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Hearts & Science’s Director of Digital Activation’s Guide for Not Going All-In With a Walled Garden

This article was originally published by AdExchanger.

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by David Markel, director of digital activation at Hearts & Science.

Against the backdrop of data privacy, marketers are being forced to weigh their options for how media should be run and measured in an increasingly disjointed ecosystem.

Recent announcements by Google and Facebook all but steering marketers to go all-in with their walled-garden solutions are now renewing interest in assembling independent tech stacks.

While many have already shared the obvious benefits and shortfalls of the walled-garden solutions, few have plotted the path forward for advertisers who are exploring the idea of putting together independent options. With vendors such as LiveRampThunder and Sizmekcoming up in conversations more frequently, how should advertisers approach the problem of an independent solution?

As a necessary first step for the independent-minded, it is important to identify the major dependencies in creating a consideration set for your stack: identity resolution, interoperability, and reporting and measurement.

Identity resolution

The strength of walled-garden solutions and what allows them to limit the information that is shared back with advertisers is the robustness of their deterministic, user-centric device graphs.

Understanding identity is at the core of an advertiser’s efforts to measure user exposure across screens, add greater clarity to the consumer journey and develop timely personalization to strengthen brand affinity. These activities rely on the identity resolution layer to unify disparate data sets and feed the advanced analytics anchoring the overall story.

As such, any ID-resolution vendor being evaluated relative to a walled-garden solution must be able to clearly articulate its methodology for resolving IDs across browsers and devices to single users.

A good point of differentiation is whether the vendor’s methodology allows for accurately onboarding offline data. Beyond understanding the vendor’s methodology, the advertiser should also validate vendor capabilities, particularly if the vendor takes a probabilistic approach to cross-device or onboards offline data.


Another pillar of the walled gardens’ strategy has been to scale their supply. The promise of activating deterministic, user-based attributes across massive pools of inventory has captured the interest of many advertisers. While not directly related to measurement, activation vendors with robust interoperability allow for an advertiser to maintain or even improve upon the full suite of services offered by walled-garden solutions. In other words, interoperability is necessary to ensure there is no loss in activity to measure.

To replace these all-in-one offerings, any viable alternative will rely on activation vendors with strong integrations to various suppliers, data brokers and verification providers, in addition to having an engineering capability necessary to maintain a robust integration pipeline. Advertisers should request not just future product road maps, but cross-reference forward guidance against past major and minor releases.

Reporting and measurement

Tying together activation with ID resolution is the reporting and measurement suite. Advanced attribution – ranging from time decay to full-blown multitouch attribution and advertiser-specific modeling – relies on some form of event-level inputs combined with an identity layer to more accurately count points along a single user’s journey.

While walled gardens package these components neatly into end-to-end reporting and measurement suites, such as Google’s Attribution 360, they also introduce potential bias in cases when the measurer evaluates its own performance.

To be a successful alternative, the reporting and measurement vendor in an independent stack must be interoperable with not only the activation vendors, but with the ad server and the ID-resolution layer, if this is not provided by the same vendor. Advertisers should consider points of differentiation, such as a vendor’s capabilities to work with offline data either natively or through the ID-resolution provider, integrate audience data and facilitate appropriate access for both technical analysts and business stakeholders.

Why go through the trouble?

Committing to one walled garden could mean foregoing measurement of media bought with the others, dealing with a potential conflict of interest or a combination of both. For advertisers with significant and diversified media investments, an independent solution may offer the best path toward maintaining close-to-holistic measurement and creating a basis to understand the relative returns and performance across ecosystems.

Advertisers with significant first-party data assets and sophisticated modeling capabilities may require an independent environment to analyze data and protect their ownership of the data. For these advertisers and their agencies, reviewing ID resolution, interoperability and reporting and measurement will be key to building their independent stack.