It’ll take a mighty force to temper walled gardens’ dominance of the digital advertising market.

In 2018, Facebook and Google combined to earn 60% of the digital ad dollars in the U.S., equalling an impressive $65 billion in revenue. And that momentum will only continue to move in the giants’ direction — in 2019, digital advertising spend in the U.S. outpaced traditional outlets like print and TV for the first time, a gap that’s only predicted to grow. 

walled gardensBut while Facebook and Google may be tops in ad spend, their share is disproportionate to consumer behavior. According to comScore, consumers spend just 34% of their time on the two platforms. I have a persistent belief that advertisers will miss opportunities to reach their marketing goals by over-concentrating spend with these platforms — and know firsthand they can benefit from diversifying. 

Why Facebook and Google can’t meet advertisers’ every need

To be clear, I’ve used the power of Facebook and Google to create marketing results for partners many times over. Each can both be an incredibly effective marketing solution when leveraged correctly. Nailing a Customer Acquisition Cost, for instance on either of the platforms using the right combination of audience features, creative and bidding – can feel like efficient marketing has indeed arrived. But unfortunately that’s not always the case. Why?

 

  • Advertisers may not reach their audiences frequently enough or within the right content. While Facebook has nearly 1.6 billion daily users, only so many of them make it online over a campaign period, and only a subset of those can be reached in a cadence that reinforces a customer journey. The same goes for Google. On top of that, when we are reaching the right users, it is not guaranteed that they are being engaged within the right combination of content. Simply reaching a user isn’t enough – it is important to combine the strongest user data with the best content at an optimum frequency to be successful. As advertisers continue spending their dollars primarily on the two platforms it will become increasingly harder to create that combination consistently, and as advertisers continue trying to obtain that perfect combination, prices must go up to deliver ad exposures with the right content. If an average consumer requires 8 brand interactions to purchase a product, yet a given brand can only reach them 5 times total on Facebook and Google within their set budget over the period planned, the brand may never meet its marketing objective. 
  • Advertisers may miss important context and measurement about target audiences by using Facebook and Google data alone. The two platforms gained popularity among advertisers in part because their tools and APIs enable simple audience planning and buying at scale. But the scope of data Facebook and Google provide marketers around these activities is limited, because each keeps increasingly tighter control over related data. For example, Facebook will emphasize how many users it delivered to a brand’s conversion page for a target cost, but it will tell the buyer very little about the path those users took to get there. In addition, when it comes to audience insight, the two platforms – and other Walled Gardens – have avoided sharing rich measurement data around interests and behavior that they use for targeting. This hinders the advertisers’ ability to build on any success they have seen in the walled gardens and expand that to the open web, and it limits their ability to keep improving their messaging, based off the results they are seeing.  
  • Google and Facebook aren’t always the best medium for your message. When everyone is advertising on Facebook and Google, it’s nearly impossible for a particular brand to stand out from the clutter. Without testing outside the walled gardens of Facebook and Google, advertisers will never know about the opportunities that lie beyond. I repeatedly counsel partners that proper test and learn across the wide array of media is essential in order to understand the combination of audience features, creative and bidding (budgets) to create an optimal result. 

 

How advertisers will benefit from moving beyond these walled gardens

Until recently, traditional programmatic advertising wasn’t up to speed with the reality of reaching identity based audiences wherever they chose to play in digital. Brands haven’t been able to access a holistic view of each customer on the open web, making it difficult to target particular audiences the way they could on Facebook and Google. This is equally true of having no holistic view of audiences across the walled gardens. But the market is changing in a big way. Moving not just outside, but across walled garden and the open web creates a whole world of unrestricted insight, unhampered by the limited access of Facebook and Google, and allows advertisers to focus on customers’ desires and pain points.

For ages, advertisers have hedged their bets on the cliche of right time, right place, right message — but that cliche has just begun to manifest itself to be true. Thanks to consumer data, we have an idea of what the right message should be — advertisers just need the data around where to find that target audience to find the best economic outcome. It’s data that can be expanded upon by also testing outside, or alongside, the walls of Facebook and Google. 

It’s unrealistic to imagine a future where advertisers completely eliminate their spend with Facebook and Google. Rather, advertisers need to look at it as an “and” vs “or” in order to redistribute their spend to truly meet customers where they’re at. Audiences span both walled gardens and the open web, so it only makes sense for any given company’s advertising to exist in both places, with different goals. By advertising in the open market, companies gain a valuable opportunity to target their placements based on quality of audience, as well as the quantity found with Facebook and Google.