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.
For the sixth instalment of Behind B2B, our series exploring the brightest minds in the industry, we meet Annette King – CEO of Publicis Groupe UK.
Ask a hundred CEOs where their careers began, and we’re betting ‘a pub in Swindon’ doesn’t crop up as the answer too often. But for Annette King, a meeting in a bar sparked a career spanning agencies, clients and continents – as we discovered in our latest Behind B2B interview.
When Octopus was acquired by Publicis Groupe in early 2021, we got confirmation of something we’ve long felt to be true: B2B marketing is supercharged right now. And there’s plenty of exciting work coming down the track – driven in no small part by the energy and vision of leaders like Annette King, the CEO of Publicis Groupe UK.
So, we sat down with Annette to hear about her journey from Beefeater waitress in Swindon to boardroom – covering New York chutzpah, the ecosystems of B2B, and IBM’s brand glow along the way.
Annette, tell us. How did you get here? And what did you really want to be when you grew up?
Honestly? I didn’t know. I only knew that I wanted to be successful. I come from a working class background, so to be blunt, I wanted the freedom of having some money and being able to afford a good life.
To that end, I kept my education broad. I did A Levels in Maths, English Lit, Economics – and then went to the Oxford poly to study Business Studies. I specialised in marketing and advertising, and started to get a sense that I could succeed in that world.
Unfortunately, I graduated into a bad economic climate. There really weren’t many jobs out there. I’d been writing so many letters, sending so many CVs, sifting through the Guardian and the Evening Standard constantly but just finding nothing. So I headed back to Swindon.
I was a waitress in a Beefeater restaurant and temped in all sorts of jobs. A friend employed me as a typist, and her boss asked her to take these two Swedish chaps she was looking to hire out for a drink.
So I went with her – to the bar in Swindon where everyone knew our names – to meet these Swedish guys. And when one asked me, what do you do? I said: well, I’m temping and waitressing, but I’d like to work in marketing or advertising.
And it turned out this chap had a friend at an agency, who he said he’d put me in touch with – bear in mind none of us had email at this point. I literally gave him my home address! And incredibly enough, he wrote me a letter, saying he’d spoken to his contact in London, Philip Beeching, and that I should give him a call.
I called Philip immediately, of course. It was a small agency, only 12 people or so. Next thing I know, I’m bundled up in my car driving to Hammersmith to crash on a mate’s sofa for the interview. We got on brilliantly, he offered me a job more or less on the spot, and that was that: I started on the following Monday.
How did you get on there? We know you didn’t stay in the land of small agencies for long, so what happened next?
Working at a small agency is a wonderful experience because you do a bit of everything it takes to make an agency work: Coming up with ideas yourself, meeting senior clients, writing the briefs, as well as doing the invoicing and pouring the coffee. It was a great way to start in this business.
But I soon realised that I craved a large agency environment and the opportunities that would bring. So after a few interviews, I got a role at Wunderman working on BT and BA. A few years later I moved with them to New York, where I learnt a great deal: how to be more confident, how to get further up the client hierarchy, how to give and take feedback. Everything in New York is also five times bigger and bolder, so you really have to embrace the New York ‘chutzpah’ to succeed.
But I always wanted to come back to London; the city means a great deal to me. So I came back to a big job at Ogilvy – to the UK to run the American Express account across EMEA, which was quite a big step up for me at the time. But I survived, thoroughly enjoyed it and managed to do a decent job. I worked my way up, and ended up responsible for the whole group in the UK.
And then Arthur Sadoun [now Chairman and CEO of Publicis] came knocking. In truth, I wasn’t looking to move. I was really happy where I was. I met with Arthur out of curiosity…
And the rest is history?
Indeed. When Arthur succeeded Maurice Lévy as Chairman, he invited me for breakfast to tell me about the opportunity on offer. And it was exactly that – a huge opportunity. I couldn’t refuse.
It’s been a fantastic evolution from running what was essentially a very large ‘creative shop’ to something with broad capabilities across media, creative, technology, commerce, PR, data, production and more. It’s been three years, and I’ve continued to learn a huge amount.
It sounds like you’ve never been afraid to take big leaps – and you’ve seen big payoffs as a result. Is that a character trait of yours, the willingness to ‘jump in’?
I think so. I’m a big believer that you create your own luck. You have to be brave enough to put yourself in the right places; you can’t just hope for things to come to you.
I’m also quite instinctive. When opportunities have come along, I’ve always had a good sense of what will work for me. I’ve said yes – but also no, when needed. And that balance has paid off; I’ve had a career I’m proud of.
You’ve worked on many major clients over the years, across B2C and B2B. What have you been most proud of in terms of actual advertising or marketing work? And in a broader operational sense?
Probably British Airways: ‘The Magic of Flying’. We created digital billboards that displayed different creative executions, depending on which BA plane was flying overhead – you know, ‘Look, it’s flight BA475 from Barcelona.’ It was really engaging, magical work.
As for the second point, I’m hugely proud of the people I’ve helped to develop. The teams I’ve created and led. Our ComEx team – which includes 14 of us across the different Publicis Groupe practices – is a high performing, high trust, laughter filled team. I’ve achieved that a few times in a few places, so I’ll always be most proud of the team dynamic and performance I can nurture.
Speaking of high performance: the team at Octopus are looking forward to working with you and others across Publicis to drive B2B forward. As we’ve discussed before, B2B feels ‘supercharged’ at the moment, so the opportunity is huge. Why do you think B2B has gained such prominence over the last 18 months? How are you planning to continue driving B2B growth?
I’ve always loved B2B; it was a huge part of my focus at Ogilvy. And it’s true – the B2B sector does feel supercharged right now, which is very exciting. The growth Octopus Group has seen attests to that.
But it’s not surprising, when you consider the disruption and change of the last year. The way businesses buy has changed. There’s been huge technological transformation across B2B industries – like financial services, energy, telecoms and aviation – and a rise in B2B ecommerce. And with events out of the question, B2B marketers and sales teams have been able to reach prospects a lot more directly. All of which has proven fertile ground for growth and new opportunities.
As for the future, there really are no limits. The avalanche of opportunities that have already come our way in 2021 proves that. Really creatively ambitious. And really grounded in wide-ranging technical expertise, from martech knowledge to tech capabilities and comms knowledge.
But of course, for that to be successful, you need the right people and talent – which is why I was so delighted when we made the Octopus Group acquisition. While we certainly have pockets of B2B expertise across Publicis Groupe, Octopus is a body of B2B experts with significant B2B heritage, plus industry leading data, media and technology resources. With Octopus on board, we’ve got a huge chance to scale B2B communications in a really strategic way.
Final question – let’s end on a B2B celebratory note. What’s the best B2B marketing campaign or brand of all time, in your eyes?
It’s got to be IBM, for me. The full breadth of it. From Bob Dylan to sponsoring Wimbledon and the ‘IBM Seer’ augmented reality app, where you could hold the phone up and see the game through walls – there’s always such a blend of bold creative, clever uses of data, an appetite to try new things and the important, really nitty gritty lead gen work.
And that’s a key thing for B2B marketers to remember; to combine those two strengths. Of course, you have to be realistic; for every IBM, there’s 100 accounts that need very serious, targeted work. But the best results come when you can combine the two; the serious and technical, with the emotional and impactful.
Again, just look at IBM. The Bob Dylan IBM Watson stuff is cool, but there was a huge amount of other work done that drove lead generation, drove sales, got the funnel going – helped by the uplift of the ‘glow’ from that public creative. And now, it’s a brand every consumer knows – despite never having been a B2C brand.
Ready for more origin stories from the big names of B2B? Catch up on the series so far – starting with Tyrona Heath from the The B2B Institute @ LinkedIn.