Scott Brinker on the MarTech Landscape, Specialized Software & the 10x Marketer
Editor’s Note: This is the second half of a two-part interview featuring Scott Brinker. In the first installment, Brinker discusses how smart marketers use Agile Marketing to excel in an ever-changing and uncertain environment. Read it here.
Scott Brinker believes that the convergence of marketing and technology is accelerating toward a critical tipping point. As the co-founder and CTO of ion interactive, an agile technology platform that helps businesses get the most out of their interactive content marketing experiences, the author/editor of the very popular chiefmartec.com blog, and program chair for the annual MarTech Conference, he knows what he’s talking about. The intersection of marketing and technology (and the effect of that intersection on marketing strategy, management and culture) is exactly what Brinker studies and shares with his audience of senior-level, hybrid professionals who operate in both spaces.
The disciplines of marketing and technology have become, if not indistinguishable, at least inseparable. Interestingly, as a result of these two practices becoming more interwoven, marketing strategy has become exponentially more fragmented. Over the past couple of decades, it has evolved from the traditional model of launching a few large “showcase” campaigns to a more agile model comprised of hundreds of smaller campaigns that generate thousands of micro-moment touch points.
This new marketing paradigm is closing the gap between companies and customers by creating an environment in which information and interactions flow in both directions and with greater immediacy and frequency than ever before. In a relatively short period of time, the breadth and depth of the marketing conversation has expanded to encompass a whole new level of complexity. This increased complexity is in turn creating new opportunities for both software companies and marketers. On the software side, it is driving a specialization trend that is launching dozens of small companies, each with a product that addresses one small and very specific piece of the new marketing landscape. For marketing talent, the diversification and fragmentation gives individuals many more opportunities to create enough digital leverage to make a real difference for their brands (and their careers).
The Marketing Technology Landscape: 87% More Solutions in 2016 than in 2015
Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic sorts marketing software solutions into a categorized grid according to their purpose. The graphic covers forty-nine sub categories within six primary categories: advertising and promotion, content and experience, social and relationships, commerce and sales, data, and, lastly, management. Though Brinker makes it clear that graphic representation of the marketing software industry is only his personal approximation, his annual overview provides a much-anticipated and respected 30,000-foot view of the entire space.
For the 2016 edition of the supergraphic, Brinker, like many other experts, expected to see a fair amount of consolidation. Instead, the number of solutions in the graphic jumped from about 2,000 to around 3,500. While Brinker does not claim to have a definitive explanation as to why we’re continuing to see such massive growth (when he first created the graphic in 2011, it included only approximately 150 solutions), he does offer some insight on contributing factors.
“For major categories, we are seeing the biggest players steadily driving market ownership around their tent pole solutions,” Brinker explains. “There’s a finite number of major players that own a really large share of the market – Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle and IBM. But below that tier, you have this incredible array of specialist companies that have no ambition whatsoever to become Salesforce.” Though, as Brinker says, “There is no conceivable path for any of these companies to become a billion-dollar brand,” it’s still not a bad formula for success.
One of the interesting things Brinker discovered by talking with marketers is a subtle difference in how they perceive various software tools. Typically, marketers talk about their “marketing technology” in terms of the investments they’ve made in major components – automation, CRM and web experience platforms. “But then they actually start to talk about what they are doing for SEO, how they share content in social channels, how they aggregate content or build an infographic,” Brinker says. “All of a sudden, you find that they’re actually using dozens and dozens of tools that they hadn’t consciously thought of as part of their enterprise software stack. They just think of these tools as ‘how they get their work done.’”
Based on this, Brinker proposes that it may be possible for a large number of these specialized tools to exist without creating instability in the industry. While the default narrative about the MarTech landscape says that the playing field will be narrowed via consolidation, Brinker wonders if we aren’t perhaps facing a new paradigm, “We’re in a very different world than we’ve ever been in the history of software. It’s possible that – aside from the major software companies – a very large ecosystem of specialized, niche providers might actually be more the status quo than just a passing fad.”
In some ways, it just makes sense. Marketing has become an enormous and complex ecosystem. “Thinking logically through all the different things a marketer is involved with and all the changes happening, it may be unreasonable to expect that a single company could be able to do everything and keep it all up to date and state-of-the-art,” says Brinker. “It feels to me almost more impossible than the landscape we have today.”
The “10x Marketer”
In the late 80s, American computer architect, engineer and scientist Fred Brooks predicted that no single technological innovation, programming methodology or language would have a 10x impact on programmer productivity. Brooks said that the only thing that could change the game by that order of magnitude is talent. While Brooks’ concept of the ‘10x programmer’ – a ‘rockstar’ individual who is 10 times more productive than the average programmer – has been vigorously debated over the decades, it’s an idea that has stuck.
“Culturally, we’ve tried to move software development methodology to reflect more of a team dynamic,” says Brinker. “But, most people in software engineering will acknowledge that, to a certain degree, the myth of the 10x programmer is true. The really outstanding developers have an outsized impact on the success of their products.”
But, how does this apply to marketing?
“There’s always been a tremendous amount of talent in marketing,” says Brinker. “But, there are two other ingredients that you need to get the 10x effect. You need the opportunity, and you need some sort of leverage.” Back when a marketing strategy consisted of a few large campaigns, only a few individuals had the opportunity to make their mark. Typically, the lead creative directors would win all the acclaim, while their teams worked mostly in the shadows. Today, however, the game has changed dramatically.
“The fragmentation of marketing has created all these different marketing touch points,” explains Brinker. “On the one hand, that’s a huge challenge; but on the other hand it gives almost everyone in marketing multiple opportunities to create things that can impact the company in the outside world. Marketers have many more chances to let their talent shine.”
In addition to creating new opportunities, the digital space also provides marketers with new forms of leverage. “Things like social and search provide the other ingredient – leverage,” says Brinker. “If you come up with an amazing piece of content, and get it out there and people love it, it can ripple through the social ecosystem and your market incredibly quickly. And that’s value you didn’t have to spend 1:1 dollars to create.”
Brinker believes that the expanded opportunities and digital leverage available in today’s marketing landscape have created an environment in which the 10x marketer is a real possibility. “Just like with programmers, we can argue about whether it’s really the 10x marketer or the whole team or 5x or 12x,” Brinker says. “But, what we’re really saying is that great marketers have really changed the amount of impact they can have, even early in their careers.”
A Landscape Expanding One Small Opportunity at a Time
Whether you’re a software startup carving out a specialized niche in the marketing technology landscape, or an up-and-coming marketer looking to make an impact, it’s clear that there has rarely been a more opportune time to make your mark. Today’s fragmented marketing landscape – both in terms of technology and strategy – may be more complex than anything we’ve encountered so far, but it’s also an environment with the potential for great returns.
Although certain segments of the market will likely always be ruled by big players, smaller, hyper-focused software solutions can survive in this diversified ecosystem. And individual marketers, who in the past operated primarily in support roles, now have more opportunities than ever to transform seemingly insignificant campaign elements into big wins. It’s a very interesting time to be in the game.
Though Brinker doesn’t claim to have all the answers, he does have some ideas about what the future of the MarTech landscape might look like. “Consider a world in which marketing value is based less on just having a nice ad and more on having some software-mediated capability that enables meaningful interaction with customers at key touchpoints,” challenges Brinker. “Why not be willing to consider that in that world there could be thousands of specialists who aren’t just doing off-the-shelf software, but are delivering that little bit of custom software ‘oomph’ that helps marketers make their business cases unique, special and competitive?”
Why not, indeed.