A European Viewpoint on the Evolution of Tag Management

oldenburgEditor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing interview series with digital marketing leaders, including many of the 500+ major solution vendors that are integrated into the Tealium tag management platform on a turnkey basis. This week we interviewed digital marketing analytics expert Lukas Oldenburg, Senior Digital Analyst for Unic, a top e-business solutions company based in Zurich, Switzerland that provides integrated consulting, creation, implementation and business operations products.

The recent report from Forrester Research — “The Evolution of Tag Management” — marked a significant move from how tag management solutions are utilised and perceived. Originally implemented to slash the complexity associated with deploying and managing tags, users are fast recognising the role a TMS will play in realising major data integration initiatives as marketers seek to make sense of the wealth of customer data now available to them.

Senior Digital Analyst Lukas Oldenburg offers his interpretation of some of the report’s findings and how they relate to his clients.

1. The report re-affirms that tag management has been an effective tool for alleviating the problems surrounding tags – in your experience, what are those main problems?

The main problem for those who do not use a tag management solution is that marketers are at the mercy of IT departments and their release cycles to deploy the desired tags on a timeline that is not consistent with achieving marketing goals. That is not an efficient way to manage tags, making it laborious and extremely difficult to execute successful digital marketing campaigns.

Another problem are the costs related to traditional tag deployment. Often, the marketer or digital analyst knows very well how a certain tag should be implemented, but it takes time to explain this to the developer, not to mention the back and forth between IT and marketing during the testing rounds. Sometimes as an analyst you just want to experiment with a tag first and get a feel for it before making the effort to explain it to IT. These reasons cause analysts and marketers to shy away from trying new stuff or achieving a well-rounded analytics implementation, because every new, small amendment means having to request IT budget first and then potentially waiting many weeks for implementation.

Tagging chaos is also an issue. Many companies don’t know which tag was implemented where on the site and for what reason. With a TMS, clients plan to centralise their tags in one system for a complete overview of all the tags currently deployed.

2. How are your clients currently utilising data to improve the results of their digital marketing activity?

Some clients are still at a stage where they are reporting a lot of data, but not really doing that much with it. Here, a KPI dashboard can be a great help in getting from mere reporting to data-driven optimisation. In those companies where we have implemented a dashboard, the awareness and appreciation of digital data has risen. More important, however, are the processes – e.g., regular meetings between stakeholders to discuss the current reports and specifically how they can take action on the data.

Some clients do use their data for optimisation, and the most common examples are for Search Engine Marketing, checkout process optimisation (via funnel reports or form field error tracking), teaser positioning (via “click-zone” reports), error reporting (404 pages) and so on.

3. What are the current challenges for organisations not using a TMS for their data integration initiatives?

First of all, let me clarify what I think of when I hear the buzz phrase “data integration”. For me, in the context of a TMS, it refers to integrated (data) reporting or integrated data collection. In short, a TMS makes integrated reporting easier by also helping with integrated collection.

Integrated reporting in its basic form is simply reporting that draws its data from different sources – it “integrates” different sources so you don’t have to look for the data in each tool every time. An example could be an SEM dashboard that draws data from your web analytics tool and from AdWords. That in and of itself is already a challenge because you have to tackle two APIs if you want to automate it.

A more advanced form of integrated reporting is one that draws upon several sources that have been “integrated” on the user level. This means that it is possible to tie every data point the organisation measures to a specific user from multiple sources (e.g. a user clicks on an on-site ad measured by Google Analytics and then purchases an item that is tracked by AdWords).

There are two rather tedious methods to achieve this without a TMS. Both have to do with data collection. The first method is to feed everything already being fed into other tools into your web analytics tool as well. For example, when you have AdWords tracking a conversion, you make sure this conversion can be tracked in your web analytics tool too. That way, you can get most of your on-site data through your web analytics tool’s API. A TMS makes this integration much easier: If there is already a rule that executes an AdWords conversion tracking tag, you can just tie an event tracking tag of your web analytics tool to the same rule. That way, you can be sure that both tools’ tags are unleashed through exactly the same event at the same time to eliminate differing data.

The second method, sometimes applied simultaneously, is to achieve integrated reporting by feeding the same user ID into each tool when the action is collected. Later on, you extract this data via each tool’s API. Via the unique key, the user ID, you are able to “integrate” the data. Sometimes you store this integrated data in a data warehouse and then extract whatever you need it into your “integrated reporting”. The benefit of this method is that you can more easily and directly unify it with other non-web user-based data, for example demographic data from your customer database.

Instead of sending the data to several tools and then “reuniting” it from there, a TMS could ease this pain: Since everything that is collected on my site has to go through the TMS, I could tell the TMS to do the integration on the user or session level before sending it to my “data refinement centres”. So say I want all sessions where a user was a) tracked by AdWords as a converting user and b) tracked by my web analytics tool as an on-site ad clicker. In this case, I could tell my TMS that it should export all sessions where both these events occur, along with the user ID, directly to the place where I want to do the integrated analysis. I could for instance generate a list of user segments for email remarketing.

Of course, this works only for on-site data and you still have to manage the integration with your off-site data yourself.

4. How familiar with tag management are digital marketers in the DACH region and how is this changing? Are there any misconceptions or misunderstandings?

My impression is that a lot of companies have implemented a tag management system in Germany recently. In Switzerland, where I work, tag management is still hardly known and there are very few companies that already use a TMS. But this year, more and more Swiss clients have started to hear about the topic and want to understand the opportunity. So our work right now consists mostly of informing clients about tag management in general and evaluating tools. The implementations I have seen so far remain very basic and do not contain the more complex Analytics tags.

As for misconceptions and misunderstandings, my impression is that some classical IT agencies are not pushing tag management solutions, as they fear that their revenues are in danger. Those agencies live off of all kinds of IT development, including tag deployment, so they are concerned they will no longer be needed if so much can be done through the TMS. But the opposite is true: Most developers I know are convinced that a TMS will take a lot of unnecessary burden off of their back so they have more time and budget for functional website improvements.

Another misconception concerns IT security. Some TMS vendors’ messaging gives the impression that marketing departments should now deploy tracking code entirely by themselves, without the involvement of IT. This should not be the goal of tag management – IT needs to be involved and remain the gatekeeper for code on the site.

About Lukas Oldenburg

Lukas is a Senior Digital Analyst and Team Leader with Unic, an Internet technology specialist based in Zürich, Switzerland, with clients throughout Europe. A regular blogger and commentator on all things associated with digital analytics, Lukas also worked as an editor-in-chief and webmaster for e-fellows.net, the German career network, online scholarship and recruiting company owned by McKinsey and DIE ZEIT.

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