Scott Brinker, the 'godfather of martech,' on marketing during a global pandemic
If marketing technology had a Mount Rushmore, Scott Brinker’s face would be carved somewhere into the granite. Brinker is editor of Chief Martech, a publication that covers all things marketing technology. He’s the face of the three-day event known as the Martech Conference. And he’s responsible for the widely popular Marketing Technology Landscape, his version of Terence Kawaja’s LUMAscape—iconic graphics that describe the digital advertising and martech industries, respectively. For these and other accomplishments, Brinker is widely referred to as the “godfather of martech.”
Although Brinker says COVID-19 has brought headwinds to the marketing technology arena, he says there’s also an upside: For most businesses, the only way they’ve been able to engage with customers is through digital channels. “In many ways the pandemic has accelerated the need to have a strong infrastructure for providing that entire customer journey,” he says.
Ad Age caught up with Brinker and asked him if there’s a difference between martech and ad tech, why he changed the look of this year’s Marketing Technology Landscape and whether consolidation is a good thing. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
In plain English, what is martech?
Marketing technology is what it sounds like. It is all the marketing technologies that marketers now use to attract, engage and delight their audience.
What problems does it solve?
Marketing technology is solving two challenges: How do we actually deliver content, personalization and experiences to customers across so many different digital touchpoints and do it at scale?
The second problem we’re trying to solve is understanding what is actually happening. We’re harnessing all of this data we’re getting from all these digital touchpoints to not only provide analytics and performance perspective, but at a higher level we’re using marketing technology to inform our marketing strategy. How do we make choices about which audiences we are going after and what is going to appeal to them? Marketing technology informs us on how to make our business more successful.
What’s the bread-and-butter of a brand’s martech stack?
You need a common system of record for that and classically, this is what we think of as customer relationship management (CRM). But the category has since expanded and a lot of marketers use the term CDP, or customer data platform. These are common databases that keep track of a brand’s relationship and engagement with their customers. It becomes a source of truth and you build around that.
How do you build around that?
You need a content management system or “digital experience platform” as they’re called more fancily. This is how you publish an experience on the web because it’s how you engage with your customers. The third technology is universal now, and it’s a marketing automation system, or campaign management system; these are the tools that become your system of record for managing and orchestrating your campaigns and marketing.
The fourth is ad tech. And it’s a platform where a significant portion of where a brand runs its digital advertising, or optimizes its search and social media marketing—things like that. If you have those four pieces, you have about 90 percent of the marketing technology universe.
What’s the difference between ad tech and martech?
I could turn that around and ask what’s the difference between advertising and marketing. Most marketers would say advertising is a subset of marketing because it’s one of the things they are doing in the universe of their marketing responsibilities, which is managing their advertising.
I look at the relationship between martech and ad tech the same way. Ad tech is a whole field of tools that are very specialized in managing the creative and distribution for advertising. Advertising is great, but it is an initiating point for some sort of customer journey and the subsequent steps of that customer journey are orchestrated by marketing technology tools like email management software. It isn’t just a one-way funnel.
How has COVID-19 impacted the marketing technology space?
It’s a mix of headwinds and tailwinds. There’s the headwind every business is facing and that’s economic uncertainty. On the other hand, the tailwind is that for most businesses under this crisis, the only way they’ve been able to engage with their customers is through digital channels.
A lot of companies are talking about digital transformation. It’s a buzzword, but this crisis has forced companies where the only way to run their business right now is digitally. So it’s been a tailwind in that it’s incentivizing companies to improve their marketing technology capabilities.
But adopting these systems is expensive. It’s also complex and you need the right people, who are also expensive. COVID has prompted a lot of belt-tightening. Are brands really going to invest in these technologies right now?
To a certain degree, it will dampen investments. But if you don’t have the ability to engage with your customers through digital channels, what the heck is going to happen to your business in the next few years? For many, I believe this is a path forward.
Let's change gears. Tell me about your marketing technology graph. It changed this year.
There’s a silly reason why we changed it.
It turned out trying to map all those logos in six rectangular boxes is a really hard thing to do that takes a lot of time. So we made all the logos roughly the same size and just drew a border around them. It took a lot less time doing it that way.
Did any good come from that design choice?
It was a really minor change, but the outcome is interesting because it does look very different from previous years, which is a good thing. We got used to seeing these graphics—I am not the only one who produces them—and in some ways people got banner blindness, but here you got logo landscape blindness. That might get people to actually pause for half a minute and appreciate how vibrant this sector is, even though there’s consolidation.
Your latest chart says there are a total of 8,000 martech solutions, up nearly 14 percent from the previous year. A total of 615 companies from 2019 are now gone either through consolidation or simply because they went out of business. Why does the landscape keep growing despite consolidation?
The consolidation versus expansion has been a riddle we have all been wrestling with the past decade. But what you see, though, is the greatest consolidation has been with the major marketing platforms like Adobe, Salesforce and Hubspot. They have very much consolidated.
What’s changed is a lot of these larger companies—the Adobes, Salesforces—have made it easier for specialist apps to plug into their platforms. It’s similar to app makers for iPhone and Android, but instead they’re making apps for these large marketing cloud companies.
The barrier for entry has really changed in the last five years. It’s much easier now and anyone can make a specialty app. Now, anyone in their basement can make a specialty app. These digital channels have opened up new kinds of creativity, and I’m actually very excited when the broader audience of Ad Age starts incorporating martech into their creative palette.