Walled Gardens

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about a role in the field of marketing is that I continually get exposed to a diverse range of industry verticals, customer segmentation and journeys, and the use of new technologies. Another benefit is the learnings that come from the people interaction, the diverse range of industries, and all the fun acronyms that firms use in their day-to-day operations. This led me to a term you may have heard recently, a “Walled Garden.” Though this isn’t a new term—according to Techopedia, John Malone (of Liberty Media fame) coined the term back in the 90’s—there are certainly many definitions for the term relative to the context it holds within different industries. Generally, the term refers to a means to securely isolate, confine, or restrict a segment or a user from levels of data or information. It was recently referenced by Criteo in their; The 7 Big Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2019 report (December 20, 2018), pertaining to the marketing realm, beyond it being exclusive to just the tech realm. The term is not earth-shatteringly new, but oh so relevant to what’s happening in the world of marketing today.

The 2019 edition of the New Vantage Partners Big Data and AI Executive Survey states that “48% say their organizations compete on data and analytics” (up from 5% in 2006). Yet, so many firms operate in ‘walled gardens’ when it comes to external partners, agencies, and suppliers. It’s understandable that sharing with external relations can be challenging from a technology integration and security level. However, the reason for this rather long introduction is that the bigger surprise is that these ‘walled gardens’ are happening internally within many organization’s own borders! So, if we jump ahead in our conversation and recall all the rhetoric that’s been out there for years about personalization, one-on-one relationship management, nurturing leads through custom content, and most importantly, understanding customer needs—how is this going to happen when data on prospects, customers, segments, and behaviors are ‘walled’ off?

The Second Question

In Rita Gunther MCGrath’s latest book entitled: The End of Competitive Advantage, she speaks of a shift from a strategy focused on a single ‘sustainable competitive advantage,’ to a ‘transient competitive advantage,’ wherein companies capture opportunities fast, exploit them decisively, and even move on before they’re exhausted. She goes on to talk about how companies have held onto their strategy in lieu of a quest to find ways to leverage their core assets, only to find that at one point they’re the industry dinosaur. Does anyone still have a land line telephone? When was the last time you went to a bookstore? Or maybe even more relevant today, will Lyft and Uber exist in 10 years if in fact truly autonomous cars take over? And, what will car designers and manufacturers have to do if autonomous cars exist? Will cars need dashboards, steering wheels, seat belts, etc. if they’re fully autonomous? This thinking resides with companies that are “getting better at figuring out what people really need and will pay for, at designing better experiences, and at wrestling new efficiencies from existing assets.” No walls here.

One company that has taken this to the extreme is Amazon. Though they still have not made a profit, the company’s strategy focuses on constant reinvestment and product and service offerings expansion as a means of competitive advantage—with of course the full knowledge that they have the backing of Wall Street to allow for such luxuries. It has moved from an e-commerce organization selling product to selling their asset (platform) to companies in need of an e-commerce platform, to enhancing its core asset with AI, machine learning, and cloud-based services, to building content (exclusive films and TV shows) that streams off their platform, and to even exploring the reinvention of healthcare with the likes of JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway.

In CB Insights’ 2019 report entitled: Amazon Strategy Teardown, CEO Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying: “I very frequently get the question: What’s going to change in the next 10 years? And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: What’s not going to change in the next 10 years? And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two – because you build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now.” Do you think they have ‘walled gardens’ as a means to understanding their customer? I’d place a bet that Amazon probably has one of the top datasets on how consumers consume.

A Given

Ask yourself: what do I know about my customer, my decision-maker, and/or my buyer? We as organizations chase the ‘sale,’ yet the sale is predicated on the intersect of the buyer’s need and the fit with our product or service. If we don’t clearly know the former, why wouldn’t we look to breakdown any and all ‘walled gardens’ with the use of today’s real-time technology and marketing capabilities to know, or certainly to learn, as much as possible in tailoring our messaging to meet their needs head-on?

In the February 2019, McKinsey Quarterly entitled: Building data-driven culture: An interview with ShopRunner CEO Sam Yagan, Mr. Yagan states: “When I became CEO at ShopRunner, from day one I made it clear to everybody that we were going to make decisions based on data. What that means was that some people were no longer going to be cultural fits at the company. When we hired people, we used data experience as a selection filter. We asked direct questions such as: How have you used data in the past to make decisions?”

This cultural perspective (as is the case with employees and training at Zion & Zion), combined with a set of real-time technologies, affords any company the ability to engage customers at the moment of need in both medium and time. In Yext’s Webinar, From Keywords to Questions: Strategies for the New Customer Journey by Marc Ferrentino, he highlights that the ‘customer interaction points’ (on and offline) are going to continue to increase with new consumer services. He noted that the old ones are not going away, and that a variance in the initial origination from what was traditionally a first-party (website) entrance into the funnel is moving to second-party (landing pages) now to third-party (Google, Facebook, Alexa/Echo, Yelp, etc.), which only goes to accentuate the fact that to manage this ever increasing complexity of total touchpoints and entrance points, technology and automation is all but a given. With the advent of AI and voice-enabled devices we’ll evolve to the point where, “The customer journey starts with a question,” rather than a product or service search.

A Single Face to Your Customer

We’ve become obsessed with the ‘experience,’ and rightfully so based on the nature of the world of marketing today. The digital experience (DX) to connect and engage customers in an omnichannel world, the advent of the customer experience officer (CXO) as part of the executive leadership team, and the numerous ways to now map the customer journey (multi-touch attribution) or customer experience (CX) a prospect has with an organization is now mainstream—or at least trending in this direction. As reported in the latest CMS Wire Webinar, the Arm Treasure Data report: 2019 State of the Customer Journey, found that “nearly half (47%) of respondents struggle to gain insights from their marketing data due to silos.” This combination only goes to reinforce the need to breakdown ‘walled gardens’ and leverage technology in our efforts to market appropriately to and how the consumer consumes. And guess what: it’s measurable, which as a business we all can see value in.

In the 2018 CCW Special Report: Priorities for the Chief Customer Experience Officer by Brian Cantor, they point out that: “The ideal interaction experience, in today’s marketplace, involves four key tenants:

  1. It is frictionless,
  2. It is personalized,
  3. It is predictive,
  4. It is proactive.”

Note how all four are focused on the customer, their needs and preferences, and the customer experience. No walls here.

Call it growth, sales, topline revenue, wallet share, market share, and so forth—if you’re going to survive in a competitive marketplace, look to your customer, but look (and invest) just as much into your internal ecosystem or MarTech stack. Ensure it has no ‘walled gardens’ and facilitates a single customer profile to deliver on the ‘four tenants’ and keep it up-to-date though continual communications, engagements, and the voice of the customer (surveys, feedback forums, empathy interviewing, etc.).