Tag Management: It’s Not About the Tags Anymore
Last month I attended Tealium’s Digital Velocity conference – the only multi-day conference this year held by one of the major tag management vendors. Obviously, Adobe held its annual Summit conference – by far the largest event in the industry – but Adobe DTM is unlikely to ever receive as much attention as other products in the Marketing Cloud suite that Adobe is actively trying to monetize. Google will likely hold an event later in the year – but if the past few years are any indication, GTM will receive less attention than other parts of the Analytics 360 suite. Ensighten opted for a “roadshow” approach with several one-day stops in various cities. Signal never really had an event to begin with. I had wondered before heading off to San Diego what this change actually meant – but those 2 days made it pretty clear to me: the digital marketing industry – led by the vendors themselves – is moving on from tag management. In fact, I’m not even sure “tag management” is the right name for the space in the digital marketing industry occupied by these companies.
Don’t get me wrong – tags are still vitally important to a digital marketing organization. And the big 5 vendors – Adobe, Ensighten, Google, Signal, and Tealium – are all still making investments in their tag management solutions. But those solutions are really just a cog in a much larger digital marketing wheel. All of the vendors whose core offering started out as tag management seem to be emphasizing their other products – such as Ensighten’s Activate, Signal’s Fuse, and Tealium’s AudienceStream – at least as much as the original tools with which they entered the marketplace.
This is a fascinating development to watch – five years ago, most companies’ tags managed them – and not the other way around. It was still somewhat of a rarity for a company to use a tag management system. I remember sitting through demos while working at salesforce.com and wondering how many companies would actually benefit from paying for such a tool – because we had an extremely sophisticated tracking library of our own that we had developed internally that fed all of our tagging efforts. I quickly came to realize that most companies aren’t like that – tagging is often an afterthought. Developers are usually uninterested in the nuances of each vendor’s specific tag requirements, and marketers often lack the technical chops to deploy complex tags on their own. So it was natural that systems that offered a slick user experience and allowed marketers to add their own tags quickly, with far less IT involvement than before – even if sales people tended to oversell that particular advantage!
However, once it became possible to increase the speed at which tags hit the site, and to decrease the impact they had on page load time and user experience, it was only natural that a whole world of possibilities would open up to digital marketers. And it turns out that the tag management vendors have been working on ways to leverage those possibilities for their own benefit. Instead of focusing on tags, these vendors (some more than others) are starting to focus more on data than tags – because the data allows them to expand what they can offer their customers and justify the investment those customers are making. This development was probably inevitable, though it was sped up once Adobe acquired Satellite, and suddenly there were multiple “free” tools readily available in the market. It used to be that tags were the lifeblood of digital marketing – but not anymore. The data those tags represent is really the key – and vendors that realize that are finding themselves with a leg up on their competition. Vendors that emphasize the data layer and integrate it tightly into their products are much better positioned to help their customers succeed, because they can leverage that data in so many ways besides tags:
- When your data is solid, you can seamlessly “unplug” a problem tag and replace it with a more promising vendor tag. A good data layer dramatically lowers switching costs.
- Data – especially unique identifiers like a customer loyalty ID – can become a real-time connection between your websites and mobile apps and traditionally “offline” systems, allowing you to target website visitors with data that has historically only been available to your CRM or your email marketing system.
- Data can make the connection between a web visitor and mobile app user, allowing you to reach the “holy grail” of marketing – people (instead of visitors or users).
The result of all these market changes is that tag management has reached a point in its lifecycle much faster than web analytics did. Web analytics tools had been around for nearly 10 years before Google bought Urchin, and nearly 15 before the acquisitions of Coremetrics and Omniture. It took about the same time for the vendors themselves to start diversifying their product suites and acquiring their competitors. It took half that time for Adobe to acquire Satellite, Ensighten to acquire TagMan, and products like AudienceStream and Fuse to be released.
The truly great part of tag management is how it has “democratized” digital marketing. Most of my clients have adopted more digital marketing products after implementing tag management because of the ease of deployment. But while they rely on a few key partners in their efforts, they tend to leverage their TMS as a quick and easy way to conduct “bake-offs” between prospective tools. I’ve also seen clients have more success because tag management tools have broken down walls not only between IT and marketing, but also between individual teams within marketing as well – because when you have a solid data layer, everyone can benefit from it. Ranking priorities between the analytics team and the display team, or between the social media team and the optimization team, no longer means the loser must wait months for their work to be completed. Everybody has always wanted the same data – they just didn’t know it. And now that they do, it’s much easier to get everyone what they want – and in a much more timely manner than ever before.
So tag management is no longer a novelty – I’m not really sure how any company can survive without it. But the name “tag management” actually seems a bit limiting to me – if that’s all you’re using your vendor for, you’ve missed the point. If you’re still relying on hundreds of one-off Floodlight tags, rather than pushing actual data from your website into Doubleclick to power much richer remarketing segments; or if you’re not using your data layer to quickly evaluate which vendor to partner with for a new display ad campaign; or if you haven’t yet realized that you can turn your tag management system into the equivalent of a first-party DMP, then it’s time to tap into the power of what these tools can really do. It’s not about the tags anymore, it’s about the data – and how to use that data to improve your customers’ experiences.
Photo Credit: Nate Shivar (Flickr)