Category Archives: tag management

The Encima Group Donates Tag Management Referrals, Maintains Neutrality

The latest from Encima but a long-time in the making….hopefully more digital analysts and marketers will consider Piwik as an open source alternative to sharing their precious customer data with G. And of course, the DAA is doing some great things for the industry and we want to be a part of that. Special thanks to David Clunes for his vision and support on this initiative.

Encima Group LogoNewark, DE – August 18, 2014 – Analytics consultancy The Encima Group, is pleased to announce the donation of several thousand dollars in referral fees earned through the recent recommendation and subsequent implementation of Signal’s technology platform. Signal’s Tag Management system (formerly BrightTag) was chosen by two of Encima’s major pharmaceutical clients as the best-in-class tag management solution. For one Encima client, their prior tag management system took too much time to use and was expensive. It was replaced with Signal and the client is already seeing ongoing tag maintenance now taking less than 10% of the time that it did before. For another client, Signal was deployed together with an enterprise site analytics solution across several high-profile Web sites making ongoing tag maintenance a snap.

David Clunes, CEO and Founder of The Encima Group explains, “With technology vendors often jockeying on new capabilities, we prefer let them do what they do best without getting caught up. We purposefully do not recommend the technology platforms that make us the most money, instead we recommend what is best for our client’s long-term analytics success. Donations like this help us continue to maintain our neutrality – all while doing some good for the industry.”

The Encima Group, known best for its independent analytics and digital operations services often finds itself recommending platforms for clients. Sometimes viewed as another value-added reseller, The Encima Group sees itself as an extension of their clients’ organizations and vigorously maintains its “Switzerland” status. That sensibility extends from the firm’s analytics practice which uniquely eschews agency media buying and creative services to focus on providing clients with both objective performance reporting and unbiased campaign optimization recommendation.

Clunes continues, “When it comes to analytics, more objectivity is always a good thing. We feel that this is a great way of paying it forward and that hopefully other firms get the idea.” By sharing the referral fees that it earned, Encima is simultaneously investing in two worthy causes known to analytics professionals worldwide: The Digital Analytics Association, a global organization for digital analytics professionals and Piwik, the globally popular open source Web analytics platform.

“The Digital Analytics Association is thrilled by the Encima Group’s donation,” said DAA Board Chair, Jim Sterne. “The funds will be added to our general fund to benefit all members of the DAA. We hope that others in the space will follow Encima’s leadership in this area.” For Piwik, the funds will be used to facilitate continued development of this open-source platform. Available as an alternative to sharing with 3rd parties, Piwik allows digital marketers to control their Web site behavioral data. Maciej Zawadziński, of the Piwik Core Development Team says, “This is great and will help us to further develop an alternative free Web analytics platform.”

About The Encima Group

The Encima Group is an independent analytics consultancy that was recently recognized for its successful growth in the Inc. 5000 (ranking in top 25%). The Encima Group’s mission really is about actionable analytics and flawless execution. Offering an integrated suite of services around multi-channel measurement, tag management, dashboards, technology strategy consulting and marketing operational support, The Encima Group pioneered the notion of Data Stewardship. The Encima Group is based in Newark, DE with offices in Princeton, NJ and Chicago, IL. Its client roster includes leading pharmaceutical companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, Shire Pharmaceuticals, Otsuka, AstraZeneca and Novo Nordisk.

For more information about The Encima Group, visit www.encimagroup.com. For more information about Signal visit www.signal.co, for Piwki visit www.piwik.org and for the Digital Analytics Association visit www.digitalanalyticsassociation.com.

Media Contact(s)

Jason Mo, Director of Business Development (jmo AT encimagroup DOT com); phone (919) 308-5309; Domenico Tassone, VP Digital Capabilities (dtassone AT encimagroup DOT com); Phone (312) 492-4652.

 

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A Fool and Their Data are Soon Parted

In the post Fear & Loathing in the Ad Technology Stack (3/8/11), TOTSB opined about the latent dangers of having a tag management platform provided by the same vendor as the site analytics solution. Since then, IBM CoreMetrics joined the fray with their Digital Data Exchange solution. Earlier this week, the other and much bigger shoe dropped as Google announced their new and free Tag Manager.

With this latest development, it seemed like a good time to take a look at digital marketers often foolish handling of their customer’s behavioral data. These days such foolishness is like leaving the safe open with money in plain view. Now, let’s take a closer look at what is being offered by Google.

How Does It Work?

The appeal of Google Tag Manager is understandable: “Google Tag Manager is easy, free, and reliable. It gives marketers greater flexibility, and it lets webmasters relax and focus on other important tasks.” Signing-up is easy enough and takes just a few minutes like many other Google tools. Digital marketers can even “opt-out” of anonymously sharing their data for benchmarking purposes. However, this is a faux bone being thrown out by Google that is revealed on a subsequent screen.

Later, users learn that are actually agreeing to share their data with DoubleClick, Google’s advertising business and signing-up for AdWords, too. It is odd that users must explicitly agree to this to use a Tag Management System. On the final screen you can add then add some 3rd party tags. Conveniently this screen is pre-populated with Google’s Ad Words, DoubleClick Floodlight and Google Analytics tags. Supposedly other tracking tags will be coming soon with such drag-and-drop simplicity. Until then you can add custom code.

Google Tag Manager is:

  • Asynchronous itself and calls 3rd party tags asynchronously which means that slow-loading tags (including itself) won’t slow down page download time.
  • Not server-server…at least that is not yet clear. Meaning tags are literally firing on all requests which is technically a worse engineered solution when simultaneously using other Google products and services. When GTM does go S2S, certainly it will be positioned as a speed benefit…just ignore the looming centralized consolidated Google master cookie.
  • Using a Data Layer. Handy, as it means that there is a way to manage standardized data elements from user behavior on a page or other integrated systems.
  • No SLA. That is what free means; as a result this makes GTM less appropriate for enterprise-sized clients. Perhaps this will be included in Google Analytics Premium.


The Trojan Horse
Now for the rub. Considering the success of Google’s model of free analytics, this move by Google should not be a big surprise. If you weren’t already sharing your data with the Google data-mining machine, now there is one more way for them to get even more breadth of data capture.

 

Combined with their the search, free email, social and display media business, Google continues to steadily touch more and more of the entire digital stack. That means they also have maximum user depth, i.e. the full end-to-end view of cause and effect. It is this rich, vast global data set that Google’s engineers have trained their sights on analyzing. The reality is that most digital marketer’s already aren’t technically savvy enough to realize the free Google stack is a digital data Trojan Horse much less do anything about it. When you are used to getting the milk for free why would you want to pay for the cow? Let’s face it – it is a brilliant strategy.

Even if digital marketers decide to forgo Google Analytics and upgrade to a pure-play enterprise analytics solution (not a fake one like Google Analytics Premium), they still have a hole in the data bucket…now thanks to Google Tag Manager. Let’s just call it Google’s little data collection hedge.
 
At the same time, for most Tag Management System vendors this is going to be a really big problem. Google will now commence to eat many TMS’ lunch by putting tremendous price pressure on the market..kind of like dumping. Many digital marketers have already invested in what we can refer to as TMS 1.0 where its all about putting tags in containers albeit through non-server-to-server solutions. Interestingly, many of them are using their paid TMS to deliver their free Google Analytics. Arguably, these clients are the most at risk to Google’s freebies.

Think about it: these TMS 1.0 providers cannot compete any time soon with what will soon be a cloud-based (S2S) architecture. It will be difficult, expensive and risky to change their platforms with many clients and very tedious implementations already behind them. Expect to see more consolidation as a result.

The High Cost of “Free
Most digital marketers have been blissfully unaware of the actual game that they have been playing with Google for years – all under the auspices of free and easy-to-use. Perpetuated by self-appointed experts, there is a popular notion that espouses that analytics technology should be cheap and that it is more valuable to have a well-funded well-paid analytics people…not an expensive tool. The above meme is so Google. It is self-serving and self-reinforcing; it works especially well for the cottage industry of certified implementers and analysts. Unfortunately, it usually also means weak display media measurement, gaping holes in data security/intellectual property control and potentially deep privacy concerns. More tangibly, it could also mean inadvertently feeding your competition through a de facto data co-op while Google makes a buck.

The layers of Google’s conflicts of interest are deep and include:

  • Google Remarketing –  conveniently baked into Google Analytics these days; the Google advertising cookie and the Google Analytics site cookie have been one and the same for some time now
  • Google Analytics – known to overstates Paid Search performance
  • Google Search – recently changed how referral data is passed on  landing pages, thus obfuscating search performance
  • Google Analytics Premium – a thrown bone on fractional attribution and now via DoubleClick Analytics, yet their credibility as an independent arbiter of their own performance is rarely considered

On Being Ethically Challenged About Others’ Intellectual Property
Google’s history is riddled with questionable attitudes towards ownership of other’s data. If your IP attorneys are not paying attention to this – you might need new ones:

Digital Marketer’s Fasutian Bargain
The fact of the matter is that Google is really an advertising company not a technology company. The big question for today’s digital marketers that are considering Tag Manager has not changed. It is the same as the Google Analytics question, i.e. is your company’s most valuable asset (customer’s behavioral data) worth more than the cost of not sharing it with the best data-mining conglomerate in the world? For many smaller companies the answer could be no, but for many largeradvertisers the answer should be – thanks, but no thanks.

Google’s latest self-serving, 3-for-me and 1-for-you offering should really motivate digital marketers to start to think differently about their value of their data, how much they trust others with it and what they need to do next to securely and exclusively control their data. Smart advertisers need to really start paying attention to how much data they are really sharing with a company that Sir Martin Sorrel best referred to as a “frenemy“…and that was way back in 2007. So much for do no evil.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

How to Remove Google from your Ad Stack
Others are also noticing Google’s move and that digital marketers do have other alternatives…they are just not free. Back to using common-sense and ROI/TCO analysis to justify technology investments…or risk sharing your data with Google and the competition.

Here are some thought-starters:

  • Tag Management. Best choice at this point: BrightTag. Yes, I am an advisor. However, the reason I am is because only BrightTag has looked beyond tags on pages to the underlying problem of the data transport layer. Unlike the other TMS 1.0 platforms, BT has already a few years into developing a powerful TMS 2.0 tool; it is based on a highly scalable cloud-based infrastructure that offers digital marketer’s a real alternative to Google’s encroaching data glom. The good news is that most everyone that matters is already server-server integrated with BT…except of course (wait for it…)…Google’s products (Google Analytics, Floodlights, AdWords).
  • Analytics: Adobe, ComScore’s Digital Analytix and if you must IBM CoreMetrics
  • Ad Server: MediaMind, Pointroll, MediaPlex and if you must Atlas……not Google Analytics
  • Search Management: Kenshoo, Adobe, Marin…anything but DART Search
  • Attribution: Adometry, Visual IQ have better methodologies…C3, Convertro, Clearsaling…not Google Analytics or DFA.
  • Demand Side Platform: MediaMath, Turn, DataXu…not Bid Manager (formerly Invite Media).

The truth of the matter should be getting clearer to savvy digital marketers. If not, bring in independent viewpoints that are not invested in this madness. Good luck!

For publishers this is a much more complex proposition and the subject of a future post.

Fear & Loathing in the Ad Technology Stack

Spring is upon us and many of us are coming from and going to conferences this week. With so many interesting events to chose from it is exciting to see all the innovations and industry continuing to grow; analyst Jack Myers put digital advertising at $47.6 Billion last year (8% share of total marketing spend). This is no doubt evidenced by the plethora of technology companies captured in Terrence Kawaja’s ubiquitous Display Advertising Landscape diagram. Yet, the colorful framework belies the complex and fierce co-evolution that is happening behind-the-scenes of the so-called Ad Technology Stack.

Focused on hitting their milestones and/or quotas, investor-fueled and publicly-traded ventures alike will be putting on the hard-sell this trade show season. Panel and exhibit hall attendees certainly know the drill. Prospects will be dazzled, plans hatched and hopes dashed with the latest BSO (bright shiny object) hanging in the balance. On tap across booth chit-chat, panel pontification, martinis and outdoor activities will be information (not to mention outright disinformation). Perpetual conversion machines are the latest rage!

After years of consolidation and financial speed bumps the current industry, while seeing more revenue has definitely shrunk in terms of choices. It should not be a surprise that many battle-scarred survivors have benefitted from this and effective technology lock-in strategies. The result for some technology buyers has been worse service levels and slowed innovation. Nonetheless, gaps in the incumbent’s vision or their inability to consistently innovate have spawned mini-me’s up and down the stack; some trying to create their own lock-in. Unfortunately, all this has all been accepted as a cost of doing business.

To buyers of stack technologies: caveat emptor.

We Know What You’re Up To

Once the technology deal is done – it is going to be too late. Control immediately begins to shift from the technology buyer to the seller. Why does leverage shift? In economic terms, the buyer may have just unwittingly entered into a deal with a micro-monopolist. While this could be arguably true for many industries, for stack buyers this has more severe consequences. The kind that are often obfuscated yet pervasive and only become fully understood in time. It goes way beyond simple buyer’s remorse.

Ad Technology Stack business models that rely on technology lock-in do so because their investors and management have found that such switching inflexibility works for them. One need only look around to find many mainfestations across the stack, mainly in two areas:

  1. Performance analytics – ownership, access and control of reporting data
  2. Behavioral data – for both advertisers and publishers

Due to information asyncronicity, technology buyers often don’t realize fast enough that they are really signing up to purchase a series of products and services -all when they are at the greatest informational disadvantage. As a result, stack buyers can easily become captives of their own making. A little diligence and research upfront can mitigate the common self-inflicted damage caused by lock-in.

Switching Cost and Lock-in

In game theory, a product or service has a switching cost when the buyer purchases it over multiple periods of time and experiences time, cash or opportunity costs to switch from one seller to another. Switching costs can also occur when a buyer purchases additional complementary products or services making substitutes relatively more expensive; increased complexity is positively correlated with higher switching costs.

Altogether this effectively shifts the supply curve and creates the “lock-in” effect thus raising costs for the buyer. Clearly, switching items in the stack can have unintended negative consequences. More specifically, when a businesses contracts with a stack company there are usually multiple economic components to what is effectively the total cost of ownership (TCO):

  • Implementation
    • Cash
    • Resource time
  • Learning Curve:
    • Application usage
    • Report data warehousing
  • Framework
    • Contractual
    • Network considerations
    • Opportunity

All of the above combine to create an effective transaction or cost of switching. Although implementation is an obvious one-time cost (sometimes the largest component), other costs are more subtle and may actually increase over time. Practical scenarios might include:

  • changing the ad server or site analytics technology
  • managing research or targeting page tags (and data sharing)

Staying Balanced in the Melee

While the lock-in strategy has worked well for technology sellers in the past, many Ad Technology Stack ventures are about to get their legs kicked from under them. Enter tag (data) management companies like BrightTag, Tagman, Ensighten and Tealium.These companies are exclusively, if not mostly focused on managing proliferating page tags which are a major culprit behind stack lock-in. Having one technology locked-in that you’ve planned for is probably better than fifteen that just happened over time.

In addition to to making the business of digital marketing actually manageable from a logistical tag and data-sharing standpoint, the larger possibilities are tantalizing for stack buyers wrestling with IT/development queues. Simply put, tag management changes the balance of leverage away from the sellers towards their customers. Analytics expert, Eric Peterson called this out  in a recent white paper saying:

“…as implementations become more involved and sophisticated the businesses willingness to switch vendors declines, even in situations where the relationship has been badly damaged by miss-set expectations, miscommunication, or outright lies”

Fear and Loathing

Yes, positive change is in the air for the industry. Widespread use of tag management systems make this an inevitability. However, reactions span the contninuum:

  1. Guarantee us business and we’ll integrate
  2. These companies are risky start-ups
  3. We have developed our own solution
  4. Interesting, but never heard of it
  5. No problem, we can work with anyone
  6. Great idea, we want to get to market first

No wonder that the reactions from the ad technology stack about universal tag management have been mixed – these tag management companies are upsetting the status quo and threatening lock-in!

Laggards are doing what they do: delaying and holding out. They are not happy about this. Some are attempting to make tying deals to lock-in even more. For this desperate and unimaginative bunch, it will be a slow and steady burn as the balance of power swings back; some may even get crushed. Others will respond by acquiring companies or being acquired. Still others will hit the wall or just become irrelevant.

More proactive technology sellers see this as an opportunity for competitive advantage and customer relationship-building. This breed of stack company is already knows how to adapt to the new reality of constantly being tested. They are fast failers and built to optimize, now using the opportunity to proactively to gain compeititve advantage.

Moving Forward

Technology stack buyers must balance the fear of being left-behind with a more reasoned approach. Sellers must be able to provide value today without depending on technology lock-in to be successful in the long-term; management discipline and technology agility are essential.

On the upside, one promising trend is that for the first time since the implosion of the Web 1.0 industry, business development (not strategic sales execs) executives are popping up across Ad Technology Stack start-ups. Having the organizational competency to vet and manage strategic alliances is a step in the right direction. Kudos.

Interoperability matters. Compatibility across the stack is a must-have and stack players that didn’t learn the lessson of Betamax (in hopes of another iPod) may be deluding themsleves. Such a fast-buck approach has the technology seller helping themselves at their customers long-term expense…almost becoming parastic. Investors and entrepreneurs take note: the new stack won’t tolerate old stack micro-monopolies: plan on more Schumpeterian creative destruction.

In the end, it is all about risk-sharing: stack buyers that don’t perform adequate diligence, risk being marginalized by lock-in. At the same time, stack sellers that cannot constantly adapt to the marketplace will become riskier bets.

Just make sure you’re not stuck with them.

[UPDATE: AdExchanger had an intro which didn’t quite capture the point. Whether you buy a la carte or bundled technologies doesn’t matter. What matters is how those technologies integrate (or don’t) with each other and how easily you can test them. Tag management/data sharing technologies (especially pure-plays) can mitigate the inflexibility of tag based lock-in.]

The Moratorium: No, you May Not Place a Tag on the Site…

Digital marketers, the time has come to heed the call and end the rampant chaos and confusion by putting in place page tag moratoriums. Today.

WHY THE MORATORIUM?

Upon taking a closer look at the confusion and chaos that the industry has come to tolerate clearly illustrates the rationale.

CONFUSION
For too many and for too long, digital marketing brings with it page tagging needs that need to be executed by technical teams in other departments. Moreover, there are often precision measurement implications to retargeting and conversion tags. Although some legacy ad networks are making strategic moves, this confusion has definitely been a money-making opportunity. Adding to the confusion, the ad networks are rapidly right-sizing their staff, diversifying their offerings and/or reinventing themselves as exchanges, DMPs, DSPs, data layers and more.

That said, the real confusion can be split into three distinct aspects of communication within the digital marketing process:

1. Opaque Reporting – With the advent of DSP’s, OpenRTB and the IAB’s taxonomy, not sharing more performance information is problematic. From an analytics standpoint, not knowing where your high-performing audience segments are coming from and/or where they are in the conversion funnel becomes a opportuniy cost. If you are focused on conversion this makes your campaigns spray and pray.

2. Unclear Benefit – All too often, ad networks are quick and aggressive about getting their tags placed on pages…why? More details and in plain English are needed beyond anecdotal stories and faux studies of performance success. Agencies too have an oppotunity here to better steward their client’s brands. Exactly what is the specific benefit of retargeting, optimization or incremental conversion. A simple litmus test is: proceed when and only when the level of benefit exceeds the level of effort.

3. Data Leakage Risk – In many cases, it is not clear who owns the cookies and/or the behavioral data  vapor trail that is a byproduct of site traffic/ad campaigns. Without clarity on this important intellectual property it shouldn’t be a surprise when you find that the competitors are benefitting from the campaigns that you just ran. With the growing calls for privacy and consumer control this should not be left to chance.

The reality is that digital media is confusing enough rife with opportunities for swirl. Client-side marketers need to continue leaning in, stepping-up and demanding more clarity about those bells and whistles. Those that are not comfortable dealing with the more technical aspects of digital marketing need to get an agency, consultant and/or in-house staff that  are experienced and have demonstrated success.

CHAOS
To suggest that the technical aspects of today’s page tagging create chaos would be an understatement. Historically, page tags have fallen between the organizational cracks into the cross-functional abyss. Page tags have created serious problems for digital marketers and IT/engineering teams alike. With neither resourced properly to deal with this fast-moving technology that is growing more complex – mayhem and frayed relationships are an all too common result.

The good news is that technology is now available to help deal with the chaos: universal tag management systems like BrightTag, Tealium, Ensighten and TagMan can help. The technology also offers three different kind of benefits:

1. Tag Management – There is no question that proliferating page tags are the Achilles heel of most digital marketer and site IT/engineering teams. Today page tags are often late being implemented due to resource constraints with seemingly simple requests triggering requirements-level justification. As a result, in order to get any tags in place the real need is often scaled back to avoid the upfront time – that means a less than ideal deployment and less meaningful measurement. If the tags actually do get implemented, they are at certainly risk of randomly disappearing mid-campaign further compromising measurement. Last, once they are live, some page tags are escape notice and are never decommissioned upon campaign end. Don’t expect ad networks to remind you to remove their tags. Phantom cookie pools are probably rampant.

2. Data Sharing – Beyond rendering tags on pages at the right places and the right times, the better tag management systems are being baked into site CMS (content management systems) to enable the routine passing of data attributes. Instead of hot-rodding simplistic 3rd party ad server container tags, the newer platforms are deeply integrated and have Web-based interfaces that marketing, IT and agencies can access. A huge benefit of this is avoiding the software development-QA queue and the subsequent management hassle of dealing with one-off JavaScript code.

3. Tag Latency – Most page tags are “dumb,” meaning that they always fire all the time. So-called “smart” tags now offer conditional tag rendering, which provides marketers with even more precise control. More advanced approaches like BrightTag’s take advantage of super-fast asynchronous server-server connections, i.e. while the page is downloading in the user’s browser. If your page tag functionality can’t be called through their server-side API connection then latency is unavoidable.

The result of this is compromised measurement and unnecessary latency putting digital ad campaigns at risk. It just doesn’t have to be this way with universal tag management technologies that make the entire process easier. For the first-time ever, agency ad ops, analytics, media planning and engineering teams have the chance to collaboratively and proactively manage burgeoning page tags.

PRETZEL LOGIC
A recent article by Joe Marchese of MediaPost, Putting Lipstick On The Banner puts it best. While I vehemently disagree with the assessment of display ad efficacy (there’s more to display than clicks), Mr. Marchese does make a good point about the apparent pretzel logic of digital media.

Already challenged to explain the value of their existing campaigns, by adding more complexity digital marketers are usually not really improving their campaigns. With more retargeting, research and tracking tags on the horizon (bright-shiny objects) – savvy digital marketers and even partners can see why getting their house in order with their own version of The Moratorium makes total sense.

The message of The Moratorium to ad networks, data providers and other meta media purveyors is a simple one: don’t bother asking for page tags unless you’re also bringing solutions to the chaos and confusion that you’re also bringing. Behind it is a more sustainable business relationship built on transparency and success.

Digital marketers will continue to get the results that they deserve, until they demand better from media partners and even digital agencies.

Until then the answer should be: No, you may not place a tag on the site.