Behind B2B #07: Scott Brinker
For the seventh instalment of Behind B2B, our series exploring the brightest minds in the industry, we meet Scott Brinker – the godfather of martech (and the brain behind that martech infographic!)
If you’ve been in the marketing game for more than five minutes, chances are you’ve come across the Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic (the 2020 version including a dazzling 8,000 solutions). And you’ve almost certainly used some of the platforms or tools discussed within it.
Scott Brinker is the brain behind that infographic – not to mention VP of Platform Ecosystems at Hubspot, and founder of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, where he writes about marketing’s transformation into the tech-powered discipline we all know and love today.
But nobody grows up dreaming of becoming a martech expert – so how did he get here? Let’s find out.
Scott, tell us – how did you get to where you are today?
As a kid, I was really interested in games – pretty early on I started working in the fun world of multiplayer games! Right before the internet took off, with people running bulletin board systems, dialling in with their modems. I enjoyed that a lot, but not just the game side of it. I loved the dynamic of people connecting together online, unleashing new kinds of creativity and engagements. It seems so normal now, but this was the really early seeds of the world we all live in.
So I was a software developer making games, and I soon learned that if you build it, they don’t necessarily come – you have to promote it, too. So early on I was like: what’s this marketing thing all about?
As an early entrepreneur, I had actually dropped out of college. I spent ten years building up the businesses from that games company, then I ended up going into web development for companies like Citrix and Siemens. I decided to go back to college to finish my degree in computer science. And – I guess because I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder from having dropped out – I went on and got a master’s degree, too.
All of which has served you well. What happened next – how did you get into martech?
After that, I launched a SaaS company, where I built an interactive platform for marketers. Then, I joined HubSpot as their VP of Platform Ecosystems, helping to grow relationships with all the great companies whose apps get connected into the HubSpot platform.
In parallel, I was doing web development stuff, running the tech team at this web agency. Our firm would be hired by the marketing team of these Fortune 500 companies, and it would be my job to talk to IT and say: okay, how are we going to implement this new tech? Because mostly, IT and marketing didn’t talk to each other. It wasn’t hostility, or anything – they just lived in different universes.
So I did shuttle diplomacy between the two teams, and that got me really excited about this emerging set of professionals who were comfortable working in both worlds. They could talk marketing, they could talk tech – and that inspired me to launch the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, where I wrote what was (at the time) very niche content.
But it didn’t stay niche for long. Around 2013, 2014, a huge switch happened. Companies hit a tipping point where they were leveraging so much technology within the marketing department that it suddenly became this big topic – and that’s how I fell into this crazy godfather of martech role.
Speaking of ‘so much technology’, you’re famed for your annual martech supergraphic. What inspired that? And how on earth do you keep up – last year’s graphic had 8,000 solutions on it?
I was giving a presentation to senior marketers, trying to persuade them to hire more technical people in their team. I put together this graphic to show: look how many different tools you’re now dependent on to deliver the outcomes you’re responsible for. Look at all this tech under your domain. You know, it probably makes sense to have some staff that really understand all of this stuff…
That first graphic had like, 150 companies on it. At the time, everyone said: oh my god, how will we ever keep track of them all, which is pretty funny now. Compiling it is certainly a big task: we actually visit the website of every single martech company we’re including. It takes months. It’s a labour of love, but it’s worthwhile.
We’re big fans at Octopus. And as the most recent edition shows, us marketers have never had more tools to play with. How do you see B2C and B2B marketers using those tools in different ways?
Historically, the distinction was that B2B had this very direct sales force with a lot of common motions between marketing and sales teams. Versus B2C that had channels and retailers, but maybe not a direct relationship with the consumer, because they were using a distribution channel.
But over the years, there’s been a blending. A lot of direct to consumer companies are now structured to sell people subscriptions, rather than one-off products – it starts to look a lot like the SaaS world, like how B2B sells things. So the new generation of B2C companies can take a lot of learnings from the B2B world.
On the other side, for B2B, I think this whole movement around ABM speaks to the fact that B2B has realised it’s really marketing to networks of individuals, and these individuals are humans, that you can speak to in a human kind of way. So it can learn from B2C in that sense.
Do you have any examples of really great B2B marketing work you’ve seen – perhaps any martech brands who are doing a great job with their marketing?
I’m always impressed when, in a crowded market, a company breaks through on the strength of their content. A lot of content isn’t very remarkable. I’m often shocked, on my annual pilgrimage around the martech landscape, by the volume of websites where I can’t actually work out what they’re selling.
But then I come across brands that just have such a compelling, clear presentation – they’ve really nailed it. Terminus, this tiny little company out of Atlanta, just crushed their category – largely because they became such powerful advocates of ABM and did such great marketing around it. In the CDP space, Segment – in a relatively short space of time – ended up being the most popular product in that market. Because they just found the right way to present their company, and make it clear.
Great content has never been more important than it is right now. But of course, it’s far from the only skill marketers need. With the marketing landscape changing so fast, where should we focus our efforts?
I think it’s important not to try and keep up with everything. Not a week goes by when I don’t hear about some new company doing some cool thing. The pace of change – the wide distribution of change – is so big, that I don’t think we can go back to one person understanding how the whole universe fits together.
Of course I love to learn, love to experiment – but you have to make your peace with the fact you can’t know everything.
But in terms of what marketers should be doing: my best advice is to take advantage of the whole generation of what they call ‘no code tools’. Things like Canva, where you can create beautiful designs without being a designer. You still need the experts for plenty of stuff, but now you can just try these tools that let you say: hey, that’s an idea. Let me try this out.
That’s a game changer. Because at the end of the day, what makes marketers great? Their creativity and imagination.
Final question – what’s one martech mistake people should stop making?
Taking one extreme or another. Either trying everything, because there’s so much cool stuff. Or they’re saying: no, that’s shiny object syndrome, just give me one product.
Either stance is the wrong way to look at it; companies should be taking an 80/20 split, with 80% of your time on a small set of tools that you’re really good at. And 20% of the time, looking ahead, exploring, experimenting. If you can find that balance, you’re on the way to paradise.
Interested in how the CEO of Publicis Groupe UK made her way from Beefeater waitress to boardroom heavyweight? Read Annette King’s Behind B2B interview here.