The Evolving Tag Management Marketplace

Published by Eric T. Peterson on November 1, 2012 All posts from Eric T. Peterson

Today started with a flurry of communication about Adobe’s intent to start giving their Tagmanager product away to all SiteCatalyst customers at no charge. I see this change as having significant impact on the larger tag management and digital analytics marketplace, so I figured it was worth writing about.

Adobe’s news, confirmed but still not official, follows the launch of Google’s free Google Tag Manager by just over a month. This timing may be a coincidence — stranger things have happened — but it is just as easy to imagine that someone in Adobe decided that it was better to shake up the tag management market than to try and compete head-to-head on more robust, less expensive, and more widely adopted solutions. Additionally it is worth noting that IBM/Coremetrics made a similar decision months ago, essentially to provide access to their Digital Data Exchange product at no charge to customers.

For those of you keeping score at home, from the perspective of the traditional web and digital measurement vendors, here is broadly how things look today:

Vendor TMS Strategy TMS Cost TMS Maturity
Adobe In-house Product Free Emerging Platform
IBM In-house Product Free Emerging Platform
Webtrends Third-Party Solutions $ to $$$$$ Varies by Vendor
Google In-house Product Free Emerging Platform
comScore Third-Party Solutions $ to $$$$$ Varies by Vendor

As you can see, three out of five of the market leaders as listed by Forrester Research in their Q4 2011 Web Analytics Wave report are currently providing their own in-house tag management product to customers at no charge. Only Webtrends and comScore at this point are left relying on third-parties, essentially forcing customers to either allocate budget, negotiate contracts, and manage another vendor or leverage Google’s tag management platform, a frightening prospect these days given Google’s continued push into Enterprise-class analytics.

What’s more, the real impact will likely be felt less in the halls at Webtrends, IBM, Google, and comScore and more at stand-alone tag management vendors like Ensighten, BrightTag, Tealium, TagMan, and others. This group, well summarized by Joe Stanhope in his recent report “Understanding Tag Management Tools and Technology”, breaks along two lines of maturity: Emerging and Mature.

By “Emerging” I mean simply platforms that are earlier-stage start-ups, built on open source code bases, or otherwise not a full-bore efforts on the part of leadership teams and investors. In this group I count Search Discovery’s Satellite product, UberTags, Tag Commander, and until recently SiteTagger (who were acquired by BrightTag this past August.) I also count the offerings from Adobe, IBM, and Google in this list — each are a great first-effort from their respective owners, but each have functional gaps relative to the mature platforms listed below.

The “Mature” platforms, at least in my mind, are BrightTag, Ensighten, Tealium, and TagMan. Each of these companies are growing, well funded, stable, and reasonably focused in their efforts to create value for the tag management market and their shareholders alike. And, while I admittedly don’t know the TagMan guys very well, the other three are all known to Web Analytics Demystified to have happy and satisfied Enterprise-class customers who are increasingly dependent on their platforms for their analytics and optimization strategies.

The challenge all of these companies now face is this: without regard to relative maturity or technical sophistication, the two biggest companies in the digital measurement space (Adobe and Google) are now giving away tag management. What’s more, Adobe’s solution is essentially already deployed as part of most SiteCatalyst customer’s existing deployments, giving Adobe PR the license to declare that “Tagmanager is the world’s most widely deployed tag management solution” if they wanted.

Touche, Adobe. Touche.

While without a doubt the usual platitudes about “rising tides” and “market education” will be brought up, as will the typical FUD about “fox in the henhouse” and “vendor lock-in”, I wanted to drill down a little and provide my personal perspective on who Adobe’s announcement helps and who it hurts. Feel free to disagree with me here in comments … I know not everyone will like what I’m about to say.

Who Adobe Giving Away Tag Management Helps …

In the short-term, Adobe’s announcement helps more or less every SiteCatalyst customer who has been wondering if tag management is right for their company. The pricing barrier is gone, the deployment barrier is gone (assuming you have the right code base deployed), and for the most part the decision barrier is gone. You don’t have to decide whether it’s right to send even more data to Google … you’re already in bed with Adobe so pull those covers up a little more and snuggle in for a long Winter’s, umm, adventure learning how to actually leverage tag management.

Okay, that analogy stunk. Sorry.

Once Adobe flips the switch, every company leveraging SiteCatalyst has the immediate green light to start to explore tag management. Keep in mind, as with everything else, it’s not the tool you use, it’s how you use it … and if you’d like help getting started with the actual process of tag management please let me know. Web Analytics Demystified is very experienced with the process of bringing TMS up within the Enterprise …

Adobe’s announcement (again, when they officially make it) will also have that “rising tide” effect I alluded to above, without a doubt. Especially considering the money that Adobe is spending on advertising and marketing lately, if Tagmanager is rolled into that it is likely that an even greater number of CEO/CIO/CTO types will be asking their analytics teams about tag management, thusly generating substantially more interest in the topic at vendors across the board.

Longer-term, Adobe and Google’s announcement will help all companies. Trust me here, tag management is the future of digital measurement, analysis, and optimization. Based on work with our clients in the past two years, tag management is Pandora’s box — once it’s opened you can never, ever return to the way things were. And while I certainly don’t want anyone reading this to think that “tag management is easy” — it’s not — with the right people, process, and technology in place, tag management is enabling a whole new type of digital analytics. Again, contact me directly if you’d like to learn more about how tag management might be able to transform your company.

Who Adobe Giving Away Tag Management Hurts …

Much the same as I opined in my Good Guy/Scumbag Google blog post on the same subject, the Adobe announcement is not all good news. While Adobe customers can certainly bask in the altruism of their vendor — regardless of the reason they decided to make Tagmanager free … free is free — not everyone can be happy about this.  Here are a few companies who I think are going to be hurt by Adobe’s decision:

  1. Adobe’s competitors in the digital measurement space. Within the Enterprise market I certainly consider Adobe the market leader. While they are certainly not perfect, post-acquisition I have seen a steady increase in the focus and commitment the company exhibits towards the analytics market and, while I can never be entirely sure if they are actually leading the way or just following very quickly, the result is the same and Adobe continues to log impressive wins in the market. Giving away tag management — even if they have been doing it all along as a practical matter — only makes them a stronger competitor in the RFP process up against the likes of IBM, Google, Webtrends, and comScore. Seemingly overnight, free tag management has become “table stakes” in the digital measurement arena.
  2. The Emerging tag management vendors. Here the pain is equally inflicted by Google and Adobe. To me it is not clear that companies will continue to pay for a solution that has, in the blink of an eye, moved from the hottest technology out there to a commodity market. Yes, Adobe and Google’s solutions are emerging themselves, and  yes, each has as many limitations as they do advantages, but the one thing that Google buying Urchin years ago has taught us is that “free” is very compelling, especially when the final value proposition from the change being considered is not 100% clear.
  3. The Mature tag management vendors. I suspect that today was one of those “ugh, f*ck” days at Ensighten, TagMan, Tealium, and BrightTag … a day that is sadly increasingly common. The competition among these four is fierce, and I suspect the last thing that any of the executives and investors at any of these firms wanted to see on the heels of a free Google entry was a widespread and automatic deployment of a no-cost tag management from the platform (Adobe) that, honestly, benefits the most from tag management in the first place. To be fair, each of these vendors has a technological and methodological advantage over both Adobe and Google — each in their own way — but again, I consider it likely that at a minimum sales cycles will lengthen, prices will be forced down, and future rounds of investment will be somewhat harder to come by.
  4. Tag management investors. Tag management vendors of all types have seen substantial investment from venture capitalists around the globe. Given my writing about tag management I have spent countless hours on the phone with investors considering getting into the sector and, on every call, I was inevitably asked “do you think Google or Adobe or IBM will get into the space?” Now we have our answer, and what’s more, each of these three companies see a greater advantage in having their code deployed than they do trying to use TMS to drive revenue. Unfortunately revenue and adoption is the name of the game for investors, and that game just changed.

I suspect that there is some argument to be made for “this decision by Adobe (and Google) hurts everyone” given that if I am right about points #1 through #4 above it is likely that innovation in the tag management space will slow. Here I am not so convinced — knowing the leaders at most of the Mature TMS vendors moderately well I rather expect them to respond to Adobe and Google by making even better, even more sophisticated, and even more compelling offerings for as long as the market will let them. These guys are a smart bunch, and not a one of them to my knowledge is a quitter, so I expect them all to put up a good fight … driving innovation.

Again, for at least as long as the market will let them.

What do you think? Are you using SiteCatalyst and ready to give Tagmanager a try? Are you more likely to consider SiteCatalyst because they’re giving tag management away? Or does Adobe’s decision not really change your approach towards TMS … and if not, why not?

As always I welcome your comments and thoughts.

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  • Rudi Shumpert


    Having used many of the TMS solutions out there, both the mature and the non-mature players out there I don’t think this will have much real impact…for now. This solution from Adobe needs to come a long way before it should be considered for a real enterprise solution.

    Yes it does not cost and hard $, but it will be far from free for the companies that choose to use it. I can tell you first hand that it takes an investment of time and yes sometimes money to get a solid TMS solution and implementation in place, and too often companies rush in with what seems to be the easy solution or the market leader without taking the time to really decide what is the best solution for their team.

    If a company does not have the technical resources now to manage a standard s_code deployment then most TMS solutions out there will not solve their woes, it will simply allow them to get crappy code out to their sites a lot faster than there are able to do so now.

    All that being said, I hope that this continued increase in competition will lead to improvements from all the TMS vendors out there so that the end users out there will continue to benefit from this increased pressure for innovation.


  • Tim Wilson

    Wow. It seems like just yesterday that you were writing a paper about the “myth of the universal tag” and kinda’ introducing TMSs. But…it looks like that was 2 years ago, so maybe it’s just that time flies. The number of vendors in the space is approaching “staggering,” and it is hard to not think they’re on a blistering pace to squeeze some players out of the market en route to becoming a commodity.

    I’m not quite ready to think the emerging and, possibly, mature standalone TMS vendors are ultimately doomed. For one thing, they are much more motivated to truly be platform agnostic (or, at least, to have their biases match the market share of every platform they might support). It stands to reason that they will be more flexible and “ready-to-roll” templatized for a broad range of web analytics, VOC, testing, media tracking, etc. platforms. And, they can say with more believability, “We will lower your switching costs for *any* tag-based platform.” (and then they’ll whisper, “…except your TMS…” under their breath).

    The second opportunity, I think, is raw usability. Adobe does *not* have a track record of developing UIs that have short learning curves (and I am still firmly in the camp of “…and they rely a bit too much on the ‘that’s because our platforms are so freakin’ powerful…” — props and eVars, folks. The prosecution rests). I don’t know that even the mature TMSs have cracked that nut, either, but, if someone does, then that’s a real (if temporary) differentiator. Any company that runs a formal POC with multiple vendors is likely to find that the interface and design of one is much more intuitive and easy-to-use than those of the others.

    What I’ve seen/heard so far with TMSs is that companies wind up needing to find someone (internal or external) who is damn sharp — able to not only ramp up on the TMS, but be pretty fluent in all of the tags that the TMS is managing. That’s a really tall order!

    It will be pretty interesting to see this all play out. I look forward to coming back to this post in two years and seeing how prescient you were!

  • Michele Kiss

    I’m really excited to see how this plays out and benefits customers. The reality is, the presence of Google Analytics keeps the Adobes, IBMs, etc on their toes, because they need to compete on value, not price. I expect the same for tag management. If anything, Google, Adobe and IBM embracing tag management just validates it as part of the foundation of a successful digital marketing – rather than just some cool new tool. Of course, given the proliferation of tag management solutions, I don’t see them all surviving. But while survival of the fittest is tough for the unfit, it is great for customers and our industry.

    Now, would I use it? Certainly not just “because it’s free!” I would compare it against the other products in the market, just like I would anything else. However, I personally would be a little extra cautious with Adobe’s product. Having looked at some of their other “fringe” products, it seems they often have products for the sake of saying they have a complete package – check the box, “yes, we have that.” But some products just don’t get the development or space on the roadmap to really develop like a pure-play would. I would want to be convinced this was a real investment for them before I’d introduce it as a single point of failure.

  • Frank Cline

    100% Agree.
    I believe this will have little to no impact given the inferiority of the Adobe offering versus the vendors focussed on this space. You absolutely get what you pay for and the high cost of “freemium” will really be in play here.

    At the end of the day all they are really doing is just placing you additional tags in their file on Akamai and calling it. So really all you are getting is free Akamai for your content. If you currently have an Akamai instance for your sites, which you should, you too could have a universal tag!

  • Pingback: Link storm: Free Adobe TagManager, the mobile future, and the danger of social networks :: smartmetrics - the contentmetrics web analytics blog

  • John Bixby

    I agree that this probably won’t have much of an impact. Most vendors could probably have negotiated with Adobe to throw their TMS in the mix for free anyhow. The “emerging” solutions aren’t even close to the offerings of the more mature solutions out there.

  • Pingback: Sure your Tag Management System is cool…but I want more. | Rudi Shumpert : Code By Numbers

  • rand schulman

    I agree with you Eric. Almost to the word (which is rare). I remember the brave face we put on when Google announced GA ( I was CMO of WebSideStory at the time). The reality was, it was both helpful and hurtful for for the existing vendors and caused consolation. What I find more interesting is the recent subsequent announcements from Google about Universal Analytics and Attribution and when taken as a whole marks a seismic shift for digital marketing. The good news is that marketeers (and consumers) will win, as these products should work well together (eventually), but the disruptive smaller players need to be agile to thrive. They will need to think out of the box. And they will. Up or out.

    Rand Schulman

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  • mohitdxb

    Great blog post Eric.

    I come from a different part of world – I am not from US or UK where these big individual tag management operators are focused right now but certainly GA or SiteCatalyst has a decent “enterprise” customer base outside these regions (Asia, Far East, Middle East, etc) and I am sure these customers are prime candidates of a “without a doubt switch” to free Tag Management tools from GA or Adobe. It is not due to the reason that these tools are FREE but definitely due to a fact that there is no one else offering these solutions to us and “we” are already sleeping with the “web analytics” vendor.

  • Aaron Raddon

    I think a new player in the field that is getting huge in a hurry is, they are approaching it from a very different direction and business model.

  • Evan LaPointe


    Thought-provoking post, and thanks for including us (Satellite) in the discussion.

    I must say we’re all looking forward to seeing an analysis from WAD putting these tools against each other head-to-head. We find in our process of meeting new people that a very high percentage of brands are wondering who is best? Who will meet my needs? Who can handle my simple scenarios and requests vs. who will handle more advanced scenarios? Who is solving for:

    + Web analytics
    + Testing platforms
    + Behavioral targeting and site optimization
    + Marketing tagging
    + Site performance
    + Ease of use
    + Security
    + Reliability and uptime
    + Moving from today’s use cases to tomorrow’s

    I see a lot of potential in being a member of this “emerging” category, as you put it. In sports, “emerging” isn’t seen as a bad thing, where industry analysts look at Lebron James and recognize that it’s talent and ability that matters.

    So, who is the best? Who, when you put them head to head, wins?

  • Kris Groulx

    That’s a really good point (your second paragraph.) Do these free solutions *really* compete with the 3rd party guys in terms of UI and playing nice with other vendors??

  • Immanuel Godwin

    Enterprises using site catalyst but not using any tag manager yet suddenly get interested in trying Adobes free tag manager 1)because it is free 2)because its part of the package….if it works, expand usage throughout enterprise else dump it…

    Enterprises already using site catalyst and other tag managers would also be tempted to try Adobes free tag manager 1)because it is free 2)because its part of the
    package….if it works, expand usage throughout enterprise else continue with existing TM… just the way I see it…

  • Pingback: » "Tag! You're It!" — One More Analyst's Tag Management Thoughts | Tim Wilson's Blog at Web Analytics Demystified


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I am excited to announce that registration for ACCELERATE 2014 on September 18th in Atlanta, Georgia is now open. You can learn more about the event and our unique "Ten Tips in Twenty Minutes" format on our ACCELERATE mini-site, and we plan to have registration open for our Advanced Analytics Education pre-ACCELERATE training sessions in the coming weeks.

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Current Order Value
Adam Greco, Senior Partner

I recently had a client pose an interesting question related to their shopping cart. They wanted to know the distribution of money its visitors were bringing with them to each step of the shopping cart funnel.

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A Guide to Segment Sharing in Adobe Analytics
Tim Wilson, Partner

Over the past year, I've run into situations multiple times where I wanted an Adobe Analytics segment to be available in multiple Adobe Analytics platforms. It turns out…that's not as easy as it sounds. I actually went multiple rounds with Client Care once trying to get it figured out. And, I've found "the answer" on more than one occasion, only to later realize that that answer was a bit misguided.

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Currencies & Exchange Rates
Adam Greco, Senior Partner

If your web analytics work covers websites or apps that span different countries, there are some important aspects of Adobe SiteCatalyst (Analytics) that you must know. In this post, I will share some of the things I have learned over the years related to currencies and exchange rates in SiteCatalyst.

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Linking Authenticated Visitors Across Devices
Adam Greco, Senior Partner

In the last few years, people have become accustomed to using multiple digital devices simultaneously. While watching the recent winter Olympics, consumers might be on the Olympics website, while also using native mobile or tablet apps. As a result, some of my clients have asked me whether it is possible to link visits and paths across these devices so they can see cross-device paths and other behaviors.

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The 80/20 Rule for Analytics Teams
Eric T. Peterson, Senior Partner

I had the pleasure last week of visiting with one of Web Analytics Demystified's longest-standing and, at least from a digital analytical perspective, most successful clients. The team has grown tremendously over the years in terms of size and, more importantly, stature within the broader multi-channel business and has become one of the most productive and mature digital analytics groups that I personally am aware of across the industry.

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Ten Things You Should ALWAYS Do (or Not Do) in Excel
Tim Wilson, Partner

Last week I was surprised by the Twitter conversation a fairly innocuous vent-via-Twitter tweet started, with several people noting that they had no idea you could simple turn off the gridlines.

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Omni Man (and Team Demystified) Needs You!
Adam Greco, Senior Partner

As someone in the web analytics field, you probably hear how lucky you are due to the fact that there are always web analytics jobs available. When the rest of the country is looking for work and you get daily calls from recruiters, it isn't a bad position to be in! At Web Analytics Demystified, we have more than doubled in the past year and still cannot keep up with the demand, so I am reaching out to you ...

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A Useful Framework for Social Media "Engagements"
Tim Wilson, Partner

Whether you have a single toe dipped in the waters of social media analytics or are fully submerged and drowning, you've almost certainly grappled with "engagement." This post isn't going to answer the question "Is engagement ROI?" ...

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It's not about "Big Data", it's about the "RIGHT data"
Michele Kiss, Partner

Unless you've been living under a rock, you have heard (and perhaps grown tired) of the buzzword "big data." But in attempts to chase the "next shiny thing", companies may focus too much on "big data" rather than the "right data."

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