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The Marketing Technology Landscape: An Interview with Scott Brinker

Jeff Cohen
Director, Content Strategy

Scott Brinker is co-founder and CTO of the interactive content marketing firm ion interactive and author of the chiefmartec.com blog. He is the mastermind behind what has become the symbol of the ever-growing technology landscape with the now infamous image.

We sat down with Scott to pick his brain on many topics, including the explosion of the marketing technology landscape, the trends he has identified over the years, and where he thinks this is all headed in the future. A slightly shorter version of this interview appears in The Guide to Building Your Marketing Technology Stack.

How long have you been tracking the marketing technology ecosystem?

I've been tracking the ecosystem since 2011. I've been writing for a number of years about technology professionals having a greater and greater role in the marketing department, and one of the reasons I started assembling that chart of marketing software companies was really just as an exhibit to demonstrate, "Hey, look at how much technology and how much marketing is becoming dependent on these tools and these technologies to do its job." And I thought that was a lot when it was like 150 of them.

How many technology and marketing platform are there today, as of last count?

There's “how many companies there are” and there's “how many I can fit on a single page.” My best guess is that there are about 4,000 companies worldwide that could be legitimately labeled as marketing tech or marketing technology companies. Usually on my graphs, I probably limit them to a ceiling of about 2,000, and that’s trying to show as representative of a sample as possible.

[Editor's Note: This interview was conducted before the release of the 2016 Marketing Landscape Supergraphic. While 2015's does only show about 2,000 solutions due to space, the 2016 version has 3,874 technology solutions, not companies.]

With that proliferation—from 150 to over 4,000—have you noticed any specific trends in terms of the types of technology?

There's definitely a whole category of major companies, who even if a company doesn't buy only that software—most companies now do have multi-product strategies—they will often look to one of those companies, or possibly a couple of them, as their foundation around which a lot of the rest of their ecosystem or marketing stack is built. Outside of those big companies—and there's a finite number of those—there are these more innovative niches of all the incredible things people are doing around things like more advanced customer analytics, content marketing management, really cool things with social media. The nature of social media itself continues to change at such a rapid rate so you can imagine all the companies that chase those new opportunities with software to support it. That innovation is spread very widely across many different categories.

It sounds like there's this core group of big players and then there's a lot of smaller niche companies that only offer a social media technology option, or that only does content marketing. So there are smaller players and then there are the big boys at the table kind of thing.

Yeah. And even within a category, you can often have not just a company that specializes in content marketing, but a company that specializes in curating visual content marketing, and that's all they do, and another company that specializes in social media analytics associated with content marketing, and they do this really, really well due to their focus. A company like that can be very valuable, but it's probably not going to be a multi-billion dollar company unto itself.

What have you seen in terms of the number of options being offered? Is it trending up or down over the past few years?

There's certainly been a large acceleration over the past two years. My impression is the acceleration is finally starting to slow down a bit, but the landscape is still growing. Relative to the number of companies that either go out of business, or get acquired, or pivot to something else, relative to the number of exits, the number of new entrants is still larger. It is a net-new addition to the landscape that seems to still be happening, but I think we're nearing what I would call Peak MarTech, where there's a finite number of companies that you can have in this space.

If we think about this from a marketer's perspective, all these options create a double-edged sword. On one hand, there are a lot of options. On the other hand, there are a lot of options. I can't imagine wading through that sea, that really now seemingly endless sea of technology vendor options.

The strategies that people take to solving this are really important. Starting with my landscape is usually the wrong first move. The landscape I do is meant almost entirely as a conversation piece, just to be aware of just how massive the scale and scope of marketing tech is.

When it comes to how a marketing organization actually needs to think about what technology it should adopt, in what order, how it's going to be able to operationalize that, I always recommend that they put the landscape aside. Don't look at that, but rather sit down from a customer-centric perspective of what is the audience we're trying to reach, who are we competing with for their intention, their engagement, their revenue, and really be able to look at what sort of marketing capabilities do we need to be able to competitively execute in our space.

Then, from that approach—what are the actual business strategy, marketing strategy requirements—you start to back into what capabilities are we going to need to do that, and then start looking very focused on which technologies will help you achieve that.

It's quite overwhelming. I just can't imagine having to sit down and decide among so many options.

I know this is not a fair analogy because it's obviously very different stakes and very different scale, but with the Apple mobile devices and with the Android mobile devices, they're in the space now where there are millions of apps on those things, and for the most part you don't see people freaking out over, "Oh, my gosh, how do I decide from these millions of apps?"

They just find things that are relevant to them, and they adopt them, and they use them, and they try new ones and they get rid of old ones, and it's not actually as stressful as you might think. Now, again, the analogy doesn't hold up very well because obviously it's different stakes and different scale. MarTech for an organization is very different, but there is some similarity there that marketers don't need to be analyzing every single piece of technology in the world.

All they really need to be doing is saying, "Okay, will these particular tools that we're evaluating help us accomplish our goals? Can we find something that works for us? Great, let's use them, move on."

Does this speak to the need for the CMO and the CIO or CTO to really be working closely together?

Absolutely. I think the collaboration between marketing and IT is the centerpiece to having a coherent marketing technology strategy in how you deal with that landscape.

Where are we headed with all of this in the future?

There are several possible futures that I think are all viable.

I do think it is a viable future to consider this landscape consolidating significantly. I don't believe it will consolidate down to simply a dozen companies. If you look at almost any software-powered market in the enterprise now, they don't have the same market dynamics that they did in the '80s and the '90s. But still you could see really significant consolidation and maybe get it down to a marketplace that has several hundred vendors. That's one possible world.

The most likely outcome is a two-tier market where you have a small set of primary marketing technology platforms. Oracle is a terrific example of what that strategy can be. You have a number of these finite platforms that provide stability. They provide some standardization. They provide the rock around which companies can then build their marketing technology strategy.

But there is a second tier that these platforms really help cultivate. They help enable ecosystems through the APIs and their ISVs (independent software vendors) that allow hundreds or possibly even thousands of companies to come up with more focused, innovative, marketing software that plug into that environment and really give marketers the best of both worlds. It gives them that solid foundation, a standardization for their data, but at the same time, the ability to always be able to pick and choose the innovative capabilities on the edge of how marketing is changing that is the best fit for their particular business and their particular marketing strategy.

As the marketing technology space grows, so do the number of tools marketers have at their disposable. If you are looking for some guidance, besides looking at a giant graphic of nearly 4,000 logos, download The Guide to Building Your Marketing Technology Stack.

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