Managing Marketing Technology: 5 Questions with Scott Brinker

marketing technology, online marketing

June 4, 2012 by

Scott BrinkerIf you're like most digital marketers today, you've gone through the process of selecting and managing a marketing technology solution. From email deployment to website testing and measurement, marketers are now empowered with more tools, knowledge, and capabilities than ever before.

With all of these exciting advancements and opportunities in marketing, there is a growing need for a new marketing function within organizations and agencies: the marketing technologist.

But what exactly does a marketing technologist do? And do you need one?

To learn more about this growing function and get some much needed advice on selecting marketing technology, I caught up with my favorite marketing technologist (and technology marketer), Scott Brinker, President and CTO at ion interactive and author of the popular blog, Chief Marketing Technologist. Here's what he had to say.


1. Who should be in charge of marketing technology within an organization?

That's like asking, "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" Who should be in charge of marketing technology? Well, marketing, of course.

Seriously, marketing technology today is more about "marketing" than it is about "technology." From the digital channels we use to reach customers, to the software we use to power internal marketing operations, technology has become a critical component of the modern marketing organization. It has a direct impact on marketing's capabilities, and by extension, the outcomes that marketing is able to deliver.

So if marketing technology is thoroughly entangled with marketing's ability to conceive and execute brilliant marketing programs, why shouldn't they be in charge of it?

The only excuse has been, up until recently, there weren't many people in the marketing department who understood enough about the technical aspects of technology to assert such leadership. But that's changing rapidly. A new breed of hybrid marketing technologists are blossoming, rapidly raising the "tech IQ" of the marketing department as a whole.


2. So what exactly is a marketing technologist?

The role is exactly what it sounds like: a technologist who works in marketing. It might be a tech-savvy marketer. Or a marketing-savvy technologist. It's someone who can configure and operate marketing software from analytics to automation. Someone who's comfortable lifting the hood and doing a little coding in Javascript, HTML, CSS on the web site. Someone who understand how to organize and analyze the vast amounts of data now swirling in marketing's domain. Someone whose ears perk up when they hear "API."

Marketing technologists help organizations apply marketing technology for strategic advantage. They help architect the technical infrastructure of modern marketing operations. They push the envelope with experimental ideas to win new customers. And, where necessary, they use the tech equivalent of duct tape and rubber bands to stitch together all the diverse pieces in marketing's digital ecosystem.


Scott Brinker at PivotCon3. Do you foresee the marketing technologist function growing in need and popularity? What skills should a marketing technologist have? 

The role is certainly growing in popularity, albeit with a wide variety of titles: marketing technologist, creative technologist, marketing developer, marketeer (marketing + engineer), growth hacker, etc. Regardless of the label, the need is clear. Marketing has moved beyond crafting images and language in print and TV -- it's now in the business of crafting digital experiences. Just as marketing relied on graphic designers and copywriters in its previous era, this new age requires a third pillar of the creative team: the technical architect.

Marketing technologists should obviously have strong technical skills, especially around web and mobile platforms. I believe that the ability to program software is important. Even if someone doesn't do a lot of pure software development in this role, having a native understanding of the dynamics of software and coding provides a grounded perspective for good technology management.

But it's not enough to just have technical chops -- it's necessary but not sufficient. A marketing technologist must combine those skills with insight and passion for marketing. They must be able to connect the dots between technical possibilities and market opportunities, collaborating with the rest of the marketing team to bring those ideas to life.


4. Should IT be part of the process of selecting marketing technology?

Since selecting marketing technology is a marketing decision more than a technology decision, the marketing team must take primary responsibility for choosing the right technologies and applying them smartly. While they can -- and should -- consult trusted advisors, which hopefully includes the CIO and the IT department, they can't turn over technology decisions wholesale to someone else without relinquishing a big piece of modern marketing leadership.

It's the 21st century, and technology is ubiquitous in the workplace. I think the old notion of the IT department as the gatekeeper for all things technology related in a company is anachronistic. IT still has an important role to play, especially in coordinating shared infrastructure technologies across an entire business. But every profession -- marketing, sales, human resources -- must directly embrace technological innovations in their own field to understand how to really leverage them. "We are the innovators we've been waiting for."


5. When purchasing marketing technology, is it better for organizations to select a software platform that does many things (for example: email marketing, website analytics, and social media), or select a solution that serves a single marketing function? Is the jack-of-all-trades really a master of none?

The concept of full-stack marketing suites is compelling -- everything in one place, all coordinated in the box. But the one-suite-to-rule-them-all strategy faces a number of challenges. The marketing technology universe is so large that for one package to try to do everything often spreads itself thinly across many features: as you say, a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. This is exacerbated by the fact that the marketing technology landscape is constantly changing and expanding rapidly, so it's easy for a suite to fall behind. Sometimes suite providers play catch up by acquiring new software start-ups, but the integration of those features back into their platform can get messy, which starts to erode the benefit of the all-in-one suite in the first place.

That being said, trying to piece everything together yourself, completely from scratch, is a lot of work.

I think one of the best strategies is a hybrid approach: choose a suite or two to be your primary systems of record, the backbone of your marketing operations. But choose suites that emphasize an open architecture, making it easy for you to share data and services with other more specialized solutions. This gives you a stable foundation, but also gives you the flexibility to adopt specialized products for key functions where you need better capabilities or greater competitive advantage. If something new comes out, really state-of-the-art, you have the freedom to leap on it.

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