The best-known walled gardens are giant, monopolistic, data-rich platforms that achieved their status through ground-breaking innovation and commercial strength. They have delivered exceptional value to marketers and advertisers of all sizes by democratising marketing practice through access to data and audiences via search, social and programmatic platforms.

But this value comes at a high cost. Brands must give up control of marketing operations in exchange for the apparent ease of accessing targeted impressions, clicks and purchases. Walled garden operating conditions are the polar opposite of those that are in the best interests of brands, such as independence, ownership and transparency.

There is a clear conflict of interest where audience data is integrated and aggregated within walled gardens, meaning brands are driving the performance of their rivals. Data cannot be removed from the platforms, preventing independent measurement or external targeting, and business models are opaque with hidden margins or take rates.

As a result, marketers are showing a desire to take back control and move away from walled gardens towards ‘brand gardens,’ which can offer both immediate and long-term gains. So, what are they and how do they benefit brands?

The brand garden concept

Brand gardens are purpose-built, future-proofed marketing ecosystems, owned and operated by individual brands in partnership with an independent technology partner. Unlike walled gardens, they allow brands to retain full control of their own first-party data, which is often more valuable and larger in volume than marketers realise.

Brand gardens deliver full transparency on costs as well as flexible operational capabilities. Rather than relying on walled garden environments with aggregated content, brand gardens work directly with content producers and the many premium environments they operate, which provides mass reach and effective points of connection to the consumer.

A recent study of European and US marketers, undertaken by Adform and leading market research company Dynata, reveals exceptionally strong sentiment in favour of brand gardens. In the UK, 78% of marketers have a positive view of a closed, brand-owned ecosystem underpinned by first-party data, transparent costs and operational adaptability. Across all regions included in the study, almost 80% believe brand gardens can increase flexibility and data control, while 70% expect resulting improvements in trust and data transparency to improve commercial outcomes.

Characteristics of a brand garden

There are three key characteristics of a brand garden:

  1. Independent media buying. By separating media buying from audience data, brands can achieve a level of control that is impossible within walled gardens, and can remove conflicts of interest. This independence allows them to build first-party brand cohorts and manage multiple identity capabilities across paid and owned channels. It enables them to train algorithms on their own data, not that of brand category competitors. And it empowers them to manage data security, consent, privacy and brand suitability on their own terms. Independence ensures everything is done in the brand’s best interests.
  1. Cleanly integrated technologies, configured around the specific needs of the brand. By working with an independent technology partner, brands can benefit from complete, holistic solutions that enable them to take control of their data moving forward. By integrating key components such as the data-management platform, demand-side platform and ad server, and essentially connecting data management technologies with activation solutions, brands benefit from common standards across capability, best practice and insight.
  1. Fully transparent supply chains. By condensing opaque and fragmented setups into simple end-to-end advertiser-to-publisher arrangements, brands can gain deep insight into how their marketing efforts are working. With brand gardens, marketers can identify media costs and operational fees and can find opportunities to drive efficiency, ensuring every impression counts and adds value to the brand. The study reveals over nine in ten marketers feel cost and time efficiencies are key challenges in their supply chain, with almost two- thirds ranking potential savings as the primary benefit of working with a single technology partner on a global scale.

While brands may justifiably have enjoyed the ease and simplicity of the walled gardens in recent years, the time has come to take back control of marketing efforts, claim ownership of valuable first-party data and become more independent, transparent, flexible and efficient.

A viable alternative to the giant marketing platforms, brand gardens are independent ecosystems built around the specific needs of the marketing team, that enable effortless modern marketing and ultimately result in enhanced industry capabilities and better business outcomes.