Next up… Scott Brinker. For those of you who don’t know Scott, well… get with the times! Scott is the man behind chiefmartec.com and the Co-Founder/CTO of Ion Interactive. Scott has become the tech guru in the marketing space and was featured at this year’s Content Marketing World. His posts are shared around our office so frequently that we figured it was time we got on the phone with him. Here’s what he had to say…
Derek: Coming out of the MarTech conference, and all of the discussions that occurred around it, this concept of the software-driven marketing organization came up a lot. At a high-level, how do you see this playing out in the way that marketing departments are working today?
Scott: I think someone made this remark, and it is a little bit like what Marc Andreessen said several years ago, and that is “software is eating the world.” And that is simultaneously a mundane and profound recognition. It’s mundane because so much of the software we use – even in marketing with what we’re doing with social media tools like Twitter and Facebook – you don’t even think of it as using software, per se. But it’s profound in the sense that the choice of software we select, and how we configure it, and how we creatively use it, can have a tremendous impact on the kinds of experiences we’re delivering customers. I don’t believe marketing is about the software. It is, as always, about the customer experience and the customer journey. And all the other facets of marketing that have been so important for years –creativity, design, etc – are still just as important as ever. But the software layer is now equally important in delivering amazing customer experiences.
Derek: I think that’s an interesting way of putting it, because I do think at a show like MarTech, you tend to over-rotate on the technology a bit. We can start to geek out on what the technology can do, and being a software guy, I get pretty excited about stuff like that. But I like the way you talked about it as a layer. It’s always been a layer – a more important layer than it’s ever been – but still just a layer that makes the marketer better and more efficient. Dharmesh’s quote on marketers being like coders, in that they’re always looking for scale, really struck a chord with me. But at the end of the day, it still is about making the connection to a prospective customer in a way that they see value. I do think marketers need to be careful not to get too oriented on “Oh, the technology is what’s going to make me win here,” because it’s more than that. Is that how you see it?
Scott: Absolutely, and I think Erik Brynjolfsson mentioned this a little bit in his presentation, but goes into it more in his book The Second Machine Age. The real power here is those intangible assets. It’s not the technology. It’s the new kinds of processes, thinking and management approaches that were enabled by these technologies. I think we see examples of this all over. It’s at one level not wanting to glorify the technology as the savior of marketing, but at the same time, not downplaying it as just a way of making slightly more efficient the same things we’ve always done in the past. There’s a middle ground of how we think creatively to really transform our businesses with these capabilities.
Derek: Yeah, so not just making the things you do faster or better, but rethinking and doing things differently as a result. There is a line to straddle there, and I think about it in our business, too. We get excited about automating things, and sometimes we have to take a step back and say, well, given the new vehicles that are available to us, are we automating the right things? Should there be automation here, or should we just use this as a trigger to go and do something different manually? It’s something we are struggling with internally, and, frankly, I think a lot of people are.
Scott: I think that’s a really cool thing. Leaning back on Erik’s talk, there’s this whole idea of race with the machines. He cites an example of the winning chess teams: not the world’s best chess technology, not the world’s best chess players, but a combination of good technology and good players working in tandem. And the concept of being able to leverage the strengths of humans and machines, each in a much more scalable way – that’s pretty profound. It feels like we’re just barely beginning to tap the new ways we can leverage those sorts of machine/human partnerships in marketing.
Derek: Like most things, a lot of times it comes down to organizing your team to do it. And, again, something we are continuously assessing here at NetProspex: what rules, what functions, and what grouping of people do we put together? Not only in marketing, but in the whole product and go-to-market process, so you’re not just pigeon holing the marketing responsibility, but looking at it across everything that touches the customer. You tend to rely on the organizational structures we’ve used in the past, and even to the point where we divide sales and marketing more rigorously than we maybe should. It takes some reassessment, frankly, with how you compensate and organize people given the way things are changing.
Scott: Yup, I think that’s probably the most exciting dimension of this. In some ways, it’s the aspect that receives the least attention in the marketing world. We do focus a lot on how this looks through the customers’ eyes, which explains the attention we’ve given to social media marketing, content marketing and inbound marketing. And that’s great; it’s wonderful there has been so much focus on that. And then there’s this other area that’s had a lot of focus on analytics and big data algorithms, which is also fascinating, a whole new set of capabilities. But, in many ways, the tougher conversation is how do you restructure your organization and your management processes to really take advantage of these technologies to deliver on rising customer expectations.
Derek: I completely agree with your point that it’s probably the area that has received the least amount of discussion. I think partially because it’s one of those subjects that is hard one to broach, because it has a profound impact across a larger set of the organization that maybe marketing controls. How do you elevate these sorts of discussions around the use of technology, and the organizational structures that are tasked with doing it, to the executive level so that companies can address it more systemically?
Scott: This doesn’t get discussed as much because, in many ways, they’re much harder problems. They’re threatening to the status quo and the politics of “Hey, I’ve had this budget, I’ve had these responsibilities. This is my domain, you keep to your own.” People are reluctant to want to change that in what seems like a very short period of time.
Derek: I think that’s a real challenge we’ve all got – how do you incrementally shift without disrupting things that just need to deliver. You don’t want to blow up the ship while you’re still in the water so-to-speak. You’ve got to think of how you rebuild it so that it is a better speed boat. It definitely warrants more content, maybe for your next conference. I’d be interested to hear how people are tackling that.
Scott: I think this is one of the reasons why we see these chief digital officer positions, because pretty much everyone I’ve heard talk about them acknowledges that, structurally, they really don’t make sense. It’s almost like you’re creating a parallel organization within the rest of the organization. The sole reason they make sense is because they become this way of saying: okay, without blowing up the ship we’re on, can we build another ship over here and, at some point, we will just hop over to the new one. And maybe we’re not even quite sure when that time is, but we know we’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Derek: [Authors note: In retrospect, I have to acknowledge the awesome, and subtle, and awesomely subtle reference to Jaws that Scott makes there…]
Derek: I think that’s probably why that roll is emerging. And I think you’re right, it does seem hard to reconcile that roll, but maybe that’s the change agent that figures it out. So bigger problems aside, I wanted to dive deeper under the covers of marketing, because we’re a data-focused company. We focus on helper marketers better identify and communicate with the people they want to connect with, and in ways that hopefully provide value. How do you see data as part of the technology stack evolving? And do you think the use of software has eclipsed how people approach their data? I think as an industry, especially in B2B, we have been fairly quick to adopt new technologies and maybe not so quick to think about the data implications, and how we leverage the data that supports those technologies. And we’re kind of getting stuck by that now. Is that anything you’ve seen or thought about?
Scott: I think, yes, for the most part, people have yet to fully comprehend the implications of all this data. Both what it means operationally – how do we manage this? Strategically – how do we take advantage of this? Even issues like privacy and security; I mean, classic IT infrastructure challenges with the cloud. With all of these solutions we have in the cloud – not to say we shouldn’t have them in the cloud – but right now, I think it’s both the CMO and the CIO thinking about these things. So neither of them really have the full picture of all the different components that are operating here, much less a bigger plan of, okay, how are we synthesizing the data flow among these things? The pace at which new things are entering into that mix continues to happen at such a rapid rate that the problem is not standing still. That being said, I do feel that there is an acknowledgement that, at the end of the day, this comes down to two transformative capabilities in marketing: the data and the insights/experience we can deliver from that, and then the customer experience delivery that we have through these different channels. The buzzword at the show was omnichannel. You know, marketers need to get really good at leveraging this incredible set of data they have access to, and they need to get a lot better at delivering on the customer experience that the data implies.
Derek: I think that makes a ton of sense, and I think for us and me in particular, always being in the B2B space, it feels this term omnichannel makes it sound bigger than it actually has to be. I think people need to be realistic in that they don’t need to boil the ocean with it. If you can just get consistent across a couple of channels to start with, and really focus on how you use data, technology and insights to really be consistent across a couple of your outfacing channels, you’ll see incredible improvements. Particularly if you can narrow the focus on a smaller set of customers that you know are best fit for your solution. And you can be, maybe not excellent, but at least omnipresent to them over a period of time through multiple channels. In this consistent way, you’ll win more customers faster. Sometimes, I think the term omnichannel can be overwhelming, so I do think there’s some rational thought that needs to get applied around, how can I bite-size getting better at this. And I think the bar is pretty low. You don’t have to do much to look excellent from what I see.
Scott: I agree. I think the more I talk to people who are wrestling with this idea – as Laura McClellan mentioned – of a bi-modal IT organization, where one mode is really suited towards infrastructure and standardization, stability and cost optimization. And the other mode is much more suited toward the agile and the experimental, and I think that applies to marketing programs too. There’s a set of core marketing programs that, it’s better for us to do fewer things and do them really well, because it’s the core expectation our customer has with us. And then there’s another set of stuff that is going to be more experimental, and it’s going to be trying out new innovations – and probably with relatively high failure rate for a number of those experiments – to find the new winners. And I really do believe you have to treat those as two different kinds of programs that you’re developing in marketing. And if you try to mix them all in one bucket, you fall into that trap of trying to do too many things poorly rather than a few things really well.
Derek: Interesting, because my next question, to wrap things up, was going to be about agile marketing. I’ve been at a couple different software shops, this one included, and the development process has been agile. And coming in here and reading a lot of your stuff, we thought, we should try this agile marketing thing. Honestly, we struggle because you have to have both. You can’t have it all agile, because, like you said, there is just core functionality that the marketing department needs to deliver to the company, and they have to be really good at it. They have to be predictable at it, and it has to be locked down. So my question is how do you see agile being embraced? Is it kind of a mix-mode approach to the companies that are being successful with it?
Scott: So agile marketing is a lot like marketing technology management today in the sense that everyone knows they need to be doing something with this, but if you get ten companies in a room, they would have ten different ways in which they were interpreting that. And, again, I don’t think it’s a bad thing, because what we’re trying to figure out here is new territory. This is not software development, and while we can certainly take inspiration from agile software methods, and how that has worked and not worked, I don’t think it’s a pre-determined playbook. Having heard a number of companies wrestle with it, some of them are doing it by dividing: this part is being governed by an agile process and this other part is being governed by something that’s more waterfall. I’ve seen people experiment in very interesting ways by mapping the long-term processes and more stable aspects of marketing into the context of a more agile process. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m dying to read Jascha Kaykas-Wolff and Kevin Fann’s book, Growing Up Fast, because Jascha has been pioneering this for years. I don’t expect that he will have all the answers, but I am sure he’ll have some!
Enjoy the post? Check out the first two stops on my Q&A tour with Ann Handley and Joe Pulizzi.
The next MarTech Conference will take place March 31, 2015-April 1, 2015… check it out here.