What was an unknown field all of six years ago has developed at a rapid pace in the last year, created in part by demand from marketers for faster, more efficient methods of tracking marketing campaigns and more accurate analytics. Tag Management Systems is the focus of a recent Forrester report exploring how the field is growing to meet these demands.

The report, "Understanding Tag Management Tools And Technology," looks into why the demand exists, identifies the strengths of Tag Management Systems (TMS) in action according to a survey of 76 current tag management system users and gives a run down of vendors populating the field. It also offers some criteria that should be considered when shopping for a TMS provider.

Why Tag Management Systems Now

Customer interactions are becoming more complex as they move across multiple channels. Companies are struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of change that the market demands. The benefits of following and measuring the efficacy of websites and digital marketing campaigns is more important than ever and Tag Management Systems are stepping in to ease the workload.

Companies previously needed coders on hand to write long strands of Javascript to embed on web pages. With the majority of companies wanting to perform tag management in house, this put demands on the skills and resources within the company as well as creating slow page loading times for end users. The rapid pace of change in the market drove greater need to edit or change tags on a regular basis, making it difficult for companies who often lack a formalized process for tag management to maintain effective analytics.  

TMS simplifies this process by providing one application through which to maintain tags. The multiple lines of script are condensed to a single line which can be modified according to the specific needs of the organization. Often the TMSs provide templates for the script, making it easier for those less technically proficient to edit and maintain tags. The structured approach to tag management that a TMS system provides is a counter-balance to the lack of formalized processes in most companies.

Most respondents started with their TMS in the last year (50 percent), with an additional 29 percent coming to TMSs in the last two years. While web analytics are the main use (88 percent) of TMSs, respondents are using them for purposes beyond this with 64 percent of respondents using them for search marketing, 62 percent for ad serving, 59 percent for affiliate marketing and behavioral targeting coming in at 50 percent.

What the TMS Provides

The answer to this can be simplified to: reduction in time and increased efficiency.

With the majority of respondents editing, updating and deleting tags at least once a month, the differences between pre and post-TMS is dramatic: the highest number (22 percent) reported taking several weeks to implement new or revised tags before getting a TMS, whereas with a TMS, this time dropped down to less than an hour for the majority of respondents (53 percent).

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Source: Q2 2012 Global Tag Management User Online Survey by Forrester Research, Inc.

Respondents reported the following as the biggest benefits of the Tag Management Systems:

  1. The ability to manage tags outside of website development and code release cycles (49 percent)
  2. Reduction in duration of the process to implement new or revised tags
  3. Managing tags requires less time by staff.

A small number (4 percent) claimed that their tag management system provided no benefits at all.

The findings reflect a recent study by Econsultancy and Tealium, which established cost and speed as two of the greatest realized benefits. Forrester's report also echoed the findings that TMS use eases confusion and disagreements between marketing and IT as to who should have ownership of tag management, with the majority (38 percent) reporting that Marketing controls tag management, with IT lagging behind at 13 percent.

TMS Market Gains Momentum

Only one of the providers examined existed five years ago, with fifteen different companies (11 popping up in the last two years) populating the field that currently offer TMS capabilities. Forrester divides these providers into three groups:

  • Digital Intelligence Vendors
    • Forrester named Adobe and IBM for this category, explaining their appeal for existing Adobe and IBM customers and the benefits that such integration can hold for pre-existing tools. Criticisms were the lack of independence of the solution and narrow benefits for users.
  • TMS Pure Play Providers
    • BrightTag, Ensighten, Search Discovery and Tealium are the startups that populate this category. Focus here is entirely on tag management, appealing to analytics focused companies. Unestablished infrastructure and lack of credibility are the two main criticisms leveraged, with Forrester identifying this sector as acquisition targets, as can be seen by yesterday's acquisition of SiteTagger by BrightTag
  • TMS Marketing Platforms
    • DC Storm, Krux Digital, TagMan make up the final group, with TagMan being the elder statesman of the arena, having been founded in 2007. This group uses tag management as the foundation of their marketing-oriented offerings. Limited marketing capabilities is the main criticism for this group.

Picking Your TMS Provider

With the field populated by relatively young companies, there will be a great deal of variation between services provided. You may wonder how to differentiate between vendors. The report offers advice for those TMS shopping to, “evaluate vendor capabilities on three dimensions: technical foundation, application features, and extensibility. “

When examining technical foundation, look for how the company supports the design, operation and delivery of the solution in these areas:

  • Infrastructure
  • Deployment method
  • Implementation method
  • Support and services

Application Features provide the functionality of the solution and can make or break whether the solution will provide ease of use for your company. Look for:

  • Partner ecosystem
  • Workflow and user administration
  • Usability
  • Native reporting

Extensibility speaks to the interoperability of the solution, ensuring the investment is one that will pay out in the long term. Make sure solutions support:

  • Environment support
  • TMS platform extensions
  • Application programming interface

The majority of respondents chose their tag solution based on ease of use. The report urges creating a clear plan in advance of purchase, as with all technological  implementations, to ensure that the solution aligns with business objectives.