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Chief Marketing Technologist Editor Excited About Ambiguity

March 15, 2017 | Marketing Technology

Scott Brinker
Chief Marketing Technologist

Scott Brinker, editor of the well-known blog Chief Marketing Technologist, has been creating graphic landscapes of the marketing technology space for several years, noting each time the ballooning number of companies and product offerings available. eMarketer’s Nicole Perrin spoke with Brinker—who is also co-founder and CTO at interactive content software provider ion interactive—about the state of market consolidation, why marketers are so hungry for data and what’s coming in 2017 and beyond.

eMarketer: Is marketing technology helping marketers deal better with data? Or is it just serving as another source of data they have trouble dealing with?

Scott Brinker: A bit of both. Marketers embraced the call for data-driven marketing, and then as they got into that realized, yes, data is important, it’s valuable—but it doesn’t have all the answers. So balancing the trade-off between data and intuition is something most marketers are becoming pretty mature at. There’s not an easy answer to those questions, but in some ways, recognizing there isn’t an easy answer is the next step in maturity.

eMarketer: Research suggests data and analytics is one of the top things marketers want from technology. Why do you think that is?

Brinker: Data analytics is a very low-risk marketing technology engagement for marketers. By its nature, it’s essentially just observing what’s happening and then, in theory, trying to distill what’s happening into insights. But by the time you get around to deciding what you’re going to execute, and how you’re going to execute, you’re removed from the immediacy of so much of this data.

“For medium-sized [businesses] on up, it’s really hard to find a company now that isn’t using some sort of best-of-breed stack.”

eMarketer: How does this relate to the customer?

Brinker: It’s great to have this data, but [for me] a lot of the most exciting things happening in marketing technology are around new kinds of engagement opportunities with customers. This means our ability to serve them better under existing channels we’re already connecting with—whether it’s our website, email or mobile—but also the incredible explosion of new touchpoints that used to be science fiction, like chatbots.

These technologies are real now, and so in many ways I wish marketers would put a little bit more emphasis on experimenting with [them] to create better customer experiences.

eMarketer: One issue there has been integration within the technology stack. Is that situation improving?

Brinker: The best-of-breed marketing stack has, for all practical purposes, won. For medium-sized [businesses] on up, it’s really hard to find a company now that isn’t using some sort of best-of-breed stack. It’s become a lot more feasible because the major platforms have gotten much better at supporting a platform ecosystem.The creators of more specialized marketing technologies have invested a lot of effort on their end to make sure they can plug into those platform ecosystems—and then you’ve got iPaaS, integration platform as a service, tools.

“What’s the best stack for one company, even in the same industry, can be a very different set of tools than [what] one of their competitors is using.”

It’s not just for marketing. It’s for cloud-based and API-based systems across the entire enterprise, which is making it a lot easier for these things to connect to each other. Marketers want a best-of-breed stack because it lets them pick the right tool for the right job. And then the better integration is getting to a place where they’re not sacrificing a tremendous amount of connecting.

eMarketer: Can you explain what “best of breed” means? There isn’t one “best,” is there?

Brinker: The reason [best-of-breed stacks] are winning out is because there’s a lot of variance from one business to another in how they want to market, and who their audience is. What’s the best stack for one company, even in the same industry, can be a very different set of tools than [what] one of their competitors is using.

eMarketer: What’s the state of consolidation in the marketing technology space?

Brinker: Consolidation is happening, both in the sense that marketing companies are certainly making plenty of acquisitions of smaller marketing technology firms, and [in that] there [have been] several cases of smaller marketing tech firms doing a merger as a way to gain more scale.

But I can say that pretty much for every announcement I get of some sort of consolidation activity, I get anywhere from three to five announcements of new companies that have either been launched or funded, or they’re getting their Series B or their Series C [funding]. So the [marketing technology] space, as far as the number of companies is concerned, is definitely not consolidated yet.

“So the [marketing technology] space, as far as the number of companies is concerned, is definitely not consolidated yet.”

eMarketer: What trends do you see coming for marketing technology in 2017 and beyond?

Brinker: I remain incredibly surprised by the scheme and scale of the innovation that’s happening in marketing. Every single day, I am flooded with stuff that I’ve never heard of before, that I didn’t imagine was possible. I think, “Oh, yeah, that’s some lab’s experiment, and now it’s actually being deployed at scale to customers.”

There’s a real double-edged sword for everyone in marketing today. Marketing is rewriting the playbook, in terms of what does marketing mean, which is very exciting. But the flip-side is that I don’t know anyone working in this area who doesn’t feel overwhelmed. I don’t think that’s going to go away anytime soon. We’re going to be living—for at least the next several years—in a period of relative ambiguity, just because there’s so much changing so quickly.

eMarketer: What should a marketer do in this environment?

Brinker: Successful marketers will be able to accept that environment and say, “OK, I can’t have all the answers. I can’t have perfect [return on investment] ROI. But here’s a strategy I have to prioritize the handful of things that I think are most important—that have an impact on my business or on our customers. I’m going to execute those well, and in the meantime, I’m going to keep my eyes and ears open for changes.”

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