GrowthMarch 30, 2018

Tag managers and CDPs: What’s the difference?

Both tag managers and CDPs help marketers collect customer data without relying on engineering, but that's where the similarity ends.

Comparing tag managers and Customer Data Platforms

In the dimly lit room that often is emerging technology categories, tag managers and customer data platforms can be easily confused. Both make it easier for non-technical marketers to collect and action data across multiple vendor partners. Even more confusingly, several of the leading tag management providers now also claim to offer CDP capabilities.

This guide will provide you with an understanding of what a CDP is, what it can do, and how it compares to a tag management system so you can make the best choice for your business.

What is a tag manager?

As mentioned, both of these systems are designed to collect customer event data for brands so that marketing, finance, and operations teams can make data-driven decisions without using valuable engineering hours. Tag managers rely on tags, or pixels, which are snippets of JS code embedded into web and mobile sites. Tags perform specific tasks, like recommending products or chatting with customers, while collecting behavior data on each customer. The most basic of tag managers help marketers deploy, edit, and remove tags while more advanced tag managers include privacy controls, mobile support, customization, and more granular data management. Tag managers are important because, in the pre-tag management world, web developers spent a lot of their time hard-coding JavaScript code snippets directly onto web pages to enable third-party vendor tracking.

Besides this automation, tag managers provide robust integrations to adtech and analytics services, so brands are able to better track their data and use it to influence advertising strategy. Because tag managers rely on tags fired as a result of customer actions, they can also provide limited identity resolution and data mapping onto users from on- and offline data. This is limited by the source of the customer data, with mobile being hit or miss depending on the device used.

What a tag manager isn't

For all the benefits tag managers have been able to provide marketers for the past decade, they can’t seem to keep up with modern data demands, like identity resolution. Tag managers aren’t an identity resolution solution. Because tag managers rely on tags fired as a result of customer actions, they can provide only limited identity resolution and data mapping onto users from on- and offline data. This is limited by the source of the customer data, with mobile being hit or miss depending on the device used.

Tag managers aren’t a comprehensive data collection solution. Tag managers manage tags, which are designed to be web-based and ephemeral. As consumers have shifted towards relying on their mobile devices to browse and shop, brands have found that many of these devices don’t accept web-first tags.  For brands, that means having a mobile-sized blindspot, which just can’t be ignored.

Besides that, for brands with apps, collecting customer data through a tag manager is a complicated procedure. To collect native app data, developers must instrument an SDK to capture specific interactions within specific parts of the app — a more time-consuming process than copying and pasting a JavaScript snippet. Combine the complexity of the integration with the general shortage of mobile engineering talent, and you get an expensive process that can disrupt development cycles, degrade the user experience, and increase legal exposure. Additionally, many tag managers can’t support mobile-specific vendors via their JavaScript templates, so they compile the vendor’s SDK into the app, alongside their own SDK and build custom logic client-side.

If these devices do accept tags, the problem becomes their ephemerality. Brands have come to realize that customer acquisition costs are by and large much greater than retention costs, so it pays to know your customer and be able to anticipate their needs. Tags have an expiration date, so customer histories and preferences aren’t available to brands for the long-term leading to missed opportunities to convert one-off customers into loyal, high-value customers. Add that to the fact that these tags often still have to be manually implemented and it suddenly represents a large waste of opportunity and resources.

What can't a tag manager do?

CDPs provide marketers with a single platform from which to manage all of their customer data, regardless of the source. Marketers can rely on CDPs to streamline customer data management, resolve customer identity, collect data in real-time, translate and orchestrate data, and provide increased data governance and security.

Identity resolution

Customers now interact with brands across multiple channels and devices—they change emails, share devices, log in and out, and delete apps and cookies. CDPs are designed to collect and match data to create a unified, 360-degree view of the customer with improved data governance, policy, and security

Data translation and orchestration

One of the challenges marketers are facing is incompatibility between the services and platforms being used to collect and share customer data. Data naming systems vary to the point that each tool in a marketing stack may have a different naming convention, making it near-impossible to wade through the data for significant insights. CDPs are able to transform and piece together data from different systems across a data stack to create a single view of the customer regardless of incompatibility between your systems.

Real-time source of truth for mobile and web

Winning across digital channels is hugely dependent on how quickly marketers are able to react to customer actions and anticipate a customer’s needs. CDPs use real-time APIs to collect real-time data across the entire customer lifecycle to create comprehensive cross-device customer profiles that can then be forwarded to the services and platforms in your stack so you can take action

Audience segmentation

CDPs’ advanced audience segmentation features enable you to define audiences from user data. Audience segments can be as broad or as specific as you need and can be defined by hyper-specific characteristics and actions like shopping cart abandonment, app installs and crashes, and lifetime value, among others. You can then share these segments to target customers through email vendors, ad platforms, social media, and beyond to increase user acquisition and retention and conversions.

Data governance and security

Because CDPs are able to capture highly sensitive personally identifying information (PII), the level of data governance and security provided is incredibly important. Fortunately, CDPs are uniquely positioned to handle privacy thanks to their place in the marketing stack and the best CDPs are built with privacy in mind; user data collected by CDPs is never stored with other data to maintain pristine data privacy standards. The best CDPs have gone far beyond their privacy-by-design roots and provide marketers and customers with granular control over their data, secure it end-to-end, and manage identity with custom rules. Maintaining customer data privacy is set to become even more important as new, increasingly stringent regulations are put into place, like the GDPR.

Make your data work for you

When it comes down to it, customer data is complicated enough that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a case of choosing one or the other. We know that marketing needs are unique to every business and so mParticle can function on its own, or work to fill the holes left in customer data management by tag management systems. Where a Tag Manager’s primary business is managing pixels and tags on web, for us, it’s more about ingesting web and mobile behavioral data to enrich user profiles for better personalization through advanced identity resolution and audience segmentation capabilities. mParticle’s API collects data from your entire martech stack, across all channels, devices, and apps, for real-time insight into your customers. This data can be transformed, enriched, segmented, and then shared to email marketing platforms, BI tools, push platforms, ad platforms, and more to reach the right customers in the right way with the right content at the right time.

Besides offering all of the security, stability, and reliability of a CDP, mParticle enables you to streamline your web and mobile data management into a single platform rather than using various disparate tools. You can then use this more complete user profile to build highly-specific audiences and campaigns to help you reach the right person with the right content at the right time while maintaining customer privacy and consent standards. In anticipation of the GDPR, mParticle launched a series of new features to help brands support GDPR compliance and has committed to the OpenGDPR standard, which provides common specifications for brands and vendors to programmatically communicate GDPR requests across your entire marketing ecosystem.

With mParticle, marketers have access to a 360-degree view of the customer and a better understanding of their journey across all touchpoints, so they can target customers with content that will resonate, all while ensuring that their customers’ data privacy and data rights are upheld. If you’d like to learn more about how mParticle’s capabilities can help you increase marketing efficacy, reduce friction across your systems, and help you comply with the latest data privacy standards, feel free to reach out!

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