Josh Manion, Ensighten’s founder and CEO, is an analytics thought leader who described what he calls, “the tyranny of tagging,” at the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit in this past year. He founded Ensighten in 2009 to deliver breakthrough tag management technology to clients, and earlier established Stratigent, an agency offering fully customized website analytics consulting. In this two-part blog, Josh talks with Anametrix CEO Pelin Thorogood about what he calls the “tag management revolution.”
Pelin: You’ve now founded and served as CEO of two companies in the analytics space during the past decade: Ensighten, the most recent, and Stratigent, the web analytics consultancy. Tell us what drove you to create these companies after you left MIT.
Josh: Well, it just kind of snowballed. I first got involved with web analytics when I was just out of MIT in the late 1990s. I worked for a start-up in the Boston area by the name of, myteam.com. We were doing some blocking and tackling with broad-vision observation logs and Oracle databases, running queries and managing flows of data. That whet my appetite for the space. When I moved back to Chicago a couple of years later, I saw there was a great opportunity to get into what I would now describe as the agency side of digital analytics and create a consultancy to help organizations deal with online data. Companies wanted to understand how to optimize the user experience across all touch points. In 2002 I founded Stratigent, which I ran until 2009. At that point, I saw the opportunity to create Ensighten in the tag management space because it was clear that my customers were struggling to access the value of the different technologies out there. That was the catalyst. I’ve been lucky and stubborn − stubborn enough, and maybe dumb enough, to start my own company, and I’ve parlayed it into more companies in this space.
Pelin: Clearly you were hearing client dissatisfaction about what was truly working and not working with their analytics tools. What’s the frustration with traditional tagging in web analytics?
Josh: My clients were experiencing significant problems with tagging every day. I would describe that problem as not just tags, but marketing agility. Customers would have great ideas. They would have tremendously talented people working at them. They would try their best to test a hypothesis or gather data to drive action or launch campaigns − whatever it might be − and find the technology infrastructure prevented them from doing so. It dawned on me that tag-based technologies in the interactive ecosystem were in a position quite analogous to content management in the early days of the web. Unless we introduced a platform enabling our clients to really streamline that process, there was no way that my clients were going to achieve the bigger vision: having one-to-one conversations across all of omnichannel touch points. That’s an issue with marketing agility.
The second issue relates to the fact that the enterprise typically doesn’t own its own digital data. It’s all stored in third-party cookies with the many vendors out there, and my clients had no way to consolidate that data across silos and take action across emerging touch points to define digital interactions with their customers.
Pelin: Help us to understand the evolution of the tag management technology over the last few years. Clearly there’s very rapid adoption. Some research shows that 50 percent or more of the companies using tag management today began to do so just in the last year.
Josh: To be honest it has surprised me how fast the market has embraced the wisdom of using the tag management system. So I think it’s a combination of a very high pent-up energy in the market and frustration experienced by marketers who need to control their own destiny and manage these technologies to maximize value. At Ensighten we found that once some of the largest brands − Sony, Microsoft and American Express, for example − began to work with us, it became a tipping point for the rest of the market. The analysts also started covering tag management; Joe Stanhope from Forrester was really the first to come in and put the flag on the space when he did a vendor landscape at the end of 2010. But it is really stunning to me to see how fast the space has evolved in the course of just two or three years. The market is not by any means fully penetrated. But the pace of adoption has accelerated so much, it’s kind of mind boggling. And I think one of the biggest benefits of tag management is that it’s an accelerant to all the other technologies in the marketing analytics space.
Pelin: What does Ensighten do? What’s your unique value proposition?
Josh: Our vision at Ensighten is to help enterprises fundamentally change the way they collect, own and act on all of their digital data in any digital touch point in real time. When you think about this vision, the first question people typically ask me is what in the world does that have to do with tag management? Here’s what I tell them. We need to solve tag management issues because you can’t act on all of these digital channels if you don’t have a direct means in an automated enclosed loop fashion to take data, receive inputs from various third parties and other vendors, and then help spread and activate that data across all of the digital touch points.
Pelin: You mentioned at your last user conference that you intentionally left the word “tag” out of the Ensighten name. What is that message intended to convey?
Josh: Ensighten has never been solely about tags. We are about optimizing the digital relationship with the customer. We are the biggest company by revenue in enterprise tag management, the de facto leader and well known in the space. But we also serve our clients in a broader context of optimizing the entire relationship with the customer.
Pelin: Thanks, Josh, for these insights and a window into the remarkable journey you’re taking to help companies use analytics to create one-on-one relationships with customers. Look for Part II of this blog with more from Josh next week.