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Reality check: Tag management systems and data layers are out. Say hello to tag-free CDP

Author: Laura Ballam


Tags are used to perform various functions, such as collecting user data, tracking user sessions, or delivering content. They can be tricky to keep in order and can clutter a website – resulting in slower load times. Tag management systems aim to simplify this challenge by providing a user-friendly interface for marketers and data analysts to organize and maintain tags – without the need for IT support. But the reality is, tag management systems (TMS) had their day, and it's long past.

To fully reap the benefits of a TMS and streamline tag management, you need a data layer which captures in-session details in one place to use across all the tags being deployed. While this was a successful solution for many years, like most MarTech software it’s showing its age. Data layers were originally designed to facilitate the efficiency of tag management, but it’s become a burden to many organizations during the implementation process. You’re basically creating a "tag" to build a data layer, to then integrate with other tags. And the time saved in manual tagging has been replaced by the time required to manage data within the data layer object so the TMS can actually use it. Oh, the irony!

While tag management systems are undeniably a huge improvement over manual tagging, the reality is they’re no longer the best option – despite their impressive claims. Here are some great examples of where the reality doesn’t quite match the pitch:

The Pitch: TMS better enable Marketing to collect data about their customers and ultimately drive better personalization and targeting; all without the need for tagging pages with each individual tag.

The Reality: Tag management centralizes your tagging into one location, but you’ll still need technical expertise to implement enterprise-level tagging. Pre-built tagging templates are fine for deploying with an account ID, but they aren’t customizable enough for tags beyond that basic use case. Tag management also requires a data layer to create efficiency and be more than just an intermediary.

The Pitch: The Data Layer is the foundation of your CDP solution and will serve as the one true definition of your data across all digital assets and customer interactions. The data layer contains all the various data elements that will be collected across your site, and the visitor interactions and events that will be tracked.

The Reality: TMS vendors are dependent upon the data layer, because without it they must scrape details from pages during the client-side session. That makes it prone to error as pages are updated and the experience changes. It’s tough for companies to build a data layer, not to mention allocating a budget to do it properly. But without the data layer, everything within the TMS falls apart and all the features that got you excited in the first place are either unused or underutilized.

The ability to maintain a consistent version of a data layer on both mobile and web is also a challenge. Finally, security, privacy, and control must be considered when building a data layer.

The Pitch: Tags and data layers are a faster and more efficient way to structure data for tag management.

The Reality: The sheer complexity in the number of tags, the features within those tags/systems, and the environments themselves have basically turned the data layer into a monster to manage. The tagging efforts that were reduced by TMS have been replaced by the effort required to centralize and store session-level data within the data layer object so the TMS can use it. Additionally, the huge amount of mobile development frameworks renders data layers useless, and the coding required to embed within an app makes it more prone to error.

The Pitch: Use (the vendor’s) taxonomy for building a data layer, within their UI

The Reality: Companies should be vigilant to maintain control and ownership of their data. Best practice is to use an "independent data layer" controlled by the enterprise to avoid vendor lock-in or potential multiple versions across your tech stack. If you have to build it multiple times, it's way more trouble than it's worth. And governance should be a major consideration given the constraints of GDPR, CCPA, and others. Ultimately, it comes down to data accuracy and control.

How to choose the best tag management system for real-time personalization?

Ok, we admit - it’s a trick question! Tag management systems are great - but if you really want the best solution, think about data capture with no tags at all.

Tag management can potentially be reduced to minutes with a good system – but an automated, tagging-free solution takes milliseconds instead of hours or days! When you consider that one second shaved off your page load time will increase conversions as much as 7%, it’s no wonder tagging-free is the way of the future. True real-time is essential, both for data capture and data activation.

With constant pressure to maximize budgets and improve ROI, focus on data activation versus data collection is much more effective. The manual effort required to build a data layer and properly leverage a TMS leaves the door open to human error and data inaccuracies as web and mobile channels are updated and changed.

There’s a much better way to capture digital data - in a unified data model across web and mobile, without being dragged down by tagging or data layers. A tagging-free, single line of code solution enables enterprises to shift their focus and effort towards data activation.


white-cdpClick here to learn more about the tagging-free solution to capture, connect, and activate your customer data.

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