Stop Thinking About Tags, and Start Thinking About Data
Nearly three weeks ago, I attended Tealium’s Digital Velocity conference in San Francisco. I’ve attended this event every year since 2014, and I’ve spent enough time using its Universal Data Hub (the name of the combined UI for AudienceStream, EventStream, and DataAccess, if you get a little confused by the way these products have been marketed – which I do), and attended enough conferences, to know that Tealium considers these products to be a big part of its future and a major part of its product roadmap. But given that the majority of my my clients are still heavily focused on tag management and getting the basics under control, I’ve spent far more time in Tealium iQ than any of its other products. So I was a little surprised as I left the conference on the last day by the force with which my key takeaway struck me: tag management as we knew it is dead.
Back in 2016, I wrote about how much the tag management space had changed since Adobe bought Satellite in 2013. It’s been awhile since tag management was the sole focus of any of the companies that offer tag management systems. But what struck me at Digital Velocity was that the most successful digital marketing organizations – while considering tag management a prerequisite for their efforts – don’t really use their tools to manage tags at all. I reflected on my own clients, and found that the most successful ones have realized that they’re not managing tags at all – they’re managing data. And that’s why Tealium is in such an advantageous position relative to any of the other companies still selling tag management systems while Google and Adobe give it away for free.
This idea has been kicking around in my head for awhile now, and maybe I’m stubborn, but I just couldn’t bring myself to admit it was true. Maybe it’s because I still have clients using Ensighten and Signal – in spite of the fact that neither product seems to have committed many resources to their tag management products lately (they both seem much more heavily invested in identity and privacy these days). Or maybe it’s because I still think of myself as the “tag management guy” at Demystified, and haven’t been able to quite come to grips with how much things have changed. But my experience at Digital Velocity was really the final wake-up call.
Most tag management vendors initially offered nothing more than code repositories outside of a company’s regular IT processes. They eventually layered on some minimal integration with a company’s “data layer” – but really without ever defining what a data layer was or why it was important. They just allowed you to go in and define data elements, write some code that instructed the TMS on how to access that data, and then – in limited cases – gave you the option of pushing some of that data to your different vendor tags.
In conclusion, Tealium isn’t the only company moving in this direction. I know Adobe, Google, an Salesforce all have marketing tools offer a ton of value to their customers. Segment offers the ability to do server-side integrations with many different marketing tools. But I’ve been doing tag management (either through actual products or my own code) for nearly 10 years, and I’ve been telling customers how important it is to have a solid data layer for almost as long – at Salesforce, we had a data layer before anyone actually called it that, and it was so robust that we used it to power everything we did. So to have the final confirmation that tag management is the past and that customer data is the future was a pretty cool experience for me. It’s exciting to see what Adobe Launch is doing with its extension community and the integration with the newest Adobe mobile SDKs. And there are all kinds of similar opportunities for other vendors in the space. So my advice to marketers is this: if you’re still thinking in terms of tags, or if you still think of all your third-party vendors as “silos,” make the shift to thinking about data and how to use it to drive your digital marketing efforts.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Poh (Flickr)