Open Platforms 101

The Marketer's Guide to Unifying Customer Insights

Today’s consumers are hyper-connected, constantly interacting with brands across laptops, smartphones, tablets and other channels. They are also demanding, smart, and fickle, with high expectations for how brands should treat them.

Yet the path to purchase has never been more confusing or intricate. Marketers operate in a complex digital ecosystem that is constantly evolving, with new devices, technology platforms, vendors and channels emerging every week. Signal’s own clients work with an average of 17 vendors providing solutions ranging from email to display to search to analytics – and research shows that some brands utilize as many as 30 distinct marketing toolsets. All this fragmentation makes it difficult for marketers to see the whole customer journey and provide a consistent consumer experience across devices and channels.

Signal was created to help brands create smarter, closer relationships with customers. Marketers need to connect their engagement data to close the gap with always- on consumers. You don’t want to build your marketing programs on top of a platform that makes it hard to connect the dots. To help brands know their customers better, we’ve developed this short guide to explore the important subject of open platforms. Read on to learn more about how open platforms can help you act on everything you know about your customers – without restrictions or dependency on any single gatekeeper.

What is an “open platform”?

A marketing platform is called “open” when it’s compatible with all the marketing partners you use on a daily basis to engage your customers and audiences – your network of technologies, toolsets, vendors, and publishers. An open platform is sometimes also referred as ecosystem- neutral, unbiased, or agnostic. The best platforms are designed to be modular and future-proof. They plug and play easily with the vast array of marketing technologies that exist across the ecosystem as well as any new ones that emerge in the future.

Ecosystem neutrality has implications for your marketing technology, customer engagement data, and media programs. A platform is open or technology-neutral when it supports any technology from any partner in your digital marketing network. This kind of interoperability offers significant advantages in helping marketers overcome the complexity and fragmentation in today’s digital ecosystem.

A platform is data-neutral when it allows its users to manage and share customer data with anyone in their networks. A platform is media-neutral if it does not sell media or require users to buy the vendor’s media to get full value of the platform’s services. Imagine the freedom of being able to collect customer engagement data from any source and send the data to any media or marketing tool for activation. Imagine being able to use your data however you want while maintaining complete control over it – that’s what you get with an open platform.

What are the benefits of working with an open platform?

The digital marketing landscape is intricate and constantly evolving. Marketers need to use multiple systems to reach their customers. Working with platforms that are open, neutral or unbiased puts you in control. You aren’t locked in or constrained, so you always maintain ownership of your data. You call the shots on the partners you choose and how you use and share your customer engagement data and insights. You’re able to measure your cross- channel marketing activities in an objective way, mix your first-party data with other data, and activate it across any platform.

If you value flexibility, unified data, portable learnings, and interoperability, then you should strive to work with open or neutral platforms whenever possible.

What is a walled garden or closed platform?

A walled garden is a platform or software that operates in a closed manner. Typically marketers encounter two types of walled gardens:

  • Closed media platforms that sell technology, proprietary data and media inventory restricted to their own audiences.
  • Marketing clouds that offer integrated, but proprietary, software applications ranging from email to analytics to social media.

A number of publisher-owned walled gardens and marketing clouds are very popular with marketers. When you work with a walled garden, you get short-term benefits of ease, scale, and efficiency. Those benefits can be appealing to a CMO whose life has become complicated by the proliferation of digital marketing tactics that must be coordinated, optimized, and measured effectively to reach the consumer. Moreover, closed platforms that provide instant scale can be appealing to advertisers under pressure to deliver instant results.

Why have walled gardens drawn criticisms?

Walled gardens such as Google and Facebook are the opposite of ecosystem-neutral. Because of their proprietary nature, walled gardens are closed to outside technology or media partners except for those predetermined by the walled garden. They want you to buy more media from them so they limit the ways in which you can act on your data. Marketers can expect to encounter data silos, lack of transparency, and lack of portability when working with walled gardens.

For example, you may not be able to export campaign data, matched data sets, or insights to other platforms, including your own, or take them with you if you decide
to switch partners. You will have to share your customer data with the walled garden and buy its media services, but data won’t flow back to you, thus hampering your view of cross-channel customer activity.

With an incomplete view of their data, marketers lack the ability to see the customer journey across all touchpoints, measure media performance, and identify the most effective channels for customer engagement. In short, walled gardens provide short-term benefits with long- term risks.

Why is it important to understand the difference between open platforms and closed platforms?

Most enterprises manage large ecosystems of technologies and partners in order to engage with their customers across channels and devices. If you are one of those enterprises, at some point you are going to encounter technologies or media that are either walled gardens or open platforms. You need to understand the ramifications of using either.

Walled gardens may make sense for a marketer whose highest priority is achieving efficiency and scale quickly with a ready-made media or technology.

On the other hand, attracting and keeping customers has become more complex than ever because customers interact with your brand across multiple touchpoints. On any given day, a customer might rely on channels ranging from television to mobile apps to a website to learn about your offerings. Understanding how customers interact with your brand across all those touchpoints requires you to connect your cross-channel data.

Open platforms best support such an objective because they allow you to send your data wherever you want, whenever you want. They give you flexibility to work with any partner across the ecosystem without limiting your options. Neutral platforms help you adapt your marketing programs to disruptions in the digital marketing landscape because they are interoperable with any new technology that comes along. In the rapidly-evolving digital landscape, you want to keep your options open. You don’t want to have to rip and replace your marketing stack. You don’t want to find yourself locked in with yesterday’s technology.

How can I tell if a platform is open and neutral?

When comparing technologies and vendors, ask the following questions:

  • How well does your technology support all the toolsets and platforms I use across my network?
  • If I share my first-party customer data with you, can I export and activate the learnings outside of your platform?
  • Does your platform allow me to sync my data with all the other vendors and activation partners in my ecosystem?
  • Do I have to buy your media to maximize the value of your platform?

Bottom line: If you align yourself with partners whose platforms are ecosystem-neutral, your marketing technology adapts quickly to keep up with your customers while you keep control of the first-party customer data.