How Scott Brinker, who literally maps the martech landscape, sees the present and future of marketing

April 28, 2021 Chuck Leddy

Scott Brinker is a martech legend. He’s the author of the must-read chiefmartec.com blog, which examines the intersection of marketing, technology, and management, and he's also the program chair of the Martech conference series. But Brinker may be known best as the creator of the Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic a widely cited vendor blueprint for marketing professionals. 

Sojourn chatted recently with Brinker about trends in martech and what they mean for B2B marketers like you.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted digital transformation and martech? 

Brinker: It's been a huge accelerator. During the pandemic, businesses got forced into a situation where the only way to engage their customers, and their employees was through digital channels. It was like 5 years of digital adoption happening in one year of rapid change.

As people start returning to more “normal,” it becomes more about finding the right balance between digital engagement and other ways to engage. Making the fastest choice isn't always making the best choice. For the next year or so, I expect that people -- businesses and customers alike -- will take a deep breath and say, let's evaluate these changes more carefully moving forward -- are these the right tools? Is this the right way to use them? Do we want to make more changes?

How have marketers navigated these shifts toward digital-first customer experiences? 

Brinker: It’s varied by industry and even more so company by company. The younger companies that were born in an environment where digital engagement, digital marketing mechanisms were built into how they started out did relatively better than older companies that had more of a legacy infrastructure. Some of that legacy had to be removed in order to make way for digital transformation.

Why is the right kind of marketing management so essential for digital transformation? 

Brinker: This was very much the focus of my book Hacking Marketing. From the 1970s into the early 2000s, marketing departments had a cadence that was set by the yearly marketing plan and making relatively large bets on big campaigns. Marketers wouldn't be able to evaluate the performance of those plans and campaigns until the following year. 

As we’ve moved into a digital environment where we have the ability to test and learn and change things so much easier, marketers are working more like software developers -- we build something, we track it, we see what people like based on feedback, we tweak and adjust as we go. But taking advantage of these faster iterations requires changes in thinking about how marketing gets managed, which is why the right kind of marketing management is so essential.

What are the big obstacles in the way of the ongoing transformation of “marketing-as-software” that you’ve just described?

Brinker: There’s the technology and infrastructure components, because you need the right tools and you need these tools to be connected to each other and to your data. You don't want to end up with a fragmented or siloed environment. Then there's the processes for how marketing works when producing things digitally, being able to iterate quickly, as addressed in the previous question. And then there’s a cultural shift that needs to happen. We can’t use our gut instincts and experience to make all these big decisions anymore. So instead let's test ideas, let's put data behind it: all of that’s a necessary cultural shift for many marketers and companies.

How is software development a great model for modern marketing?

Brinker: With software development, someone starts with a big idea, like we’d love to build an app that does X. But that idea is in its initial state and remains subject to how it will be implemented and what will actually work in the real world.  Well, the big idea still drives the creativity and strategy of marketing too, but the difference is that now we don't have to put all our chips on one big bet. We can now say, let's put a few of our chips here, then see where that smaller bet is going. We can adjust our bets along the way, which is a more effective way of getting to the outcome we want from the big idea we’re betting on.

How is the idea of “agile,” developed in the software world, applicable to today’s marketing?

Brinker: Agile practices like scrum and lean and Kanban were developed to ensure that software development would be able to get more tightly aligned with the actual needs of users. Those practices are very relevant to digital marketing environments where it's the exact same thing [but meeting the needs of customers]. Agile isn't about changing the big idea or your strategy. It's about finding the best way to execute and deliver upon the strategy. For it to work, you have to be measuring performance. 

Marketing attribution has gotten a lot better in the past few years because we're using more digital touchpoints and we're able to connect them back to our performance analysis. That said, attribution is still not a perfect science. You could argue that it could never be perfect because there are multiple factors that we don't capture data on. A B2B prospect might make a phone call to her best friend who’s used a product and that prospect hears a negative review. How do we capture the impact of that call? Attribution data is really valuable as directional data and helps us see the signals and helps us make better bets, but you need a healthy skepticism.

Any final thoughts for B2B marketers?

Brinker: There's so much happening in marketing today that any rational person is going to wake up in a sweat and be like, “Oh my goodness, the number of things I don't know is growing by the minute.” You're constantly running to keep pace with change, and that can be really stressful. I just want to say that you’re not alone. Everyone in marketing, including me, feels that same way. Just keep focusing on what matters to your customers. Just accept that you won’t know all of the emerging technologies on the martech landscape [there are over 8,000 today] and that's okay. 

Want to learn more about how to buy, implement and integrate martech in order to improve your B2B marketing? Reach out to us here.

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