What Is A ‘Marketing Technologist?’
And do all brands need one? Scott Brinker, who has helped develop the concept, breaks down the definition and the need for someone to fill the MarTech role.
For the past 10 years, Scott Brinker, has been promoting the idea of a “hybrid” job that combines elements of marketing and technology seamlessly. While those roles are often at odds in terms of approach and incentives, with Brinker’s 8-year-old blog, Chief MarTech, Brinker has discussed and explained the role of the Marketing Technologist and why brands need this cross-functional position.
As the VP for platform ecosystem at HubSpot (which does “inbound marketing” or marketing that “pulls” consumers in to a brand’s message, such as content marketing, SEO, social media, as opposed to more “interruptive” advertising), Brinker also lives the role he’s helped define and develop.
For a basic definition of the role, Brinker’s 2010 post titled The Rise of The Marketing Technologist outlines five forces that have called this position into being:
- the migration of money from old media to new media
- cloud computing and the migration from IT to SaaS
- the measurable nature of digital to demonstrate ROI
- a greenfield of opportunity for new entrants
- the high-velocity economics of software innovation
As Brinker is preparing for his MarTech Conference in Boston (scheduled for early October), we touched base to get a sense of how this idea started and why it’s important now for brands to consider.
GeoMarketing: You’ve been kind of talking about the role of Marketing Technologist and MarTech for the past decade. How did the concept of that role germinate?
Scott Brinker: I got into the idea of Marketing Technologist coming out of the era of the dot-com boom. I was running the technology team at a boutique agency that built websites for large enterprises.
It was fascinating. Our agency would get hired by the marketing team to build the next generation of the website they wanted. Then my team would be assigned the to answer the question of how do you take something from pretty designs in Illustrator to Photoshop to an actual functional software. I would talk with the company’s IT department because marketing and IT at the time did not talk with each other.
It wasn’t a hostile situation; it was just they were living in two separate worlds and therefore, they didn’t speak the same language. They didn’t have the same sort of incentives.
It sounds like your role was “translator.” How did you manage to bridge the divide?
It’s funny, acting as the shuttle diplomacy between these two departments, it became so obvious that even though they didn’t yet have the same sort of language and worldview, the things the company needed to get done with their website was like this amazing blend of the best of marketing and the best of IT.
Starting in the late 90s and the early 2000s I just became fascinated by how these two disciplines that were arguably on opposite ends of the career spectrum and of the professional spectrum were going to come together. I started to notice over the years more and more of these people who were “hybrids.”
They either started in IT, but then got chosen to be the one to interface with the marketing team. Or, in some cases, someone in marketing who had a background, maybe they ran a website on their own. Or they had that sort of tinkering mentality that spoke of the mission of, “Hey, how do we make marketing a little bit more technologically sophisticated and supported?”
This small community started to emerge over that first decade of the century here of “hybrids.” That’s when the label of “Marketing Technologists” started to emerge. For the first many years of that, it was an incredibly niche-y role. You could argue even today it’s still somewhat niche-y.
How has the role of Marketing Technologist evolved?
Today, it’s got tremendous more induction. That really I think started to happen around 2013, 2014. That’s when I saw this tipping point. All the sudden, there were companies that had so much need for someone who could help with the technology operations and what marketing needed to accomplish at the same time. That’s actually grown into something that I feel comfortable calling a recognized profession now. But it is still very much a small group of people.
What’s the skill set now for a Marketing Technologist? Do they still come more from the IT side?
There’s a lot of variance still. I’ve asked this question many times. “Okay, raise your hand. Did you come from a technical IT software background? Or did you come from a marketing background?” Almost always, it’s been about a 50/50 split. That’s been fascinating to me.
On the technology side, I probably understand that migration better. Just as marketing has become more technology-driven, in a lot of ways, software development has become a lot more marketing savvy. You look at these communities and open source projects, the entire movement that’s taken over in software recognizing UX professionals and thinking a lot more carefully about the experience that people have with software and how you design it. All of the sudden you’re getting more and more software people that even if they don’t use the label marketing, they are thinking about a lot of the same kinds of dynamics that marketers are.
That set it up for the people who have a technology background, people who started running their own website and they were promoting their own website. They were like, “Wow, why is our company website so terrible?” I could go work with MarTech, I could help them. It wasn’t everyone, but there are certainly a lot of people in technology who just were not interested in that dimension of things. There were subsets of people who actually got really excited about the opportunity to apply their talent in that context.
Without necessarily getting into a “Mars vs. Venus” approach in terms of defining the personal attributes of a Marketing Technologist, is there a particular profile for the person who takes on that identity?
Because marketing is a very visible function, it’s natural to think okay that’s an extroverted thing. My experience is that marketing is very different than say sales this way.
For a lot of brands, one of their biggest challenges is that they don’t want to interact with the marketing professionals on the other side directly. Very often, one of the things that hold back marketing teams that they’re kind of reluctant to go out in to the field and meet with customers and really try and understand them more anthropologically.
I actually see some of the same personality traits are classically associated with software developers, where software people are creating software for other people. They want people to like it and they want it to be successful, but very software teams too are reluctant to get our from behind the desk and actually face-to-face meet with these customers. Again, it all depends. There are so many different personalities, it’s hard to stereotype these things.
The thing that almost all Marketing Technologists have in common is that they are curious. They’re tinkerers. There are some personalities that tend to get more risk-averse and others that tend to get more risk-tolerant. Generally, I find most Marketing Technologists are a little more risk-tolerant. That really goes with the job. You’re trying to experiment and try new things, so you have to be willing to embrace that. If not, you’re going to generally not be happy in the role.
Going back to the origins of the MarTech concept, have most of your expectations been met by this point? Have there been any surprising turns in the development of the concept?
The way the profession has emerged, it actually isn’t surprising for me. It’s all very natural that these roles would come to be a more core component of the marketing team.
If anything, I’m surprised it took as long as it did to start to catch on. If I was going to be surprised by anything, it was that I thought it as an adjacent project. I started curating the idea for the MarTech landscape back in 2011. Really, it just began as a side project for showing marketing executives why they would want Marketing Technologists in their organization. Just look at all the technology you use. That idea took on a life of its own. It was actually incredibly surprising to me how dramatically that market has grown. It’s astounding. That was the biggest surprise I’ve had on this journey.
As the role of the Marketing Technologist becomes more prominent, does this necessarily mean a new seat at the company table? Or does it kind of obviate the need for these previously traditional roles, such as the Chief Technology Officer, or Chief Information Officer?
It definitely doesn’t eliminate the need for things like a CIO or CTO, because those roles are cross-organizational. As we get into more and more challenges around governance and compliance issues around data and systems, there is an enormous need for a very strong IT department at those companies.
The reason why I would say these Marketing Technologist roles, in many ways, are not new. They’re not really about replacing things that IT used to do. The explosion of all these technologies that marketers are now having to leverage in their day-to-day jobs just didn’t exist five- or 10 years ago.
The thing that makes Marketing Technologists valuable is not that they’re just able to do some of the work that you might expect anyone in IT to be able to do. It’s that they really understand the context of how these technologies get applied by the larger marketing team. Good Marketing Technologists are still collaborating with IT, they’re respecting the governance authority of IT. They really see their mission as not being an add-on to the IT department. Their mission is to make sure for the things that marketing wants to accomplish they are empowering those teams with the right tools and training.
Companies are often lost when it comes to figuring out “Who’s job is this?” when things crop up like a lawsuit last fall involving McDonald’s, GrubHub, Kmart, a few other brands when they received complaints that their respective websites were not compliant for the visually impaired under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Is this the kind of situation that makes a Marketing Technologist necessary?
It’s a perfect example. It’s this recognition that good software people, whether they’re in IT or product development, have really embraced the importance of user experience and UX. Certainly, the questions surrounding accessibility and making sure when we’re evaluating our UX strategy always starts with, “How do we address that?”
A really strong marketing team can bring some of that software development DNA and include the UX component along with the ability to critically evaluate solutions or projects through that lens.
You may have a certain bias here, but does every company need a Marketing Technologist?
I think it’s a must have at this point. You could quibble about okay what’s the title and how many? If you’re just a startup, is it maybe one person who wears multiple hats and it’s one of the hats they wear?
Any company that has a go-to-market strategy can’t be divorced now from all the technology platforms that make that possible. Whether they’re software you buy or they’re software systems you connect with in the larger world, if you don’t understand Facebook, if you don’t understand how Google search works, that’s to your disadvantage to not understand how do you leverage these things for driving business. And the Marketing Technologist can oversee those processes across the board.