What’s in a Tag?

The tag-management space is certainly getting red hot.

Last summer Adobe acquired Satellite to bring tag management into its marketing cloud. Then, BrightTag hired Forrester’s Joe Stanhope shortly after a $27 million strategic investment from Yahoo Japan. And Forbes named Tealium one of America’s most promising companies, while the Digital Analytics Association recognized them as Best New Technology of the Year for their audience discovery and digital data distribution platform AudienceStream. Now, after raising $40 million in its series B, Ensighten has swallowed up TagMan, the first company that was out of the gate with a tag-management system. So what’s all the buzz about tag management? Is this a bellwether sector for the rest of the digital marketing industry?

Industry analyst Forrester’s new study argues that the need to enable digital data integration will drive investments in tag management. It’s the early days for tag management, but the industry is growing rapidly because it’s not so much about tags, but about the bigger challenge of using digital data. In fact, Ensighten chief executive (CEO) Josh Manion says the word “tag” doesn’t even appear in his company’s name because he wants to “fundamentally change the way companies collect, own, and act on all of their digital data in any digital touch point in real time.”

Where does tag management fit in the data picture? Here’s an example someone shared with me recently: He had gone to an antivirus product’s website, read the reviews, and bought the software. In the days that followed, however, he suddenly began to see banner ads from that same software maker whenever he visited CNN, ESPN, and other favorite websites. The software maker knew he had visited its website, but not that he already bought the product. They were retargeting him with banner ads at unnecessary cost and no purpose. Tag management fixes this problem.

Most marketing teams struggle with the volume, velocity, and variety of digital data generated every time someone touches the brand. You need insights from the data. You need to understand cross-channel behavior and run predictive “what if” scenarios to improve the effectiveness of your media mix. Tag management can create a foundation to make it easier to use multichannel marketing analytics for these purposes. Here’s the story:

  • Tag Management Basics: Tags, of course, are critical to gathering data about who is touching your website, clicking your banner ads, responding to marketing campaigns, or conversing with you on social platforms. But one of the big improvements introduced by tag management systems is this: non-technical marketers can do their own tag management. No need to ask IT to deploy tags. You can deploy just one tag, sometimes even just a single line of code, and then manage all the tags through a single user interface. That’s a big change from being forced to modify source code on your website. Even so, this is still not the most interesting benefit.
  • Liberate Your Data: Here’s the “aha” moment in tag management. The best tag management systems unite tagged data in one place – automatically. In the past marketers had to pull the data manually from each of the vendor systems, whether it was Google for search, DoubleClick for digital advertising performance, or an email-tracking app for campaigns. Now the best tag management systems track a data record each time a consumer touches your brand – and deliver it to you in one place. In effect, you can liberate your own data from the vendors you’ve been tagging. No one can hold your data ransom, as Manion says.
  • Know Your Customers as Individuals: Tealium’s AudienceStream does something more, as does Ensighten’s counterpart, Activate. These systems can deliver an exhaustive accounting of every person tagged in digital platforms: what each consumer has viewed, on what platform, how long they spent with your content, and whether they purchased anything. You get a unified view for everything the consumer has done across all marketing channels.
  • And One More Thought on Privacy: Tag management systems bring together data that’s now scattered across multiple siloes and tie it back to the consumer, enabling improved privacy. How? When all transactions are linked to individuals, it may actually become easier to adhere to the four rights to privacy, which analytics guru Jim Sterne wrote about recently for ClickZ in his column “Of Three Minds on Privacy – and a Song.” The European Parliament and the European Commission defined those rights in data protection reform, and they include the right to be forgotten, easier access to your own data, explicit consent over the use of your data, and privacy by design by default. We want to be remembered so that we don’t get spammed by irrelevant offers and news. But we also want to preserve our privacy. As Sterne writes, “Modern data processing just isn’t up to the task” of assuring the four rights. But it’s possible that tag management may help by giving us more control over data and how it’s used.

I started this column by asking if tag management is a bellwether for the digital marketing industry. I believe the answer is a resounding “yes.” And, it’s clear that the best tag management systems can be a foundation for building those elusive, one-to-one relationships with customers, while using marketing analytics to further improve your marketing decisions about how, when, and where to relate to them.

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