Tagging The Future: BrightTag's Expansion In The US And Beyond

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brighttagBrightTag’s name reflects its origins as a provider of tag-management technology, a tool that allows businesses to collect information within a Web browser.

The issue today, of course, is that the flow of data transcends browsers, flooding across mobile handsets, tablets and increasingly connected devices like gaming consoles and smart TVs.

This puts standalone tag-management technologies in an interesting situation. As BrightTag CEO and president Mike Sands points out, the tool from an adoption standpoint is in its infancy, yet it’s designed to manage cookies and tags that were cutting-edge back in the mid-'90s. For BrightTag, which now positions itself as a solution linking data from multiple offline and online sources, this paradox represents an opportunity.

“An increasingly large number of companies that have installed tag-management systems to manage tags from 1995 are now switching to our solution because they recognize that managing tags is a beginning point that solves a legacy issue [but doesn’t] provide a path forward to solve problems like connecting call centers with POS systems with mobile devices,” Sands said.

“Once a customer comes on board through tag management, we solve all tag-management problems in [the] first 90 days. But where do you go from there? You start to link these behaviors and actions across channels, and that’s where the future is, not just for us but for our clients.”

AdExchanger spoke with Sands, as well as Blane Sims, BrightTag’s head of products.

AdExchanger: BrightTag presenting itself as a link between offline and online data sources recalls the messaging of companies like Acxiom, which I don’t think of as a BrightTag competitor.

MIKE SANDS: We view ourselves as a controlled integration point, something the industry needs. A typical client will have 15 or 20 vendors. We have a lot of customers who work with Google, Adobe and Acxiom – all three of those companies – but lack the glue to put it all together. That’s where they rely on us. What they lack is the glue from a data standpoint to be interoperable across all channels.

What is BrightTag’s specific role within a vendor ecosystem that includes Acxiom, Google, Adobe and many others?

MIKE SANDS: We’re first of all focused on the notion of real-time and cross-channel. A lot of those solutions are focused on taking a historical view of the customer, versus what’s happening with that customer right now. If someone shows an intention to buy, in this day and age you have maybe hours but typically minutes to act on that signal. Those solutions aren’t really designed for that customer behavior.

How is your stack architected?

MIKE SANDS: Think about tag management as a component of a much broader multichannel piece. Above the data-collection role [that tag management fulfills] sits a single universal ID technology – a connectivity layer [that] links all of those interactions and inputs so we can take a behavior that occurred in a POS system or a mobile device and link it to an action that occurs in a website or search campaign or email campaign instantaneously, within milliseconds.

Above that, there’s an intelligence layer where you can set up the rules that govern what data you’re going to collect and where you’re going to share it. The unique aspect of our technology is it doesn’t rely on the presence of a tag. It assumes the world has moved way beyond that. It collects it all and allows you to assign rules that impact how you want to take action to that data through a single ID.

Are data silos still an issue?

MIKE SANDS: This tends to be a universal truth, but our clients organize around silos specific to channels. That’s a natural outgrowth of different channels coming into being at different points in time. The presence of email marketing came before mobile devices. Mobile came, then social. When I was CMO, I had different teams solving different siloed marketing problems. The data for each of those interactions is trapped in those silos. When we come in to deploy the BrightTag technology to link up those channels, it’s both a technical challenge and an organizational challenge to break down those silos not only to link [a client’s] data but also to link their teams, so they can take action on it.

How do your clients handle the organizational challenges?

MIKE SANDS: Our clients have taken one of two approaches. Some clients identify a senior executive, many times reporting directly to the CEO, to solve this problem. Macy’s, for example, has a chief omnichannel officer. We’re starting to see that more and more: executive sponsorship at the highest level of the company focused on pulling that together.

Two is the marketing departments themselves and their agency partners are starting to see this as an imperative. They want to drive campaigns that connect with their customer based on the way their customer is behaving. They know they can’t do that without the right technology foundation and by connecting a mobile experience with a POS experience, we’re getting those two teams talking, not just at a technical level but: OK, now that the data itself is a connected, how do we as a company want to act on that data? It’s that second-tier communication – first linking the tech, then linking the teams – that we see starting to take place in 2014. 2013 was the year of identifying that challenge. 2014 is where they take action on it.

This seems like a pretty big endeavor. To what extent are your clients ready for this sort of change?

BLANE SIMS: Each client we work with looks at this from a pretty pragmatic perspective. They might recognize that the organization isn’t ready to operate consistently across channels, but they see their customers are already there. They know they need to start engaging with customers in even basic ways across channels. And the first gap is the technology gap: Can they get the email system and the data feed to share the same information with the customer? Or the search system to even understand the full spectrum of data that’s taken place?

What’s the process by which all of this can happen?

BLANE SIMS: It’s a two-pronged approach. The first is the pragmatic approach of getting all the data wired up. That’s where we use tag management and all the extensions we’ve done with the various cross-channel products. But there’s always a goal – typically a campaign-driven goal that’s involved – and that’s where agencies play the role of helping coordinate that.

How complicated is that first prong, getting the data wired up?

BLANE SIMS: Wiring up the data is a surprisingly fast process. For larger clients it’s essentially a month-long project to get the tag-management system in place and started. From there it’s pretty rapid to wire up a new campaign. A simple single-channel campaign to set up the data flows typically occurs in a matter of minutes. As you start coordinating that across different channels, multiply that by two or three different channels. So with the right data infrastructure in place, you can move quickly to get the campaign organized.

How will BrightTag gauge its own success this time next year?

MIKE SANDS: I look at two prongs of success. We want to help our clients continue to follow the path of their customer into the world of multichannel, which is beyond the browser. A typical client of ours has spent tens of millions, sometimes hundreds of millions over many decades building out competencies in these channels. Now they need to bring it together.

The second success for us is how many different markets we can bring this solution to. It’s a universal truth the world’s customer base is going cross-channel and it’s about acting on their buying decisions in shorter and shorter periods of time. We fully intend to bring our solution to more markets in 2014.

BrightTag recently received $27 million from Yahoo Japan. What is so alluring about the Asia Pacific region?

MIKE SANDS: A lot of the challenges in the Asia Pacific are amplified in two particular areas that we’ve found a lot of traction. One is multichannel. If you want to experience the multichannel customer at its fullest extent today, you have to go to the Asia Pacific market where customers are typically interacting with three, four or five devices a day. As consumers, they’ve embraced a multichannel experience. Beyond that, you see consumers making very quick decisions, they have so much access to information across so many different channels and devices that the buying cycle is getting more compressed. When you talk to marketers in the Asia Pacific region, multichannel and real-time are huge imperatives for them and we have a lot of expertise in solving those simultaneous issues. It’s no different than you see elsewhere in the world, but it’s taken to a whole different level in the Asia Pacific region.

Is Japan the focus right now?

MIKE SANDS: Absolutely. Japan is one of the largest digital markets in the world. We want to do a great job there for our partner and use that as a base of expansion across the rest of the region. We see the same challenges of cross-channel and real-time from a consumer standpoint when we talk to folks in Korea and China. We fully intend as a company in 2014 to continue our expansion in the region.

How does Japan differ from other regions?

MIKE SANDS: In the Japanese market, the browser as a point of contact with the consumer is becoming marginalized. It’s an app-driven culture. The number of screens beyond the browser, whether it’s a gaming device or a television or even an appliance, are multiplying exponentially. You see connectivity being applied at a grand scale there. We may see that come to the US and Europe, but it’s already in Japan today.

How does the US look in this regard?

MIKE SANDS: In the US market, we’re catching up. If you talk to our clients here, the largest retailers and auto companies, they’re all experiencing the same challenges of a cross-channel world where the consumer is out in front of them and their ability to react in real-time and cross-channel is not yet able to keep up with the consumer. That’s where we come in and fill that void, where we can cross that chasm and start to link up those activities consumers have through a universal ID. That technology is already at work in Japan and we’re seeing a lot of traction here in the US, because consumer behavior is such that clients and customers need to start moving in that direction.

Besides Japan, what are the hottest international markets?

MIKE SANDS: I’m blown away with how quickly Brazil is going and how quickly their digital economy is advancing. The Brazillian economy has a huge middle class [that’s] very forward-leaning and digitally savvy. We’ll all watch as Brazil continues to grow very rapidly.

There’s no doubt China is an extremely important market and will be growing rapidly as well. Those are two markets to watch.

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