Modern Day TMS: Is it Dead?

In the marketing landscape of today, we are closer than ever to a frictionless online marketing infrastructure powered by data. Use the tools you want, mix and match marketing clouds, make your own clouds, effortlessly trial and experiment with new vendors, eliminate underperformers with a click, learn new things and make rapid improvements. The floodgates of innovation are already open in online marketing. One need only look at the sheer number of tools and technologies out there. But finally, marketers have the ability to actually make use of 100% of the power of the tools they have and to innovate in new and amazing ways by integrating them. All tags are hungry for data, and until recently they’ve been starving. 
With the products I saw on display this week at Digital Velocity 2016, both existing and forthcoming, combined with the stories from customers about truly amazing things being accomplished, it’s obvious that Tealium is at the point where they are transforming the way their customers and prospective customers think about their solution. And it reminded me that it hasn’t always been that way.
A Brief History of TMS
What we know as tag management systems (TMS) today were invented to solve one of the biggest challenges in online marketing, but that challenge wasn’t deploying tags. Delay, mistakes, and inefficiencies caused by manual tag deployment universally resulted in stalled marketing efforts, lousy data, and slow pages. Founders of the early TMS companies were typically consultants who figured out ways to start automating their efforts. They were able to deliver tags in more intelligent ways in an attempt to remove the friction of deploying and/or switching to existing marketing technology vendors. Things quickly snowballed from there, and TMS as we know it was born.
Once these early systems were formally up and running the benefits were immediate. Estimates of multiple man-months for a new technology deployment or analytics conversion project were cut down to mere weeks. This is not hyperbole. In the early days the time and cost savings of TMS were truly incredible. The really hard part initially was explaining just what TMS was and how it worked within existing technology stacks and business processes to both business and IT. Once that was achieved, we could get to the fun part of showing them just how much pain it could relieve. The fact that many of these customers missed the higher use and ultimate power of a TMS is a testament to the sheer amount of pain caused by inefficient tag deployment in those days. 
Fast forward to today and nearly every company uses a TMS to deploy tags. There really isn't any excuse not to - for pure tag deployment use cases, free tools are reaching feature parity with the commercial products. The big problem now is in the name itself; the term TMS has painted these solutions into a corner and shortchanged exactly how disruptive they are.
My Bad, People
Time to come clean; I may have had a hand in coming up with this name. Sorry. You have to understand that in those early days it was a struggle to just explain what TMS was.  So I started relating it to Content Management Systems. By then, everyone used a CMS (just like everyone uses a TMS today) and understood the concept, so it worked pretty well to help paint a picture for customers. With the help of some marketing and whitepapers, the name stuck. But if we stick to that narrow definition of TMS we are at a dead end. There is no further innovation to be had. They will always get prettier and easier to use with more incremental features, but the core tag deployment problem is solved now.
From the beginning however, these early TMS vendors didn't see simple tag deployment as the true killer feature for their newly minted solutions. The true power, the highest and best use of these systems, was the centralization, manipulation, and application of visitor behavioral data. At the Tealium show this week, Rusty Warner from Forrester summed it up neatly in his keynote "Connecting Systems of Insight with Systems of Engagement".  As Rusty pointed out, no marketing cloud solution is complete, and even if it were there may be good business reasons for using vendors outside of the cloud. 
The reality is that all of these systems need coordination via a single source of customer behavioral data. Cloud vendors are pursuing the back-end integration route, because at the end of the day they are selling the integration between the solutions in their stack. Otherwise, it's just a loose collection of tools, which you already possess. The TMS solutions solve this through a client side approach, coordinating at the point of visitor engagement. For the TMS vendor it’s a much larger undertaking, but the benefits are total flexibility and the ability to support every online marketing solution available today and in the future. This is why marketing cloud vendors have shied away from creating their own killer solution in this space. Giving a customer the ability to eliminate the need for backend integrations runs counter to the very idea of a marketing cloud in the first place.
Renaming & Redefining TMS
Now back to Digital Velocity, the idea is that systems of insight know a lot about your visitors and the context of their overall history and recent interactions. Systems of integration also have immense power to effect change in real time to drive conversions and/or delight your customers. With TMS you now have a solution that can break down the wall between these two worlds, seamlessly gathering, organizing, and feeding data to the appropriate systems to take action whether it's an email, a personalized experience, an offer, even a phone call or television ad. It’s a powerful, agnostic system of record for all visitor data of interest continually updated and addressable in real time.
For me, the really exciting part about Digital Velocity is that Tealium understands this deeply. In fact they got this from the very beginning and have been working hard ever since to make their vision a reality.
I'm going to go ahead and attempt a bit of a Forrester move here and invent a new name for solutions like Tealium - Visitor Data Orchestration. These are systems that see and gather data from all touchpoints, apply context and meaning, and manipulate every behavioral data point according to rules configured through a user friendly interface. They are complete, universal, flexible, and powerful. By the way, they are not DMPs. Visitor Data Orchestration is focused on the 1st party data you are able to collect directly, enhanced with 3rd party and offline/backend data. DMPs were created to serve display advertising and have a distinct 3rd party audience data focus geared towards targeted ad inventory purchasing. Make no mistake though, these vendors are not dumb and are rapidly approaching the same solution from the other side. The true competition of VDO in the future is not free TMS solutions; it's the DMPs.  
Early adopters who identify with everything I've talked about here accomplished this from the very beginning. Why listen to me? Because I've seen it; I’ve been involved in these transformations. At Stratigent, we’ve helped many of these early adopters and we continue to help existing and new clients accomplish their goals in the ever-changing marketing landscape. 
Here is the best part; if you are already using a TMS vendor (sorry, VDO) with this focus, the system you own today already sees all your data and tags visitor interactions. You will want to invest in a vendor-agnostic enterprise data layer if you don't have one already, to ensure that your system is tuned to capture everything with very high consistency – no kiss of death here. With a small investment you can have this power at your fingertips today and revitalize your aging TMS. 
By David 'DJ' Johnson
About the Author:

David 'DJ' Johnson is the Vice President, Account Development at Stratigent.

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