Martech: moving from communications to experiences

With the MarTech Europe conference fast approaching, we spoke to its creator Scott Brinker about what's happening in the marketing technology landscape.


Scott, you run a really useful and informative site called - do you see "marketing technologist" as a specific role, and what's your view on how marketing, digital, operations, sales, etc, should be structured and work together?

The label "marketing technologist" is very broad. In my mind, a marketing technologist is someone with solid technical skills working in the service of marketing. They may have a formal background in IT or software development, but they may also be self-taught. They're passionate about applying their technical abilities to create and support brilliant modern marketing.

Across that spectrum, you can have a wide range of professionals with different capabilities - just like we see with the titles "marketing manager" or "IT manager". Marketing technologists are hybrids of those roles.

The value of marketing technologists to me is this: marketing has become a technology-powered discipline. We are incredibly dependent on choosing and using the right marketing technology, in the right ways, to compete in a digital world. While not everyone in marketing needs to become a technologist, having technologists on the team - people who natively understand the language and dynamics of marketing technology - is immensely valuable. Marketing has to take ownership of the tools of its trade.

I would guess your annual Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic is one of your most popular pieces of content? What changes and trends are you seeing in marketing technology at the moment?

Yes, that graphic has taken on a life of its own. I think a lot of people are as amazed - or maybe terrified is the right word - as I am about the sheer scale and scope of the marketing technology space. It's fascinating.

At the moment, the space continues to grow. There are more new marketing technology companies being created than there are companies being acquired or going out of business. While there's clearly a limit to that growth at some point, I don't think we've hit it yet.

Part of the reason for this is that the world is experiencing tremendous technological innovation outside of marketing. For instance, the internet of things is now emerging as something quite real. And all these technology innovations, in the world at large, are changing the environment in which marketing operates. That opens up opportunities for new marketing technologies to help marketers leverage those new possibilities.

What can digital and marcoms professionals do to keep on top of the technology options and best practice? 

Read, experiment, talk with your peers, attend conferences and meetups. Stoke your curiosity. Cast a wide net. Push yourself to keep an open mind. And try to have fun. This is an incredible time to be working in marketing - you're contributing to the evolution of the discipline.

That being said, there is way more happening than any one person could ever hope to keep up with. Don't let yourself be overwhelmed by that. Just accept it as a fact of life in a high-speed, digital world. Pick the areas of interest that you're going to pay close attention to strategically, based on what's most relevant to your particular work and what stirs your passion.

What are the fundamentals of a good marketing technology "stack"? How much does it depend on the type or scale of business?

The twin pillars of marketing technology stacks are experiences and data. Usually every company should have a great CMS and a great CRM at their core.

From that baseline, however, there's tremendous variation in marketing stacks from one company to another. Which shouldn't be surprising. After all, with thousands of marketing technology solutions that can be combined together in various ways, there are probably more possible marketing tech stack configurations than atoms in the solar system.

Stacks naturally vary based on the type and scale of a business - companies with more digital touchpoints with their audience tend to have more sophisticated stacks. Larger companies generally have larger stacks.

However, the most important factor is the human capabilities that an individual company has. If you have more martech talent in your organisation, then you're able to take advantage of more advanced marketing technology stack configurations.

Which areas of marketing technology do you think are most dynamic and are going to be particularly important over the next few years?

I believe that exponential growth in data storage and processing power will continue to open up very new and interesting possibilities for marketers. This isn't just about "big data". It's about marketers being able to use all kinds of data in a much more fluid manner. I am particularly intrigued about the opportunities at the intersection of computer algorithms and human judgment, and how we can best blend the two.

The Internet of Things will also present fascinating new ways for marketers to connect with their customers, and I'm sure we'll see a lot of marketing technology innovation in that space as well.

Are there any parts of the technology landscape that you feel are overhyped?

With so many marketing technology vendors promoting solutions, the volume of pro-martech discussions can sometimes feel like the technology is being overhyped.

In some ways this is true, in the sense that the technology by itself is usually only one piece of what a company needs. They have to have the marketing talent - and often the martech talent - necessary to really leverage these capabilities. Development of such "organisational capital" is usually the greater challenge. And if you don't acknowledge that, then you are overhyping the technology.

But in many ways the promise of marketing technology is legitimate. A recent Ascend2 research study found that 87% of the marketers they interviewed reported that marketing technology had improved marketing's performance.

We're in the middle of a huge transformation of marketing, from being in the business of communications to being in the business of experiences, and there's a lot of opportunity.

One of the largest segments in your landscape is "content marketing". Are you a believer in brands as media companies?

Content marketing is fascinating. I believe a marketing team has three responsibilities:

First, connect with the business's target audience - you have to find a way to get that first hook of mindshare, somehow.

Second, give that audience valuable content that is germane to your business. Not shallow sales pitches or self-promotional fluff, but content that the audience genuinely finds valuable. Help solve their problems. Help inspire them to greatness.

And then third, find a way to convert that engagement into profit.

It's that last step that differentiates most firms from "media companies". Media companies generally make their money from advertising or selling subscriptions to their content. Most other kinds of companies have different business models. And you need to factor that into your content marketing strategy.

What is your opinion of the big vendors' attempts to bring multiple technologies together in a marketing "cloud" or suite? Does it make things easier for users?

I strongly believe that the marketing technology landscape would be best served by a small number of open platforms - which could serve as the foundation of most companies' marketing technology infrastructure - that support a large ecosystem of more specialised marketing software that can plug into that backbone.

This would give marketers the best of both worlds. There would be a common foundation, which would primarily serve to standardise data across all of these components and eliminate - or at least minimise - integration effort. But we would still have the benefit of rapid innovation and positive competitive dynamics for new marketing functionality on top of that foundation.

I think many of the big marketing cloud vendors are pursuing that strategy to a certain degree. The question becomes: what is in the core platform and what is open to the third-party software vendor ecosystem? Different firms have different strategies in that regard.

I do think the marketing landscape is changing very rapidly, and it's difficult for any one vendor to do everything really well, all in one massive system.

Where you you like to see martech companies put more focus?

The more that marketing technology companies can do to help teach their customers how to apply their solutions to produce brilliant marketing, the better. We all have a lot to learn about what's possible, what works, what doesn't.

Marketing technology vendors have the benefit of seeing many of their customers try many different ideas. The more they can serve as an exchange of the best ideas, the faster we can help advance the marketing profession overall.

This also seems like a great content marketing strategy, by the way.

You’ve held two MarTech conferences in the US now - what can we expect will be different with this first European edition?

Conceptually, MarTech Europe is the same as the events we've organised in the US - a "graduate level" conference on the intersection of marketing, technology, and management. This isn't for beginning digital marketers. It's for executives and professionals who already have the basics in place and are looking to move their organisation to the next level.

That being said, it's been six months since our last MarTech event, and the industry has continued to evolve in fascinating ways. We'll have a number of new topics being discussed, such as real-world marketing in the Internet of Things, the continued merging of adtech and martech solutions, new "digitally native" organisational structures that are emerging, and more.


MarTech Europe takes place in London on 20-21 October and will feature 20+ TED-style sessions presented by leading marketing technologists, data scientists and innovators focused on marketing technology issues and insights.

DigitalFWD is a media partner for the conference and you can get 10% off your ticket by the using the code MarTechDF10. Register today.