially important because the companies that currently are able to identify audiences at scale do not have a vested interest in sharing data with marketers and publishers. In fact their interests are quite the opposite. Facebook and Google are a one-way street when it comes to data—data goes into their walled gardens from brand and publisher sites and apps, but never comes back out. With marketers increasingly needing to speak to their customers on a one-to-one basis, the walled gardens are able to capture more marketing spend at higher price points and it is unlikely that this dynamic will change. Meanwhile, marketers are left clamoring for even basic attribution data from these campaigns and independent publishers are struggling to have a seat at the table as the seismic shift toward people-based marketing rolls through the market.

The future, however, does not have to belong exclusively to Facebook and Google. Customers identify themselves directly to marketers and publishers every day, and these individual atoms of identity can be combined to create a fully open, independent source of data that in effect is owned by everyone. By joining forces, advertisers and publishers can quickly scale their ability to target known customers, while retaining full ownership of their customer data and receiving the analytics data they need to inform their marketing decisions.

Now, picture your people-based marketing strategy already underway. You are able to recognize your customers the majority of the time. You can message to your customers based on where they are in their journey with your brand, you can find and reach them on any channel, and you can create one-to-one experiences that align with their interests throughout the lifetime of your relationship. And that makes the advertiser or publisher’s own journey much more delightful.

Originally published September 30, 2015

Blane Sims

Blane Sims was formerly Chief Innovation Officer at Signal where he defined the strategy and roadmap for an award-winning technology platform serving the digital marketing industry.

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