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Tag Management Systems (TMS): fad or revolution?

My previous article on Tag Management Systems (TMS) generated a number of inquiries which I’ll try to summarize here. Basically, is investing in a TMS the right decision for your organization? As one of the comments said, a TMS is “a development cycle tool and not the Tagging Wand”! Just when I was getting ready to publish this post, Alex Brown published “13 Golden Rules for Successful Tag Management Adoption” – which also raises some of the same concerns you’ll find here.

Joe Stanhope from Forrester also just announced the Forrester’s Tag Management User Survey and those who participate will receive a complimentary copy of the completed research.

Tag management systems are valuable, but there’s also a lot of hype. You need to filter through hype, make an informed decision and understand the real value that a TMS can bring, along with the risks.

The value of TMS

Fundamentally, TMS are great for three things:

  • Raise awareness of tagging importance
  • Reinforce (or force) a process around tag management
  • Easier tags maintenance (but not necessarily “easier tags”)

Be wary of the blue sky

As with any technical solution to what is essentially a governance issue, you need to exercise cautious enthusiasm for the “blue sky” factors – also known as “bs”:

  • If you were not able to get your darn tags on the page in the first place, a TMS will not solve this issue. If you can’t establish the line of command to impose the presence of tags on every page (because of development roll-out schedules, governance issues, partners communication issues, resistance to change, politics and name it), the TMS will just requires you to go back to all of your interlocutors and ask them to strip down previous tags in favor of the TMS one. Good luck!
  • TMS vendors claiming deployment in X hours is as much bs as web analytics vendors making this type of claim. All deployments should be planned carefully. Very basic tags integration in CMS templates is a given; but I have never seen full deployment of advanced tagging, let alone tagging of complex transactional pages, done in a couple of hours.
  • TMS vendors claiming to get rid of IT is just bs. An easy and bold statement when trying to sell TMS to marketers… The reality is anything that is process driven – hooked up to your back office, thus, typically closer to your core business – requires tighter IT safeguards for quality, security and conformance. In some cases, like in finance, the TMS vendor will go under tight scrutiny by IT – and this is a good thing. After all, TMS are basically back doors into every page – technically, they allow to alter and capture elements present on a page.
  • TMS vendors claiming to avoid vendor lock-down is bs. It’s even worse… where you had multiple single tag vendor lock-down you now end up with all tags going through a single vendors hands.
  • TMS adds another interlocutor in an already complex environment. I have heard stories of TMS vendors being totally stumped when faced with certain types of tags. Finger pointing anyone?
  • TMS adds a single point of failure. Regardless how good they might be, regardless how fast they might be, the reality is you add a new link into an already long and complex intertwined chain.
  • The TMS landscape is too crowded, there is bound to be some market cleanup and consolidation. What happens if your TMS vendor goes south or is acquired and you end up having to switch everything? In many cases, TMS’s are palliating for issues that should have been resolved by the vendors long ago. It’s no surprise Adobe came up with their TagManager product, and expect other big vendors to follow.
  • TCO of TMS. Carefully look at the incurred costs (hard) vs potential economies (soft). In some cases, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) can be outrageously high – I’ll leave it up to you to figure it out and negotiate the best price!

My take

Selecting the right TMS solution (Tagman, BrightTagSatellite, EnsightenTealium, TagCommander, UberTags or the open source OpenTag solution) – and even validating if you should use one in the first place – can be relatively complex. As with digital analytics solutions, selection criteria involve more than picking the latest shiny new toy. This is where we come in.

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  • Gautier Lemesle

    Great post Stéphane :)

  • Raghu Kashyap

    Surprised that you dont have BrightTag in your list.

    • Stephane Hamel

      Just an oversight – fixed now :)

      • Raghu kashyap

        Nice post btw, We have internally been using asynch tagging(Core of TMS) for  the longest time and we see a lot of advantage both from performance perspective and also scalability perspective.

        • Stephane Hamel

          Oh for sure! Don’t get me wrong, despite the negative tone of this post, my previous article specifically highlighted the performance benefits of TMS.

          Now what I’m hoping for is TMS vendors will provide counter arguments on the points I raised. I would love to do a follow-up post with their POV, either quoted as is or anonymous – as they want :)

  • http://twitter.com/UK_OmniMann Barry Mann

    many tag vendors are VC funded and are popping up like mushrooms. Certainly some will die like mushrooms as well.

  • Birger

    Hi
    Stephane. You forgot to mention our Storm Tag Manager on the list. :)

    Working with clients implementing our TMS I mostly agree with your items on the
    list.

    Yes, you ‘somewhat’ can get rid of the IT. But you need it to implement the
    container tag or populate the data layer. Or even later on, in case of data
    layer updates.

    Implementing simple tags like a retargeting or affiliate tags with basic rules
    is pretty straight forward. But rolling out custom and complex web analytics
    tags via a container tag is nothing to be done in an hour. Especially if you go
    beyond the basic tagging and have loads of custom variables per page category
    it needs more time and thought, definitely.

    In case you don’t trust the reliability of a TMS you still have the option to
    host the container tag on your own domain/CDN if you think this is a better
    option. :)

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