Josh Manion is CEO of Ensighten, a tag management technology company.
AdExchanger: Do you consider Ensighten a publisher side tag management company? Or do you consider some connection with the buy side as well?
JM: If you were to categorize us in that framework, I would say we're probably more publisher-focused... Some of our technology partnerships reach onto the buy side as well. But by and large I'd say that most of our customers are more on the publishing side.
What problem does Ensighten solve?
We solve three main problems. The first is marketing agility – the ability to go faster, try more things, iterate more quickly. We have clients that have gone from running 100 multivariate experiments a month up to 400. We have clients that go from wanting to put a “toe” in the water with re‑targeting to AB testing multiple re‑targeters against each other on a product category by product category basis.
We have clients that do the same sort of AB testing of DMPs against each other. Because they have the ability to now control those vendors and where their tags and data flows at a granular level.
And then, the third and final piece, which is where a lot of people started in the space, was just the cost savings or the efficiency angle. And obviously, the analogy I like is it's very similar to a content management system.
If you think about a large enterprise with hundreds of sites, thousands of pages, and tags on those pages, it's kind of silly to think about managing all those by hand, which is generally what organizations did before they started to use tag management systems.
Is there a privacy piece to this?
Yes. The other product side is our privacy product which is empowering the site owner to have complete control over how they comply with both the regulatory environment and the requests of the visitor on a request by request basis. No matter where those tags are deployed.
And an important point here is that it's completely independent from our tag management platform. You don't need to take all your tags and implement them in a tag management system to make this work. You simply need to add our line of code for our privacy product to your site and immediately you can start adhering to things like Do-Not-Track headers.
With your talk about site acceleration, do you see any connection between you and a company like Akamai - in terms of its content delivery network and improving site performance?
There's an alignment between us and companies such as Akamai. I would even broadly lump Google and some of their initiatives into this. Although clearly, they're massively broad in their focus - a faster web is good for everyone.
We look at Akamai as a great partner in the space. Almost every one of our customers uses their technology to some extent to accelerate the delivery of their images, video files – the standard Akamai story.
And then there's also the potential for a partnership - as an obvious distribution mechanism for any of our technology platforms.
There are many tag management companies in the space. What are some key differentiators for Ensighten?
There are a few different things that are worth pointing out. First, we do well with the large enterprise customers that are out there. The reason that we do well is because of our infrastructure and because of our system architecture. It scales well for the enterprise.
We also consistently hear that our ability to handle all of the different customer touch points is a differentiator - so things like compiled mobile applications, Flash applications, airport kiosks, ATMs or any of these sorts of alternative devices.
And then [there's] our privacy product. To be honest, everyone in the tag management space right now is talking about privacy. But, solutions can be based on a couple of faulty assumptions…
Number one - it assumes that every tag is in the tag management system and that's how the world will be 100% of the time. We rarely, if ever, see those conditions met inside the enterprise – especially with random business units or agencies adding code directly onto pages somewhere that would [potentially] bring you out of compliance.
And then the other piece is that there's a massive IT initiative required to go through and remove all of the code from all of the pages and re‑implement those into a tag management system. If that's required for compliance, it's not a very viable approach, no matter what the cost of the solution is.
Some data management platforms (DMPs) have tag management solutions. Where do you think the standalone tag management solution ends and the DMP starts? Or visa versa.
It’s an interesting question. For example, if you look at the recent Forrester report that covers the tag management space, it mirrors your question. There are two different groups that cover it.
There's an independent group that treats tag management as its own independent buying category. It's its own enterprise application and led by [Forrester’s] Joe Stanhope - the same group that covers things like analytics, multivariate testing and customer experience optimization. Then there's another group that covers it as a small subset or a feature of the DMP. What we've got is a terminology challenge and it reveals that a robust tag management platform is potentially strategic to lots of different verticalized industries.
Any industry that relies on tags to collect data or interact with the site - it could be personalization, ad serving, DMPs, whatever. All can make a strong strategic case for why they would want to have tag management as part of their portfolio.
What we're seeing with the DMPs is that the DMPs tend to all have, as a required part of their platform, what I would call a container tag. I'm going to create a delineation here between a container tag and a tag management system and define a container tag as something that more or less every ad serving tech company has – so, anything from Atlas and Floodlight all the way up to the DMPs such as BlueKai. Everybody needs to have the ability to piggyback in additional pixels as part of their story and to, in some sense, merge and share IDs across the networks. That's the primary use case of these container tags.
So what we've seen is that a lot of the DMPs are trying to expand that and trying to build more towards what I would describe as a tag management system, which is a more holistic view of not managing just the advertising pixels, but also the more complicated tags that appear on the site as well - like the analytics tags, personalization tags, retargeting tags, etc.
The issue that I consistently hear from our customers is that the core technology required to do those things is actually quite different. Whereas it's relatively simple to build a container tag that can piggyback in a small number of pixels and share those under discreet circumstances, it's far harder to build a tag management system that truly scales for the enterprise and addresses the space in the way that we see it.
My advice to a customer would be that if all you need to do is manage a small number of pixels on your site and performance is not your primary concern, then you probably already have a container tag that somebody already owes you as part of another contract.
If you're really looking for holistic tag management platform, then you would typically look at companies like ours and our competition.
Another big picture question: Publishers have valuable cookie pools that they want to sell to buyers, but at the same time they want to control the number of impressions shown to that user. Given that example, how close do you think we are to an efficient data market for publishers?
I think what you're really getting at is how evolved are the technologies that a publisher has available to them to do things, like build that cookie pool.
If we were having this conversation five years from now, it will be a very different technology landscape and a publisher will have far more precise options available to them in terms of how they monetize and manage their data. In particular, one of the biggest challenges that the publisher and the sell-side will encounter is how do they do that effectively with this rapidly transforming regulatory environment where they may not be able to sell a cookie of a visitor that comes from a certain region, depending on when they collected it and under what circumstances it was used for.
That's adding a lot more complexity to the problem and showing the weakness in some of the current systems. Those problems didn't exist when the technology was created.
Talking about milestones for the company in the next 12 to 18 months, what can you share?
Our goal is to get our tag management and privacy management platform deployed everywhere. Ensighten everywhere is one of our battle cries around the office.
And, one of the big things that we've been targeting is pushing hard towards getting trillions of tags delivered. We grew 10x over what we had done last year through Q1.
By John Ebbert
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