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The State of Martech in 2020 - with Scott Brinker

Blog Post Author – David
24th September 2020

I’m joined today by a man who’s been writing the Chief Marketing Technologist blog since 2008. He’s also founding program chair of the MarTech conference series and VP of Platform Ecosystem at Hubspot - welcome to Martech Stacked, Scott Brinker.

Listen to Martech Stacked on Apple, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Full transcript:

David Bain: I'm joined today by a man who's been writing the Chief Marketing Technologist blog since 2008. He's also founding program chair of the MarTech conference series and VP of platform ecosystem at HubSpot. Welcome to MarTech Stacked, Scott Brinker.

Scott Brinker: Thank you for having me.

David Bain: Oh, great to have you on Scott. Of course, you can find Scott over at and that's MarTec with just the C. Why is the H missing there, Scott?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, the short version was when I started this, everyone was talking about Marcom, marketing communications. That was just with one M. And so I was like, "Oh, well, MarTec." Terrible idea. Yes, it should have been MarTech with an H. If I could go back in time, I'd do that. But hey, now it's quirky.

David Bain: I see you own the domain name with the H anyway, and that redirects to the C. So that's completely fine. I just find it funny that that's the brand, but when you talk about MarTec on the blog, on the website, then you always use H at the end of it.

Scott Brinker: Yeah, perfect example of the shoemaker's children have no shoes. I'm terrible at branding.

David Bain: Well, you're certainly great at getting well recognized for content marketing and for all the wonderful information that you publish on an annual basis. And also other things apart from that. So if the listener hasn't guessed by now, this is going to be a slightly different episode of MarTech Stacked, slightly different just so we can get your state on the opinion of MarTech in 2020, where the industry's come from and where it's going. I think that many people will be aware of you as the chap who publishes the Marketing Technology Landscape Super Graphic once a year. So for any listener that doesn't know about that, what is it and where did it come from?

Scott Brinker: Sure. So it is a slide that I've updated every year since 2011 that tries to map out all of the known marketing technology solutions in the market. And when it started in 2011, it was something like around 150 MarTech solutions which, at the time, seemed like oh my goodness, how can there be 150 solutions? That's way too much. And then just over the years, it really did grow exponentially.

Scott Brinker: The version we released in spring of this year had 8,000 solutions on it. And so it's gotten to the point where I mean the actual graphic itself, I can't imagine that it's useful for anybody, but it's certainly from a conversation starter, just recognizing how large and diverse this industry is. Yeah, it continues to be fascinating to me.

David Bain: And is it difficult for a marketing technology platform, tool provider to get on the list? Do they have to have a certain number of users or is it just a case of if it's a useful tool and a few people use it then they can get on the graphic?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, definitely the latter. In fact, actually we now have a site for it, the with the H in the MarTech! We invite people to send us updates or submissions or things that have been acquired and we'll review those. But yeah, it's always amazing to me. Not a week goes by that people don't tell me about other cool MarTech products that I'd never even heard of before.

David Bain: Okay. I can imagine, I can imagine. It will be a wonderful thing and maybe to a certain degree a burden as well, because of you're seen as the go to guy that has to list every single piece of marketing technology out there. So, you mentioned the latest graphic, April 2020. 8,000 different tools are on there. I'm never sure whether to call them platforms or tools. Are they platforms if they offer multiple services or products? So what is your definition?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, this is a great philosophical debate. So I think of a platform as something that other applications then get built on top of. But the truth is, the word platform has, in most people's language, become like just sort of synonymous, interchangeable with product. So, I'm not the language police. if you want to call it a platform, call it a platform.

David Bain: It appears that I'm the language police in this particular episode.

Scott Brinker: That's good, somebody's got to be it.

David Bain: So April, 2020. The version that you produced, I really like the look and feel of it. You've got, what appears to be, islands of different categories of MarTech tools out there. Are there any categories of MarTech tools that are new this year that didn't exist in previous years?

Scott Brinker: So not this year. We've added a few new categories over the past couple of years, certainly like conversational marketing became like a whole category of its own. On the data side, there's a whole category of tools around data governance, really ever since GDPR has become like a little microcosm. Technologies and solutions is just focused on serving a combination of just compliance, making sure people are properly managing their data, but also increasingly trying to provide helpful service to customers and prospects, preference management and really giving the user control over how the brand communicates with them.

David Bain: Can you ever see any categories disappearing or have any categories disappeared so far?

Scott Brinker: Yeah. Wow. There was one that disappeared a few years ago. I mean, part of it is we'll sometimes either merge categories or relabel them part of the challenge with the landscape, because there's so many products, so many solutions, so many platforms take your pick, that we keep the categories that are really high level. Because otherwise, we just even wouldn't be able to fit it on a page. You could argue we can't fit it on a page now. But when you have these really broad categories, like say content marketing, individual technologies within that content marketing category will come and go. And there's all sorts of cool subcategories that appear over time. But yeah, since we don't really represent that on the graphic, it's been pretty stable.

David Bain: And talking about categories. Are there any categories of tools that marketers tend to forget about initially that are very important or should be a very important, but you don't find in a lot of MarTech stacks that probably should be there?

Scott Brinker: Yeah. So I mean one of the debates that has sometimes come up over the MarTech landscape is, okay, well, what qualifies as MarTech? Because one of the things I've tended to do is have this like sort of master category of what I call management tools and there are tools for everything around like product marketing management, some of the tools that I see marketers using with how they interface to finance and budgeting, how they deal with recruiting. Even things like just sort of like management from a perspective of like, okay, is that a project management tool? Are we using some sort of agile marketing tool?

Scott Brinker: And at one level, I agree. I mean, they're not MarTech in the sense that most of these tools are not specifically for marketers. But part of why I've always included them is because when I actually look at what marketers do day to day, they spend actually a fair amount of time with these tools that if they don't think about them as part of their stack and how they're training their teams on them and how they integrate them to other things, I think you miss a dimension of what the marketer's tool set actually looks like.

David Bain: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's important as well because a lot of marketers tend to be the most technically evolved people in business and more likely to be aware of what technology a business should be using. And that's not necessarily just marketing technology, they'll be aware of maybe dealing with partners or even clients that perhaps need to get paid, for example. And then they'll be aware of accounting software and how to make things more efficient so that the partners are happier and the relationships that the brand builds are more solid for the long-term as well.

David Bain: So I think there are a lot of things that integrate together, but I think it's another example of how marketing is probably becoming more involved in other areas of the business. You can say that from a customer service perspective and a sales perspective, it's important to get the marketing message right in there and to turn your customers, for example, into brand ambassadors as well. But then to give them a great experience using your technology, I guess, will make it more likely for people to evangelize your brand as well.

Scott Brinker: Yeah, absolutely. It's funny when you're saying, yeah, you think of marketers as the more technically savvy people in the business. And I don't disagree with you at this point. But it's fascinating because 20 years ago, when all this was starting, it was the exact opposite. Marketers and marketing departments were considered the least technical team in the business. And I think it's a really remarkable commentary on just the evolution of the marketing profession and the marketing industry that yeah, now, if you are a marketing leader, you tend to be pretty tech savvy because this technology is the tools you're using to actually apply your craft.

David Bain: Yeah. Yeah. I remember back in 2008 or so when I started as a digital marketing manager in a firm, I was probably one of the first people to get that kind of job role, that professional digital marketer job role. I think at that time it was traditional marketing and an IT department within that firm. And it was very difficult to get the two communicating. And it was very unusual, I think, to have someone that could think of things from a creative and technical perspective. But that has to become the norm now for a top marketer to be able to understand both perspectives.

Scott Brinker: Yeah, so that was actually how my blog started. It was because back in the mid 2000s, I was running the technology team at a web development agency and our agency would get hired by the marketing department. But then because I ran the tech team at the agency, it would become my job to then go talk to that company's IT department because the marketing and IT departments couldn't actually talk to each other. And so I was doing that shovel diplomacy between those two departments which was the inspiration for starting the Chief MarTech blog of just like how are these coming together? Because you look at what the businesses were actually trying to achieve. And it's like, "Okay, this is clearly going to be entangled deeply."

Scott Brinker: But yeah, there was a lot of just cultural and yeah, even just professional head space, context that people knew what to expect that we had to bridge. So again, I think it's sort of cool here that in 2020, for all the other craziness that 2020 has brought us, we can sort of look back and say, "All right, well, the journey from disconnect between IT and marketing to now, yeah, a much more fruitful partnership." We've come a long way.

David Bain: What are some examples of the newer technologies that marketers need to be aware of, perhaps categories of technologies that have started appearing over the last couple of years that many people perhaps aren't quite embracing yet?

Scott Brinker: Yeah. Wow. I mean, there's a lot, I mean, again, even here we are. I hope you don't mind me outing this using Riverside FM for recording this podcast.

David Bain: Sure.

Scott Brinker: I mean, there's now a whole microcosm of specialized marketing tools for podcasts and videos and shows. And now actually, because of the craziness with the pandemic this year, all these in person events that many marketers have been using as a primary channel to reaching their market and engaging with people, they've had to rethink that. And as it turns out, there's only so many Zoom meetings you can sit in before you start to pull your hair out.

Scott Brinker: And so you're starting to see some really creative software around how do you make virtual events really fun and engaging and try and capture some spark, whether it's the sort of theater, the presentation or how do you find ways to help the audience engage with each other and network with each other? So again, I mean, 2020 has been a challenging year for a lot of people, but I think one of the things that will come out of this is actually quite a significant jump forward in the sophistication of virtual event technology.

David Bain: Yeah, absolutely. I think that one challenge that marketers are starting to have now is to differentiate their webinars, their Zoom calls, their video productions because so many businesses are doing them now. And that's the core way of producing content. They used to bring people to a face-to-face event, but that's not possible to do now. And so many events, as you say, are going virtual. And people have started off just using webcams, not using a decent microphone and not having a decent internet connection, but they're now starting to realize that audiences are more likely to drop off if the quality of what's being presented in terms of the quality of audio and video as well as the content isn't up to standard. And one thing that I tend to say when businesses are thinking of starting a video show or a podcast is who's your competitor.

David Bain: And by that, I'm not talking about who does the same things as you as a business, who does the same kind of product, who makes the same kind of product, or who does the same kind of service? I'm talking about who has your consumer's attention? And that's actually Netflix, that's actually the BBC, that's actually massive publishers of content, Spotify. I'm not talking about being able to necessarily produce absolutely professional quality content, but it's important that you don't turn people off. Unless you're doing at least what listeners are comfortable with, what viewers are comfortable with, then you're going to be switching people off. So I think that's the next kind of level for marketers to start to up their game in terms of the standard of quality that they produce.

Scott Brinker: Yeah. No, I think you're absolutely right. And again, this is why ... I mean, to me marketing, I'm biased, obviously, but I think of marketers as the absolute superheroes of our time because the amount of new things marketers need to just keep learning and keep innovating and keep pushing forward. This is not a discipline where you go to school, they teach you it in the classroom, you pass the exam and then yeah, it's all smooth sailing from there.

Scott Brinker: I mean really, at the pace of technological evolution, not just in marketing, just in the world in general, I love your comment here about yeah, I mean, you're not competing against the other brand in your space. You're also competing against Netflix and the expectations set by that. So I think, yeah, I mean, for marketers, you have to really love this continual renewal and learning and be okay with the fact that you're in a constant state of experimentation for keeping up with the expectations of what's next.

David Bain: Does that mean to that marketers shouldn't go to university?

Scott Brinker: Well, I mean, university, I would say, has many a benefit, but yeah, for learning the latest cutting edge marketing technology, probably not the channel where you will get that information most directly. Was that diplomatic enough to the higher education arena?

David Bain: You can be diplomatic if you want, you don't have to be. So one conversation that I tend to have with guests as part of MarTech Stacked is whether or not they have lots and lots of tools or they try and limit the number of tools. And some guests try and just have one or two pieces of technology that do lots of different things. And some want to get the one tool that is best in the world about one particular thing and tie as many of those tools together. Are you a fan of any one approach?

Scott Brinker: I think both are valid. I mean, I think what most ... It's funny because I'm like the MarTech guy. A lot of people assume that I just somehow believe that oh, well, MarTech solves everything for you. If you've got a problem, just buy some MarTech, done. And I actually don't believe that. I believe it's like 90% what people are actually doing, how they're applying their craft and maybe 10% about the tools that they're wielding to amplify that craft.

Scott Brinker: And so I would much rather see a marketer with a small stack of just a couple of products, but really applying their craft really well on it than seeing someone who has this huge stack of all these different specialist tools, but they don't really have a coherence to what they're trying to deliver to their audience or the experience they're trying to bring to life.

Scott Brinker: So I think, yes, starting simple and being successful with that. And then over time, as you see opportunities to augment your capabilities for a particular experience you're reaching for or a particular audience or there's a new emerging channel. I think it's great to experiment and add in those things. But yeah, I would not judge a marketer's success by the size of their MarTech stack.

David Bain: I think that the challenge that many marketers have is that they tend to get excited about new tools and new things to play with. And you have to reign yourself in. You have to really think about, okay, what's our business goals? What's our standard customer funnel? What is the optimum content that we want to create to reach people at the right stage? And then what tools do we require in order to deliver this? And I think the majority of marketers probably miss a few steps there and just jump to the tools and think, "Wow, this is flashy and good. And it's a new thing and I need to get it."

Scott Brinker: Yeah. I couldn't agree with you more about the fundamentals. That being said, it's always hard for me to do these things completely black and white, because I would say, yeah, 90% of the focus on the craft and getting the fundamentals right. The truth is the world is evolving very quickly. There's a lot of innovation happening in technology. And I think it's okay to have a slice of the marketing world be about, oh, well actually there's some really cool new things coming out here. I wouldn't mind experimenting with this to see if there's something cool I could do with this.

Scott Brinker: Because a there's the ... What is that? The law of ... I won't use the actual word. The law of crappy click throughs. There's just truth that once a certain tactic for marketing is first discovered, it can be incredibly effective because it's novel and not a lot of people are doing it. And so it really stands out.

Scott Brinker: But over time as these things become commoditized and then become best practices, their efficacy just drops because it's no longer a differentiation, everybody's doing it. And so I do think there is a part of the marketing mission that should be doing a little bit of experimentation and sort of pushing the envelope a bit to discover some of these new opportunities ahead of your competitors. I think you want to keep that in perspective, right? To have like five or 10% of your portfolio being experimentation with new emerging technologies, that's cool. Having 80% of your portfolio be like, oh yeah, this new tool here and this new one there. That's not good.

David Bain: So do you think sometimes there's a place then for marketing technology to actually potentially even drive the business model and completely introduce a new potential product or service into what you do as a business because something's possible to do now compared with a year ago?

Scott Brinker: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, again, I think you have to keep this in perspective. I mean, the nature of experimenting with emerging channels is most experiments don't work out or the returns on them just aren't compelling enough to want to invest in it. I mean, you look at companies like Amazon and Google and companies that have really perfected the art of experimentation and they're very upfront. Most of these experiments don't work out. We try these labs projects. We'll run them for a while. Yeah, then they don't work, shut it down.

Scott Brinker: But every now and again, they come upon one in there, it's like huge. It's almost like a venture capital portfolio. It's like, okay, well, most of our investments, probably pretty risky. Most of them probably won't pan out, but boy, that one that does become like the 10 X, a 100 X unicorn, yeah. It so much pays for all the other experimentation that we did, why not?

Scott Brinker: And I think you see a lot of this today, right? I mean the pandemic, again, really rough year, but if you at it through the lens of how have businesses really gotten themselves in gear on experimenting and really rethinking digital engagements with their customers, there's been actually a lot of business growth happening in digital business. Even once the pandemic is over, those new digital business models are still going to be thriving just because they're better, convenient, more cost effective.

David Bain: Absolutely. I think a lot of what you said there was really interesting. First of all about what companies were doing with almost turning off ad budgets because of the pandemic. I think the companies that were a little bit more thoughtful on not doing that too reactively will be the ones that are more likely to recover more quickly. And also what you said earlier on about experimenting as well. It reminded me of a talk that I was watching by Seth Godin recently. And he was talking about his experience within Yahoo and how he pitched his boss to set up an office outside the main Yahoo business to experiment. And he pitched for, I think, it was one or 3% of Yahoo's homepage traffic to be driven to experiments. Unfortunately, his boss didn't go for that. But for the average marketer, what percentage of their time, roughly, ideally, do you think they should be focusing on experimenting with new things?

Scott Brinker: Yeah. I mean, I think as an overall budget of the total marketing portfolio, somewhere between five to 10%. It depends a bit on your business. If you're in a business that is you're reaching consumers through digital channels inherently, like a D2C direct to consumer business and stuff like that, that market's moving very quickly. And so you might actually over-index a bit more on experimentation there versus if you have any more classic distribution model in your business. Maybe you don't need as much, like 5% is great.

David Bain: Okay. Okay, that's useful. Try and lock in maybe half a day, every couple of weeks at least in your calendar, just to be aware of other things that are happening and that may completely enhance your conversion rates, but just by bringing in that new technology.

Scott Brinker: Yeah. It's like you said, on one hand, there's this danger of going too far in the shiny object syndrome of like, oh, look, a squirrel. And so clearly, that's detrimental. On the other hand, to be honest, I see a lot of marketing organizations, their problem isn't shiny object syndrome. Their problem is, oh, this is the way we do it. We've always done it this way. We're going to keep doing it this way. Oh yeah. Somebody suggested we try that other thing two years ago and we looked and we didn't think it was worth it. So, no, we're just going to keep doing this.

Scott Brinker: Human behavior. Change is hard.

David Bain: Especially for bigger organizations.

Scott Brinker: You can write all you want about about embracing change. It's just hard. It's psychologically hurdles usually for individuals, but it's particularly hard in organizations where it's getting lots of individuals to converge around that. And so, I think, for a lot of businesses, if the world is changing rapidly around you, then not being willing to experiment and change is probably a bigger risk to your business model than, oh my goodness, we did too much experimentation.

David Bain: So there are over 8,000 tools as you've emphasized already in your latest infographic. To embrace that change. how does a marketer go about selecting the tool that's right for their particular brands? Just any tool I'm talking about. Is there a set process that they should go about comparing different options out there and making a selection that's right for their business?

Scott Brinker: Yes. Wow. There's so much we could cover on this. So first of all, I'm a big fan in what economists would call "satisficing". Which is this idea instead of saying, oh, it's not worth looking for the perfect marketing stack, right? It's not worth evaluating all 8,000 tools to see which of these would be the absolute best for me. It's not worth that time investment.

Scott Brinker: And so I think what you want to do is you want to be very comfortable with the fact of you use some mechanisms, either review sites or recommendations from peers to come up with a decent set of whatever it is, three or four competitors you want to evaluate. But yeah, don't try and worry about covering the whole universe.

Scott Brinker: And then I'm also a big fan when you're selecting these technologies, I mean, it depends on what it is. If it's something like a podcast tool, like Riverside FM, it's like, all right, well, just get it and try it and see how it works. If it's something more like a major platform, like a marketing automation platform or a new CMS, digital experience platform, in that case, yeah, you're going to go through a much more rigorous evaluation process.

Scott Brinker: And one of the things I really recommend to people when they're adopting these tools is to work with the sales teams to set up not their can demo, but to actually give them specific examples of like, "Okay, this is the process we're doing now or this is the sort of capability we want to have. Set up a demo for me and show me exactly how that would work in your tool." Because, again, marketing tech companies are marketers and salespeople too. If you let them just do their can demo, they're always going to give you something that, wow, that demo was amazing. I think if you really want to evaluate the suitability of the product for your business, you've got to give them some homework on cases that are really specific to what you're going to implement in your business.

David Bain: Yeah. I like the fact that you talked about talking to their sales team as well. It's not just about the technology, it's the support when potentially something goes wrong or something you can't figure out how to actually integrate within your business as well. I love actually trying a website chat of a technology vendor. And if someone is able to reply to me fairly quickly and answer my question directly, then that's a big positive for them.

Scott Brinker: Yeah, no, I think particularly if it's a MarTech company that's selling you an online chat, how well are you using your own tool? It's a good evaluation criteria.

David Bain: Absolutely. So we've talked a lot about where our marketing technologies come from. Year 2011, having 150 different technologies on your infographic to 8.000 now. How are things evolving? What's the state of play likely to be over the next year or so, are there any new categories that you see making a name for themselves?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, well, I mean, I'm biased because yeah, this is very much related to the work I'm doing in HubSpot. But I actually think the biggest transformation that's happening in the industry right now is you had all these thousands of tools that got created, but they all were built in their own little world. And it's been a real challenge for marketers to sort of have the burden on their shoulders to figure out how to get these things to work together.

Scott Brinker: And I think what you're seeing in the industry, I mean, this is what I do at HubSpot, but you have similar efforts at Salesforce and Adobe and Oracle, just across the industry. The major platforms are realizing that they're not going to build everything themselves. And that really the future is opening up their platforms and developing relationships with those more specialist MarTech tools so that between the platform and the specialist app, they can do the work behind the scenes to make the integration work out of the box, they can make it seamless for the way data gets sent, they can integrate it into the workflow, they can embed it into the UI.

Scott Brinker: Because where you want to get to, I mean like the idea ... I don't know if we'll ever quite get here, but it's like with your iPhone or your Android where you just get an app and it works and it plugs in and it has the same general interface and you know how to use it. That is the direction I think this industry really wants to go is so that it becomes just easier for marketers to harness that innovation happening across the landscape without having to have the burden of figuring out all the integration technical details on their end.

David Bain: Absolutely. Yes. To have their own API. I think ideally from many marketers' perspective as well is to have Zapier integration as well if they use different tools that they also use Zapier with as well. And that actually sometimes is the way that marketers select what software to use. If you're using an email marketing software that has nice Zapier integration, they will often go into Zapier again and see what CRMs are available and then see what CRMs talk nicely to their existing email software and make that selection because of that.

Scott Brinker: Yeah. I love that approach. I think one of the advantages of these platform ecosystems is we were talking earlier about how do you narrow down a set of vendors that you want to consider hiring for a particular job. And yeah, I mean, basically, if you've established what is your primary platform and then they have an ecosystem of apps that are integrated to it, then that becomes a nice, easy way to say, "Okay, well, yeah, I want this other tool, but I'm really going to narrow it down to the three or four that have an integration to my core platform because I don't want to go and have to figure this out at the API level myself."

David Bain: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Scott, I'm sure we could talk for hours more about marketing technology, but unfortunately, we can't keep on going forever. So I just want to say thank you so much for your time and your tips today. What's the best way for the listener to find out more about you and what you do?

Scott Brinker: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for having me. Yeah. Probably best way is if you go to my blog, without the H at the end. And then I'm also, yeah, same thing at Chief MarTec without the H at the end on Twitter and yeah, happy to connect and chat and yeah. I love to talk MarTech.

David Bain: It's superb stuff. Well, thank you again.

Scott Brinker: All right. Thank you.

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