Author Archive

23
Mar

Are You Bored by Tag Management?

Written by Andrew Edwards. Posted in Tag Management

You shouldn’t be.tag-management1-185x114

In fact, if your digital footprint is large and complex, you ought to be clamoring for it.

That such an arcane digital offering should in fact be a bedrock of data collection success is only testament to its primacy.

Why should you care?

Let me first state the problem:

In a galaxy far, far away, perhaps they continue to use server log files to figure out what users did on a website, but in that same galaxy they are probably still experimenting with more effective ways to build a fire with two sticks and no matches. On Earth, almost no one uses log files anymore.

We deploy digital analytics tools that rely on a much more targeted and accurate manner of collecting user data: tagging.

Why is this such a big deal, and why is improper or nonexistent tagging the most common stumbling block to reliable analytics?

It’s a big deal because tags enable (relatively) precise data collection. It’s also a big deal because getting tags properly implemented and then managed in an enterprise is about as easy as herding jungle cats – the kind that maul you suddenly.

Without tag management, “the process” (more accurately “the chaos”) almost invariably looks something like this:

A marketer says they need to know X, Y, and Z about user behavior on a digital property. Typically it goes beyond the basics of unique visitors and total page views. In order to get reports that illuminate user behavior, the marketer needs someone to create a “tag specification”: a document, often a spreadsheet, that describes the reporting need and the tag (small snippets of code) that must be placed in HTML so that when reports are created, they in fact have data in them. This part is usually executed without too much difficulty as long as the tag-specifier knows the tools and the tags very well.

Then, too often in my experience, the chaos really begins.

That’s because people who create tag specifications do not control (and do not want to control) the HTML that drives the site. The tagging spec needs to be handed off to developers (not the marketers) so they can place these tags. Sometimes it goes OK. Often it does not. Tags are placed, but incorrectly. Or they are not placed, and with little explanation as to why they are not. Weeks go by. Marketers get frustrated and too often end up settling for much more basic reporting than they had hoped. Often they end up with whatever basic reporting comes from putting just the simple tag provided by the vendor and the tagging spec becomes an artifact of hope but with little chance of becoming a robust reporting suite.

Compounding the problem in an enterprise is the multitude of sites that have wildcatted their own analytics, usually flawed implementations of free tools like Google Analytics (which can be quite powerful when properly deployed). Nothing can be measured against anything else because there is no common tagging protocol, no agreement on what is measured and how it is reported upon.

Tag management solves both of these problems rather handily and should be part of every marketer’s toolkit where they have more than a couple of sites to manage.

There are several flavors of tag management tools, ranging from Tealium’s container paradigm to Ensighten’s “server conversation” to Adobe’s integrated package and more. What they all have in common is inherent in the category name: They manage tags and tagging.

With tag management, instead of sending off a tagging spec to a range of developers responsible for different sites hoping they all do the tagging in the same way, the marketer can have one group of developers implement a tagging structure once, and then deploy it widely.

Moreover, they can, using a graphical user interface (anyone remember the term “GUI”?), decide the conditions under which certain tags “fire” (become active); and on which digital assets. Parameters can be set globally and then with little fanfare, the tag management system actually manages these tags globally. With robust error-detection and selective deployment capabilities, many if not most of the problems associated with data collection simply go away.

Tag management tools centralize the management of data collection and can be the foundation of excellence in reporting. It’s really that simple.

You ought not be bored by tag management. You ought to be excited about it, you ought to deploy it, you have every right to benefit from it once deployed. There is little excuse today for an enterprise not to use tag management in maintaining control over data collection and reporting over a wide range of sites.

If you’re still wondering why your enterprise analytics are in disarray, you now know why. Don’t let a good tag specification go down to defeat. Collect data reliably and globally.

With tag management.

 

 

18
Mar

Can Digital Analytics Save Itself?

Written by Andrew Edwards. Posted in Digital Analytics

digital_analyticsDigital analytics today is burdened by disillusionment and disappointment. Not that there are no success stories with digital analytics. There certainly are. But they are comparatively rare. Much more common are legions of valiant but frustrated marketers continuing to struggle with the basics:

Is data collection accurate? Once we learn what the data tells us about our business, are we in a position to do something about it? What happens when our agency tells us they’ve taken care of measurement and, behold, the campaigns are “all good” (or at least not a total waste)? What does change really look like, and can we make it happen in time to matter? How do we do that without automation? And where are the successful predictive models that drive automated responses?

The unanswered questions don’t stop there, but for the sake of brevity we shall.

No one suggests that organizations go without analytics. And many businesses do get to a place where they are comfortable measuring with accuracy and understanding. Many fewer end up being able to fix any but the most egregious “disconnects” between themselves and their customers. The vast majority settle for knowing what happened, with a moderately strong determination to do something about it “in the next release.”

How Digital Can Deliver for Marketers
Many of the most dire threats to success in digital marketing can be overcome by adhering to a process. The process is not very mysterious, and, in fact, can, with some alteration, be applied to almost any endeavor requiring rigor and results.

The process looks something like this:

1. Determine key performance indicators
2. Implement data collection and reporting
3. Review and analyze reports
4. Make content changes
5. Measure again to prove success

Following these will go a long way to avoiding disappointment and marketing paralysis, but often it proves devilish hard to get through the process.

Saved by Automation?
The toughest parts of the above process are numbers three and four.

It’s easy enough to figure out your basic metrics and get the data collected properly as long as you have a team of analytics experts. We’re pretty much overrun these days with analysts, but often it’s tough to turn what they say into recommendations. Then, the most difficult part is getting changes made. Figuring out what changes to make, and how to get them made, typically slows the process nearly to a halt.

Automation will be key in changing this from a roadblock to a starting block.

With Tealium’s AudienceStream, you can build in rules and thresholds that send out directives to content delivery systems that let you know it’s time to contact the customer with an offer (for instance). The key to its success is its timeliness and the certainty of its execution. It becomes automatic.

Conductrics deploys Artificial Intelligence to create a system of learning and action based on data. For marketers, this means that Conductrics will facilitate the creation of an “agent” that seeks out challenges and then tackles them (for example, it looks for meaningful patterns and then can direct content to be distributed as needed). Conductrics has likened their agent to a Roomba for digital analytics. It learns its environment and then focuses on doing one task very, very well automatically.

XplusOne [x + 1] markets a product called Origin. According to the firm, “Origin harnesses data to drive real-time, one-to-one interactions across all your digital channels, so every prospect and customer interaction is more relevant.” They also deploy a Data Management Platform that controls numerous customer touchpoints automatically.

These products help conquer the challenges of what many today call omni-channel marketing. They help address how customers can be reached in various “states,” as Rand Schulman has pointed out.

Automation is moving ahead rapidly. It may save analytics by embedding it into an automated process — which probably is where it belongs.

18
Apr

2014: The Year Marketing Automation Gets the Recognition It Deserves

Written by Andrew Edwards. Posted in Marketing Automation

A recent article in VentureBeat said that marketing automation tools had only a 3 percent penetration rate at non-tech companies. Meanwhile, marketers are clamoring for ways to act upon data.

More or less, the weakest link in the chain of digital analytics has been the “make necessary changes” part. It’s now been several years since marketers began to understand that having the information alone really didn’t help the business. Recommendations became important. And after recommendations, then action.

Action is messy. It hasn’t had much to do, until recently, with automation. It required getting marketers, developers, creatives and business owners to agree on what changes were needed based on the data. And then the often too-laborious process of actually implementing the changes and trying to tell if there was a meaningful difference in the before and after states. Too often these efforts fell apart in partisan bickering between teams and refusal of many to take risks.

When we talk about marketing automation today, we are referring to SaaS offerings like Eloqua, Hubspot, Leadsius, Act-on and others that build a form of call-and-response matrix into marketing efforts. The easiest way to understand this is to compare it to what used to happen if you were reading a comic book when you were a kid, and saw an ad to “send away” for something either free or cheap. You would do that, and then you’d get more offers from the same company in the mail, as they hoped you’d soon spend more.

Much more dimensional and sophisticated versions of this are being played out by marketing automation tools, and according the the VentureBeat article, there’s plenty of room to grow.

A recent example of how one company is addressing a call for marketing automation is Tealium’s AudienceStream. Tealium already has a key foothold in the tag management industry, and that puts it at an important juncture of data collection. AudienceStream links the collected data from many sources (legacy of Tealium’s TMS) and allows the marketer to quickly set rules, thresholds and triggers that communicate via new APIs to marketing-action software already in the market. In other words, an AudienceStream powers an Eloqua. Once the rules are set, AudienceStream can communicate with a tool like Eloqua and help determine what message goes out to what user without continuing human intervention.

We’re not at the stage yet where entire site pages and app screens are being re-made on the spot based on very fresh data. We are at a stage where certain updatable modules on sites, and certain marketing messages can be automated and substituted based on data. The reason why this market sector has such growth potential is that it actually fixes a real problem.

While we’ve had lots of time to gnaw on old chestnuts like page views and unique visitors, we’ve hardly gotten to a point where we can say we’ve got organized, incremental methods that improve marketing velocity. And we know that most of the friction comes from friction between different teams with different agendas.

Marketing automation has no agenda except to respond to data and seek a return on marketing content. It frees up humans to do more strategic work. It may have only a small percentage of the market today, but as marketers get more and more familiar with successes based on these tools, that percentage is likely to begin growing rapidly in the near future.

Think of 2014 as the year when marketing automation finally got some of the recognition it deserves.

 

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