Martech Advisor chats to Scott Brinker

Ahead of the upcoming Martech Festival, MTA sat down with Scott Brinker for an exclusive on his session at the event. He explains why prioritization of goals is important before zeroing in on the right tool; and shares his thoughts on the separating the hype from reality for AI in marketing technology, while elaborating on the age-old triangle of technology, people and process. A man with many hats, between ion interactive,, and the MarTech conference, he doesn’t have much time for other interests! “Luckily, I’m still as fascinated by the martech space as I have been for the past 10 years. It’s an amazing and dynamic industry,” he says.


Ginger Conlon, contributing editor MTA
Hello and welcome to MarTech Advisor’s Executive Interview Series. I’m Ginger Conlon, a Contributing Editor to MarTech Advisor and joining us today is Scott Brinker who is Editor of chiefmartec, he’s Co-founder and CTO of ion interactive and he is creator of the renowned marketing technology landscape Supergraphic and Scott is speaking at the upcoming Martech Festival presented by Martech Alliance on November 16 in London. So we are going to get a sneak peek of Scott’s upcoming session at the festival. So, welcome Scott.

Scott Brinker:
Thank you Ginger. Great to be here with you again.

Q – Ginger Conlon:
Yeah so glad you’re here. We are going to talk about marketing technology trends and as I said get a sneak peak into your session but let’s start with a bit about you. Sure most of our audience knows who you are quite well but just in case let’s give them the overview of Scott Brinker.

A – Scott Brinker:
Okay so I wear a couple different hats. I am the Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of a marketing software company myself, ion interactive which is a SaaS platform for interactive content and like assessments, quizzes, calculators, fun stuff like that. For the past almost 10 years here now I’ve also been writing the blog Really looking at this intermingling of the tech world in the marketing world, particularly fascinated with how people with technology backgrounds and skills have really become an integral part of how marketing operates and let’s see here, yeah, we also run a conference of our own around that, the Martech Conference and have got one coming up in Boston too.

Q – Ginger Conlon:
Excellent, excellent. So let’s talk a bit about marketing technology and the surrounding trends. Let’s take a look at your Supergraphic first. So the marketing technology landscape Supergraphic at this point now has more than 5,000 solutions listed on it from more than 4,800 companies. So it’s just huge and I recently actually saw it on a screen at a conference which was probably appropriate size for showing that. So what advice do you have for marketer who’s looking at the Supergraphic trying to get a sense of the possible solutions that they could adopt in your organization?

A – Scott Brinker:
Yeah. It’s a pretty overwhelming landscape. I mean that graphic, I always am quick to disclaim is largely just intended as a conversation piece. It’s a chance for us to step back and look at that 50 thousand view of just how diverse and vibrant this industry is, but when it comes for the process of actually selecting technologies and evaluating them, it really isn’t very helpful for that. There’s so many great tools, so many great sites out there, all these crowdsourced review sites and systems, there’s a lot of great places that people can turn to, but I think the best thing for most marketers is actually to set things like those graphics aside and really just start with the question – what do we need to do to connect and serve our audience, the particular market group that we’re going after, prospects and customers and out of all the possible things we could do, really make some of those tough strategic decisions about prioritization. Like what’s most important here in the next six months to really focus on and to get clarity around that before you start looking or evaluating technologies because there’s a tool for everything out there.
That’s usually not where the greatest challenge is, it’s figuring out what we want to do and the matching the right tool for that

Q – Ginger Conlon:
That’s perfect segue into my next question because you’re saying, wisely start with the end in mind, what are your goals and what’s your strategy and then you look for the software that best fits that. I feel like even that can be a little overwhelming because a lot of times you’ve got an apples and oranges situation even in within one category. So any advice there to help markers not feel overwhelmed by trying to select the right technology and build out their stack but along with your great advice, what are your priorities?

A – Scott Brinker:
Yeah one of the things is, I recommend that people look at this from a – economic term for it is satisficing. So it’s looking for a solution that will do the job you need. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the most perfect tool out of all the tools in the universe that you could conceive of. The odds are there’s probably dozens if not hundreds of tools on that landscape that would be perfectly sufficient for doing what you need. So again it’s always good to look at several different vendors and evaluate not just what their capabilities are technically but how does the pricing model fit with yours, what sort of support and services models do they have, look at the kinds of other customers they serve, how similar are they to your business.

There’s lots of great ways to evaluate potential vendors that you might look at, but again so many of these tools as you point out, they overlap in capabilities.

Rather than stressing yourself out over finding the absolute perfect tool, go through a process of narrowing down, reasonable set of two or three folks if you think are good matches. Pick one and run with it

There’s one other aspect of this which is important to keep in mind is, the space is just changing so much, at such an incredible rate that I think the days are gone where we imagine that we can pick a tool and that will be a lifelong relationship, it’s us in this tool vendor for the next 20 years. You have to keep your options open to say – okay well this looks like a tool that will do what we need to do today, it looks like it has some runway for what we think we want to do tomorrow. We want to build into both the technical integration and also the business relationship. A little bit of flexibility to say – hey if you know a year from now or two years from now you’re not serving our needs, our needs have changed or you haven’t kept up with them. It’s entirely possible that we may want to be able, we will want to switch to a different vendor. So, sort of building with that flexibility in mind I think is valuable too

Q – Ginger Conlon:
Absolutely and that’s another great lead-in. On your chiefmartec blog you have this great article about whether the landscape is shrinking or growing and I was just really intrigued by that. So which is it or what’s your prediction?

A- Scott Brinker:
Yeah it’s like one of these like Schrodinger’s cat or these physics things where like what stage is it in, is it growing, is a shrinking? It is a little bit of both. You’ve got consolidation happening in the sense there are some very large companies in this space – Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle. I mean that have billion dollar plus revenues in marketing technology. So regardless of all the other logos on that sheet clearly a tremendous amount of the money spent on marketing technology is going to those major players. The reality is also that you’ve got this incredibly vibrant ecosystem of someone who has different more specialized capabilities, new innovative vendors, a number of them plug into those large systems. One of the things we’ve started to see this platformization of the martech space. Many companies have one or two like core systems of record that service their foundation. Then on top of that they’re having their more specialized capabilities or new innovative tools.

So the landscape is consolidating in some ways and growing in others. Again rather than worry too much about predicting is this it, is it going to get bigger, are we finally going to start to see the trend reverse. At some level it almost doesn’t matter because I think we can be pretty sure it’s not going to consolidate down to like five in the next year or two. We’re in an environment where just marketers grab a lot of choices. So whether it’s 500 or 5,000 or more it really doesn’t change how we need to operate.
It is to really focus on these core systems, have clarity around the priorities strategically, what we’re trying to accomplish and then build into our systems. It is the flexibility, the ability to change tools or add new ones as requirements band-aid

Q- Ginger Conlon:
So speaking of change AI is such a hot topic right now and especially in marketing technology. I keep seeing announcements of all the different vendors especially the big ones either adding new AI capabilities or introducing new ones. So how do you see AI evolving in marketing technology, in any expectations in terms of adoption, in terms of predictive analytics and things of that nature. This fits around but in that what else is next, it is still really early days it seems?

A- Scott Brinker:
Yeah there’s the hype and there’s a reality and AI to a certain degree has definitely become our new favorite buzzword. It’s right up there with like if you’re on the B2B side, it’s Account Based Marketing(ABM). It wasn’t too long ago that everything was big data. So we’ve got AI for big data, for Account Based Marketing. Oh my goodness, the world is gonna be beautiful.

The thing that’s interesting is even though these terms do get hyped, there is some fire underneath all that smoke. We have lot of these machine learning algorithms, we have sufficient data and we have sufficient computer processing power. Some of these cloud services to be able to like do real useful things like the predictive analytics stuff is great. This idea to be able to better identify accounts or customers that are at risk, to be able to take a more algorithmic approach, to think about lead scoring, to think about customer segmentation. You’d then start to have all these use cases where you look at mapping what’s the next best offer, the next best content to provide a particular look-alike targets as determined by these machine learning algorithms.

So I think people are experimenting with a lot of ways to leverage these AI algorithms. I don’t think any one of them in the short term is going to just solve it for us magically, like we’re just going to finally turn on the great big marketing machine, just do it all for us.

I think most marketers jobs are still fairly secure in having the sensibility to understand how to connect the different pieces across a marketing mission but getting the computer to do a little bit more the crunching for us, a little bit more the legwork, a little bit more the sort of data science exploration of the data we have. I think there’s some really exciting things happening there now.

Q – Ginger Conlon:
Absolutely. So tell us about your upcoming session at the Martech Festival on November 16th in London. I’m intrigued.

A – Scott Brinker:
I’m looking forward to it. I should caveat that and this space changes so rapidly that I have reserved the right to adapt as new things come up between now and then. The main thing I want to focus on is the question you started with. For marketers who aren’t doing this because they have a technology fetish, they’re doing this because they actually need to accomplish real marketing outcomes. Just taking a look at that triangle, the age-old triangle of technology people in process, certainly understand a little bit of how do we get the right technology infrastructure in place, how do we build in that design for change to be able to adapt as new systems come out. I think it’s as important to look at the people and process side of that as well to the technology. Not just our technology in marketing but really just technology out in the world, the expectations of customers. It is the digital environment we’re operating in.
It has just really change the way in which for a lot of companies we need to think about just running markets, operating, how our teams structure, what’s the organizational structure look like, what’s sort of the management metabolism that we use to identify, what our priorities are, what we’re going to be working on next, how do we get those feedback loops from everyone, logs, data-driven decision-making, what does it actually mean when you’re dealing with a marketing organization and scale, at what level is that data-driven decision-making happening. So these are topics I’m just fascinated with. It’s all work in progress. There are very few companies that have it all figured out and so I think we’re all learning from each other and I hope to share at least a few of the things that I’ve been learning from other people at that session in London.

Ginger Conlon:
Excellent. Scott thank you so much for all the insight and the sneak preview. I want to thank everyone who joined us on the video today and say be sure to check out and subscribe to MarTech Advisor’s YouTube channel for other Executive Interviews. Also, check out the Martech Alliance site to look into maybe things got in person in London. Thanks again.

Scott Brinker:
Thank you Ginger.