The State of MarTech: An Interview with Scott Brinker

ScottBrinker_1600pxThe inaugural MarTech Conference begins Tuesday. And it’s sold out. So, being the altruists that we are, we’ve decided to siphon some insights on the current state of martech from the conference’s program chair, Scott Brinker, out to all of you who were unable to register. You can follow the conversations @MarTechConf and @Integrate.

You started the chiefmartec blog in 2008. Where are we in the adoption of marketing technology? What have you seen as the biggest challenges to the adoption of MarTech?

Scott Brinker: I think we're still in the early years of marketing technology. Although the marketing tech landscape is incredibly rich and diverse, we're still seeing significant structural evolution in the vendor space. The recent shift towards platform ecosystems, for instance, has a lot of potential to influence the shape of how the landscape is organized — but we have quite a ways to go in realizing the vision of truly open, multi-party architectures.

The biggest challenge to the adoption of MarTech, however, isn't technical. It's human. Marketing technologies enable amazing new ways for marketers to manage their organizations and engage with their audiences — but they require new thinking, new practices, and new skills in the marketing team to realize their potential.

Buying software is easy: type in a credit card or sign a purchase order. But integrating software into your marketing strategy and operations — building up a new generation of critical, intangible capital around it — is a major study in change management. Companies are making these changes. But it's hard work, and it doesn't happen overnight.

The marketing technologist role (at all levels) is gaining momentum. Are we far enough into its emergence to glean any insights from the early adopting organizations? In other words, how are these roles transforming businesses for the better?

Scott: It is fascinating to watch the emergence of a new profession. Marketing technologist roles are definitely materializing at a rapid rate these days. Looking at the ones who have been doing it for a while — as well as the reasons why others are now pursuing these positions — their value seems to revolve around four contributions:

First, operationalizing the partnership between marketing and IT. It's necessary for the CIO and the CMO to be willing to collaborate, but not sufficient. You also need the next level down in these organizations to be able to work together, where the rubber meets the road. This is greatly facilitated by having people who understand both sides of the partnership and can act as the translators and expeditors between them.

Second, serving as the CMO's trusted advisor in matters of how technology affects the firm's marketing strategy. Because most marketing technologists work for the marketing department, they can pursue the CMO's priorities without politics — which is especially helpful in the early stages of exploring new ideas, before they're ready to be proposed more broadly to the rest of the organization.

Third, governing the technical facets of the relationships between the marketing department and a bevy of marketing service providers — different agencies, contractors, software vendors. Marketing departments have more of these relationships today than at any other point in their history. And almost all of them have some level of technical interface, such as the exchange of data or software-mediated processes.

And fourth, perhaps most importantly, helping the broader marketing team — non-technical marketers — leverage technology more effectively. They're advocates, educators, coaches, and counselors for how marketers can apply all these innovations to deliver better customer experiences and achieve better results — without having to become engineers themselves. They're a linchpin in change management.

Do you see the growing importance of marketing technology significantly changing the way marketing budgets are developed/decided? If so, what specific changes to you see taking place?

Scott: All indications are that marketing is going to keep increasing its investments in technology at a significant level. It's where the big opportunities are. The money for these technology investments is coming from a variety of sources: cost savings in improved operational efficiency thanks to better automation and analytics, shifts from media budgets, shift in IT spending priorities, and net new marketing budget authorized by the CEO.

Interestingly enough, we're seeing cases where budget is being reallocated from sales to marketing. It makes sense: we all acknowledge that the buyer's journey is moving from traditional sales touchpoints to more marketing-driven digital touchpoints. But since the sales budget has been one of the most sacrosanct sacred cows in most organizations, that's a massive shakeup. Of course, it's not completely overtaking or eliminating sales — but it is altering the distribution of responsibilities and resources.

What do you see as the next great frontier in marketing technology? Will it be further integrations to increase accessibility and usability of data, or a completely new set of automated capabilities?

Scott: All of the above. That's what makes marketing technology such a breathtaking field at this point. Innovation is happening on so many different axes in parallel right now. We're going to see real breakthroughs with customer experience technologies in the front-office and data-driven analytics in the back-office.

The explosion in the number of devices that people have — which is expanding exponentially into the Internet of Things — will offer marketers so many new ways to engage with people across the entire customer lifecycle. This shift from marketing being in the business of communications to being in the business of experiences has only just begun and will be full of miracles and wonders.

At the same time, there will be a lot of innovation that happens behind the scenes in making these heterogeneous marketing stacks easier to architect and manage. That will go a tremendous way towards enabling marketers to experiment with more cutting-edge developments without being bogged down in complex integration headaches for each one.

What’s the big theme for the inaugural 2014 MarTech Conference? And why organize around this theme?

Scott: Our main theme is the management of marketing technology. There's plenty of amazing things to talk about with the technology itself. But as we discussed earlier, the real challenge for most companies is adapting their organizational structures, processes, and worldviews to take advantage of the capabilities these technologies offer. I really wanted a program that could shed light on that dimension of what's happening in marketing today.

The inaugural MarTech Conference looks to be a big success already. Pull out your crystal ball. What are the headlines for MarTech 2015?

Scott: Thank you. Actually, I'm still focused on this first event, to make sure that everyone who's participating really gets the most out of their experience. I expect that as a community, a lot of ideas will emerge at the event to point the direction for where MarTech 2015 can go.

Scott is the co-founder and CTO of ion interactive, a marketing software company that provides a platform for web-based marketing apps for many of the world's leading brands. He is also the author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, chiefmartec.com, which focuses on strategy, management, and culture at the intersection of marketing and technology, and the program chair of the MarTech marketing technology conference.

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