Scott Brinker Explains WTF This Martech Graphic Means

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The latest marketing technology. Credit: Chief Martech.

Scott Brinker is exhausted.

Since last fall, he's been relentlessly pulling data to create the latest version of his infamous slide, which is pictured above. It features thousands of different logos for nearly every single marketing tech company operating in the space. Despite all the attention it gets, the graph itself might be getting stale, and Brinker knows this, adding it's likely that it won't have the same impact as it once did for much longer.

Brinker is editor of Chief Martech, and the face of the three-day event known as the Martech Conference. He's working on some really big ideas, he says, including one where his beloved chart evolves from conversation piece into something that can actually function as a utility for marketers.

Scott Brinker speaking at the Ad Age IQ Conference in January.
Scott Brinker speaking at the Ad Age IQ Conference in January. Credit: Robert Tannebaum for Ad Age

Brinker also has some thoughts on this whole martech consolidation thing, and how it will impact advertising. But right now, he's literally trying to catch his breath. The Martech Conference ended about an hour ago, and employees at the Hilton Union Square are stacking thousands of metal chairs from the hotel's numerous ballrooms as they clear out any remains left over from the San Francisco event.

"I'm ready to go home and binge on Netflix," Brinker says. "I gotta catch up on 'Homeland' with my wife. I'm on the newest season; it's such a good show ... Oh, and Mother's Day dinner."

Normally, Brinker is more apt to be quoted on marketing technology and the ever growing number of companies that are propping up in the space. He is widely regarded as an authority on the subject and the Martech Conference's biggest draw is his keynote speech.

That's where he busts out the single slide -- his version of Terence Kawaja's infamous LUMAscape for martech -- which causes nearly everyone in attendance to gasp, snap pictures and share it on social media.

"It's not like there's a winner-loser block in there," Mark Hosbein, global managing director at Accenture, said in regards to Brinker's chart. "But it gets the audience and vendors worked up to come here, not to mention there's also a PR benefit to it, too."

To be fair, Hosbein, and nearly everyone else we asked, appreciates the so-called marketing technology supergraphic. "I crave the trends underneath all this," Hosbein said. "I love the insights. Like, which categories are growing most and why?"

When Brinker made his first chart in 2011, there were 150 companies operating in the space. It grew to 350 the following year,. Most people weren't paying attention to what he was doing until 2014, when Brinker's chart cracked 1,000 companies for the first time.

Each year since then, people feverishly wait for Brinker to break out his next chart. His latest slide has a total of 5,381 logos, up nearly 40% from the previous year, that together represent the marketing technology landscape.

"It just goes to show you how complex this marketplace really is," said Joe Stanhope, principal analyst at market research firm Forrester. "In many ways it shows you a fairly unhealthy ecosystem of tech providers."

"The fact it keeps growing this way -- and the fact a lot of the categories shouldn't be categories in the first place -- shows us that we still haven't gotten to the tipping point where you're going to start to see more consolidation," he added.

Stanhope points out that Brinker's chart is meant to represent the sort of madness associated with a Jackson Pollock painting. It's meant to be chaotic, showing all things martech for all people.

"If you parse it with b-to-b or b-to-c companies, then different industries, or geographies, it suddenly becomes more manageable," Stanhope said. "Brands shouldn't look at it and freak out."

Of the companies listed on Brinker's latest graph, 6.9% have 1,000 or more employees. Another 48% received some sort of funding. The rest, he says, are likely small, niche players.

"There are millions of apps for smartphones," Brinker said. "And there's tremendous duplication of apps. Remember when there were hundreds of flashlight apps? I think you see echoes of that in the marketing tech landscape; there's a lot of duplication and overlap.

"But even if 80% of them are crap, that other 20% can be really good, and they can give you this capability you didn't have before," he added. "Yes, there's a lot of noise in the martech space, but there's a lot of good stuff happening, too."

Because Brinker's supergraphic has continued to grow each year since 2011, many in the industry speculate that an armageddon of sorts is on the horizon, and that a consolidation is inevitable.

"There will always be new vendors and there will always be new players thinking they can disrupt the old world order," said Chris Jacob, director of product marketing at Salesforce. "That will never change."

"But the idea that all of these different vendors can exist, both in the longevity of their own business as well as being able to solve their customers most critical needs is a fallacy," Jacob added. "You can't execute a campaign on one channel that;s coordinated with another channel if both those data systems are separate."

For example, there are three different outfits that call themselves "Rank Trackers," but each one of them is spelled slightly different than the other. Another one calls itself "Less Annoying CRM" and due to the influx of companies with the word "Buzz" in their title, "ViralContentBuzz" rebranded itself as "ViralContentBee" last year.

Brinker agrees that fewer choices would make it easier for marketers who are interested in adopting the tech.

The thing is, that's not the reality.

"The cries for consolidation in this space have been driven by that logical reason that if there were fewer choices, it would be easier," Brinker said. "I don't disagree with that logic, but working on the landscape has taught me that it's not a hypothetical world; the empirical reality is there are these many companies whether we like it or not."

Brinker says having so many companies should translate into more competition, which would lead to lower prices for marketers. "It's something I think isn't talked about as much as it should be," he said.

Still, it's no secret that martech is an expensive, complex operation. Brands already have so much data, and making sense of even more data requires more technology and manpower, among other things.

In the future, Brinker says he plans to create an Angie's List-like database where marketers can sift through thousands of companies and find one that's specifically tailored to their needs, as well as read reviews left by other customers. He's also thinking about creating a new visualization for his so-called marketing technology supergraphic.

"Where I'd imagine taking it from here is there will be new visualizations, where you can look through a lens and say, 'For a company of my size, in this sector, working with these existing technologies and building around this particular platform, show me who's doing what," Brinker said. "Show me who's getting great reviews and I think there is a lot of ways to make the data more relevant to a particular marketer."

"I don't want to promote something until I have something concrete," he added. "But we are working on ways to making that data more accessible."

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