Companies use 75+ tools on average. Is there too much tech at work?
Sam Balter: Martech. Martech. Marketing technology. The category represents everything, from tools to help businesses post pics on Instagram, to email automation workflows. From hosting a website, to using AI to manage your database cleanliness. From dynamic ad networks, to meme generators. It's big. It's complicated. And, for lack of a better word, it's kind of a shit show. Today's guest conducted a simple exercise 10 years ago. He put the logos of the marketing tech companies on a slide and grouped them by category. At first it was cute, 150 logos and a couple of categories. One year later, it was 350 logos. Last year, it was a mind- bending, PDF- breaking 8, 000 logos, where you have to scream," Enhance," like a daytime crime show, just to get a sense of what's going on. And that, that's a problem. The problem is not that martech, the graphic, is getting impossible to understand. The problem is that martech, the industry, is getting impossible to sustain. With ZoomInfo data showing that there are now more than 8, 000 marketing technology tools, but the average company is only using about 75 of them. We have to ask, how much is too much? So, let's start easy. Can you give me your name and your title?
Scott Brinker: Sure. Scott Brinker, VP Platform Ecosystem at HubSpot and editor of the chiefmartech. com blog.
Sam Balter: Perfect. Okay. So Scott, can you tell me a little bit about the Chief Martech blog, specifically the Chief Martech graphic?
Scott Brinker: So when I started the blog, what I was really trying to do was persuade senior marketing executives that they should hire more technical talent into their department. Because marketing was steadily becoming a more technology powered discipline.
Sam Balter: Can you describe the version [inaudible 00:02: 20 ], what it looks like, as if no one had ever seen it before?
Scott Brinker: Sure. So it was a slide with about 150 marketing technologies on it. And I clustered them into groups of: oh, these are tools for social media marketing. These are tools for your website. These are tools for marketing automation and email marketing. There was maybe around 30 categories, or something like that. And everyone's reaction to it was," Oh my goodness. There is way too much marketing technology out there." Including mine, I'm like," Wow, that is a lot of tools."
Sam Balter: I guess, originally... so you made it for a slide for a presentation. Why did you have to make that slide?
Scott Brinker: For a lot of senior marketing executives, 10 years ago, I don't think they even recognized how many tools there were floating through their department. And when you stood back and you saw: okay, not only is this a whole bunch of these logos, but each one I can actually look at, I'm like," Oh yeah, we do use that." And," Oh yeah, this one over here, I've heard of them. I know why I would want them." And if I had just given them a number, if I said," You know, on average, you probably have a couple of dozen tools out of these 100." I'm not sure that it would have had the same visceral impact of being able to actually see these logos. It started to just create that connection to be able to say," Oh, okay. Wow. There really is a lot of technology in marketing." I have so many tales of a CMO, being in a meeting with them, and when they're asked," Well, what's your marketing technology stack?" Their answer comes back, is like," Oh, well we use Adobe. That's it. No, that's the only one we have." And then you bring up the chart and you start to walk through it, and then they're like," Oh yeah. Yeah. No, we have that. Yeah, we have that. Ah, yep, yep. Yeah, We have those." And then all of a sudden it's like the light bulb goes off and you're like," Holy crap. I actually do have a big marketing stack, who knew?"
Sam Balter: Okay. Pause. I feel like this is when somebody learns how to cook for the first time and they start buying all of this kitchen equipment that they don't even know how to use.
Speaker 3: Sam, you're literally describing me right now. This is the exact position I am in in this very moment in my life. I feel like the way these CMOs felt when they saw the graphic for the first time, is the way that I feel when I take my biannual trip to the back of my closet. Like, holy shit, I can't believe I have this much stuff. What is it for? How did I get here? Who am I? This is a regularly occurring existential crisis for me.
Sam Balter: I don't think Scott's graphic brought a regular existential crisis for these CMOs, but it's not really that extreme.
Speaker 3: I think it probably was Sam, actually. I think you're underestimating the mental wellness of people in the C- suite.
Sam Balter: For better or worse, that might be true. One of the things I wonder about is we've gone from, what, 150 to 8, 000. Do you ever second guess where you've placed companies? Do you ever look back at other old graphics and was like,"That was a wrong call on my part."?
Scott Brinker: Oh yeah. All right. Well, you're definitely getting to the heart of the things that keep me up at night. Categorization is hard. And it's hard for some really good reasons, partly because companies actually have capabilities that could be represented in multiple categories. And I've generally tried to limit that, just from a scale perspective. But also some of the greatest innovations happening in martech are by people creating products, that they don't care about categories the way analysts think about them, what they care about is: what's the customer actually want? What is the problem I can solve in marketing? And they've got really creative solutions to that. And I love those products, but they're really hard to put into a category because that's just not the game they're playing. And good for them. And so, somewhere along the line, I'd say maybe about four years ago, I finally just made peace with the fact that we'll take our best guess based on what we see them talking about on their website, who their competitive set is; and we'll do our best job of placing it. But, at the same time, again, now that you've got this map of 8, 000 logos... I'm just trying... I've got your one story [inaudible 00:06:56], you'll find this amusing. So I had a PR person from a very large technology company... will remain anonymous now... call me up furious, furious that they were not on the landscape. And I immediately go back to them and I'm like," Actually, you're on the landscape in four areas. We put you in 4 categories. We don't put anybody in 4 categories. We put you in these four categories." Without missing a beat, PR person comes back and says," Well, here's the other 16 categories where we should be as well too." I'm like," Okay, just go away now." And I make fun of this but, I mean, I understand. If you're a product marketer and you really do care about the category your products being associated with, they pay really close attention to that. But again, for the normal marketers, nobody's using my graphic of 8, 000 to hone in with a magnifying glass and try and figure out," Oh, who do we get for our social media marketing?" That's just not how it's used. And so, chill.
Sam Balter: Now that it's gotten so big and, as you've mentioned, PR people from large companies are calling you sometimes, people are looking forward to the Martech Supergraphic, do you ever struggle with imposter syndrome? Or have you ever struggled with: why am I the person doing this?
Scott Brinker: I mean, I'm an entrepreneur by background, so imposter syndrome is where I have lived my life. Yeah. So I don't know that this is any different. Again, on the landscape, I guess it doesn't bother me that much because, again, there isn't really anything magical about that. I mean, anyone who actually wanted to invest several thousand hours of their lives into tracking this stuff down and putting little logos, could do it. This is not a very high- end skill. So, yeah, I don't feel a lot of imposter syndrome about that. I think where I feel the broader imposter syndrome is, over the years, I've sort of been seen as, yeah, just one of the figures of the martech industry. And so I often feel like people attribute a level of," Oh, well, if there's a martech question, Scott must have the answer to it. He's the omniscient martech person." And I'm like," Oh good God, no." I mean, there is so much happening across this industry and it's so deep. I mean, not a week goes by that I'm not continually learning things that I never knew existed, that I never even knew were possible. I'm like," Wow, that's incredible." Yeah, I am definitely not the omniscient martech person. But part of why I want to share that is because I feel like everyone in marketing now, to a certain degree, has an imposter syndrome around martech. Everyone is feeling insecure of, like, I just don't understand all these possible things. Surely I am falling behind the rest of the world? And I kind of want to assure you that, no, actually, the whole world is in this spot right now. There's so much happening, changing so quickly, innovating so quickly; nobody, nobody on the planet knows all of this stuff. So, deep breath, you're not alone. It's a challenge, but you're not alone in that, I assure you.
Sam Balter: Yeah. Because I think, if anything, that graphic now gives you such a sense of feeling small. I feel like I've been working in my whole career, in software, for a while. And I'm like," I don't know any of these people, or any of these things, or even what some of these categories are." So it's very nice to know that you're at least somewhat in the same boat.
Scott Brinker: I'm very, very much so. This is definitely one of these fields where I would argue, actually, the more you know, the more you realize there's way more that you don't know.
Sam Balter: Okay. So one of the things that I think is interesting, is marketers are always trying out new things. And one of the pieces of data that we've looked at at ZoomInfo, has been how many tools a company has. Right? As a company gets more employees, they get more tools. That's one of the things we've noticed. So when you have a company with 1 to 10 employees, they might have 10 tools. When you get to a company with over a couple thousand employees, they tend to have 200 + tools. But there are over 8, 000 tools in the marketing tech landscape. One, did you ever think it would get that large? And two, do you think there's a limit?
Scott Brinker: This isn't just martech. What's basically happened in the world is, thanks to the major cloud platforms, AWS, Azure, Google cloud, all this open source capabilities; the barriers to creating software are really low. I mean, again, if you're trying to build a multi- billion dollar software brand, hey, that's a whole different story. But if you're looking to just create some software to solve a very specific problem, we can just build it and do it. It's getting easier all the time. And the power of these things, if you can leverage out of AWS and Google cloud, they keep getting more powerful all the time. And so I think what you see now, is it's not just major companies or companies who aspire to be the next$ 1 billion breakout, it's these smaller entrepreneurial ventures who, they see across a segment of customers, and they're like," Oh, we can build software to do this." And the next thing you know, they're selling it. And they've got, whatever it is, a few hundred customers, maybe it's a$ 10 million business, a$ 20 million business. This is not going to be the sort of thing that is going to make it to an IPO. But boy, you get a group that owns their niche and it's a few dozen people pulling in$ 10 million a year, that ain't a bad business.
Sam Balter: So it started this idea that, because it's easier to build tools, we could build more niche tools.
Scott Brinker: Yeah. So. Let me give you an example. If you go to WordPress, they've got something like 60, 000 plugins that are available for WordPress today. Now, are all these plugins great? No. Actually, probably, the majority of them suck. Probably the majority of them have been abandoned. But still, just consider for a moment: WordPress is really just one piece of software out there, and now you've got this universe of 60, 000 other more specialized pieces of software that were built around that. There's just millions of apps that are out there for these things. And so I think it's just... you've gotten to a dynamic where the universe of potential apps and the size of an app that can be viable, is just very different than anything that existed 10, 20 years ago. Jay McBain, in Forester, recently walked me through the math of why he estimates there is 175, 000 SaaS companies today. And he believes, by 2027, that number will be 1 million. Because every business starts to become a software business, and all these folks who are able to have their small little side business that's a software business. Welcome to the digital world.
Sam Balter: With everything that has happened in 2020. One thing we've noticed is that, simply, a lot more businesses are digitizing. Right? A lot more small businesses are coming online. A lot more companies are using shopping carts. A lot more companies are doing ads on Facebook. How do you think this rapid digitization is going to change the martech or affect the martech landscape?
Scott Brinker: We haven't started work on our 2021 landscape. But I can tell you, based on the ratio of the number of new stories I get of an acquisition relative to the number of notices I get of new startups that have been launched and gotten funding, the new ones are still outpacing the consolidation. So I still think it's going to be a bit expansionary for a while. And it's partly because the market of potential buyers for these technologies is growing tremendously.
Sam Balter: Why do you think marketers adopt new technologies?
Scott Brinker: Marketing is in the business of differentiation. A marketer discovers a technique that no one else is doing. They do it, and they get these great returns on it. And then eventually everyone else starts doing it and the returns drop, and eventually it becomes shitty click- throughs and now you have to go out and find some new thing. And there's a reality to this. And so I think marketers are kind of always forced in this position of: whatever you were doing yesterday that was working, you can't really rely on it to carry you through next year. And so they keep themselves attuned to, okay, is there some new thing we can do that will get us there ahead of the rest of the crowd? Some people would look and say, shiny object syndrome. I actually think that's marketers doing exactly what they should do, which is figure out: how do I get an edge before my competitors?
Sam Balter: Yeah. You phrase it in a very nice way. I've also heard it as: marketers ruin everything. So, whatever. It's like, great social media suite that marketing gets involved and ruins that. Or Whatever it is, it's always: marketers ruin everything that's going to be cool. But you have a much nicer way of saying it.
Scott Brinker: For sure. All right. But even if we buy into your proposition of marketers are going to ruin everything. Then still, as a marketer, that means," Oh, dammit. Well, all my peers just ruined that thing that was working really well for me. So now I better go find something else."
Sam Balter: Yeah.
Speaker 3: The reason I like this so far is because I feel like he's sort of saying that, as part of survival of the fittest, if you will, it's necessary for us to constantly be trying out new things and staying on top of what's currently going on in the market. Because if we don't, then we'll fall behind the rest of the industry and lose our competitive advantage.
Sam Balter: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, at a basic level, I think there's an immediate advantage of what we're doing right now. Right? What Scott is talking about, we're executing as we're doing this show. Right? We're using a new piece of software to open up a new channel that's less popular, or that's not as popular as other things or things that you would traditionally do. And, to me, it's like, yeah, it's just also more fun on the other side. It's more fun. It's more interesting. People respond to stuff that's new, not stuff that's the same shit they've seen 1, 000 times over. Now, the thing is, you've been doing the martech landscape for years now. And what do you think you see, that other people don't, by taking this kind of 30, 000 foot view?
Scott Brinker: The number one thing I would take away from this journey is: empirical evidence trumps theory. So pretty much since the very first days when I started producing that landscape, the immediate reaction I would get every time I published it was like," All of these tools are going to go away. It's going to consolidate down to a few dozen within the next year or two." And the funny thing is, I would get that same narrative year after year after year. And I'm like," Listen, I hear you, man. I hear that's what you want. I hear why you claim there's a theory that that's going to be the case. I don't really have a dog in this fight. I'm just presenting you the actual empirical evidence of what is happening year over year. And there's a trend line, let's look at the direction that's going. And then, yeah, sure, if you think that's going to magically disappear next year, you could be right. But, yeah, what's the data that you're bringing to the equation there to prove that?" I mean, I'll be honest, I did not expect this landscape to take on the growth it did. I haven't been as surprised as anyone. And I think what it's taught me is this humility of... particularly as analysts or marketers, I mean, we're always asked to predict the future and where's this going and what's it... And I think this landscape exercise has just given me the humility to say that predicting the future is frigging hard. What is perhaps more valuable, is to spend less time predicting the future and a little more time just keeping your eyes open to what's actually happening around you. Because that's something, actually, that can change your strategy and it can change your [inaudible 00:20:17], it can change what you are able to do if you recognize the here and now. And, yeah, who knows what the future will bring.
Sam Balter: I mean, that is not what I expected out of you, to say," We're looking at this thing, I've been watching it for years. And the main lesson seems to be: pay more attention to the present, stop looking as much towards the future." I'd be like, you would have been popping off predictions left, right and center, about what's going to happen or where the biggest trends are going to be. Is there any predictions you have made that were either really, really wrong or really, really, right?
Scott Brinker: So I think the one I was right on is, by the time I got to the 2014 landscape, I think the post I wrote either to release it or shortly after was: 1, 000 martech companies in the world is the new normal. It's not going to fall below that number. And I think that one ended up being true. I just actually did a paper about a month or so ago with WPP, where they had asked me to try and take my best assessment of: what do you think the trends over the next 10 years in martech will be? And again, and I'm always reluctant on making hardcore predictions. But what I looked at was, okay, here are some trends that are actually happening today, that everything I see suggests that those trends are only going to accelerate. And it's the stuff around no code. It's the stuff that was governing more software in the world, not less. I think all of the focus on big data for the past 10 years, I think it's going to shift to be much more of a focus on what we call big ops, which is much more about the execution of automations and apps around this data. So, I don't know. We'll see. When we get to 2030, you can look back and say," Yeah, Scott, boy, you were seriously wrong in all five of those."
Sam Balter: This is random, but do people, at this point, believe you when you make a prediction? Or do people push back on you a lot?
Scott Brinker: Both. And part of it is, again, I'd be the first person to push back too. I really do enjoy engaging with people who argue against something I'm saying on this. I mean, there are some people, they're just going to troll you no matter what you do, and so that's not much fun. But if someone is genuinely, like," Here's why I think you're wrong. And this is the case for it." Yeah, I love those conversations. Because this is a complex world and, yeah, it's entirely possible that I'm looking at some sort of trend through one lens and somebody else has a different lens and some different data. And you're like," Oh yeah, okay. That's an entirely different dimension that I didn't even think of." Yeah. Yeah. Bring it on.
Sam Balter: So, if marketers should handle the too much tech problem by making more data- driven predictions, what should software companies do? How do new companies enter an increasingly oversaturated field and survive? For Scott, there's a very simple answer to this: find your niche.
Scott Brinker: This will be where the specialization comes in. Like Mindbody, they're not trying to compete with Salesforce, or your HubSpot, or these other folks, and like," Oh yes, we're the horizontal CRM for everything." There are some things that are very specific about the services they're delivering. For them to do a really specialized version of that, and then be able to go to these gyms and be like," Hey, listen, look how perfect of a fit this is." And people are like," Oh yeah, that's awesome. Yeah. Let me do that." I think you're going to see a lot more of that. Because, again, now going back to those entrepreneurs who can create software relatively cheaply, if they find any particular... I don't know, pet salons... I mean, will there be a software for pet salon? But I wouldn't be surprised. Actually, this is my one great regret, by the way. I had the opportunity at one point, when I was launching the SaaS thing that became my previous company, where we briefly had toyed, my founders and I, we'd done a couple of trips to Napa Valley just for fun. And I'm like," Wow, wouldn't it be amazing to write the SaaS software for wineries and winery businesses, and then spend your days going around and engaging with all of them?" To this day, this is my one regret that that was not the SaaS I built. I don't know how profitable it would have been but, boy, that would have been a fun experience. But yeah, I think you'll see lot of those niche, vertical solutions.
Sam Balter: Looking towards the categories that have risen, it seems like the standouts from the last year was a lot in data and a lot in compliance. And I'm wondering if you could just talk about the context of why you think those categories are rising?
Scott Brinker: I think we've gotten to a place where, 5 years ago... 10 years ago, certainly 5 years ago, marketers just like," Give me data, data, data, data, data. And I store it all in and stuff at all in, and more data the better." But not a lot of attention was paid to the maintenance of that data or the quality of it. Because, at the end of the day, a lot of the marketing tactics we were employing, were still in the mode of: Oh, well just throw more names at it. Right? Like," Oh, you need more leads? Well, I'll just send out more emails to more people. Done, and Miller time." And what's happened now, in the past few years, is we've now got some really sophisticated technologies that can segment and act on people based on all these data signals. But in order for those algorithms to perform properly, it's garbage in, garbage out. You need quality data in order to be able to rely on now what those machine learning algorithms are doing. And I think this is sort of a hidden benefit that came out of GDPR. Is, I think, up until GDPR, marketers didn't want to spend any money on data quality. It was like," Why would I do that? I can go out and buy another list instead of maintain the one I have." GDPR forced people to start to put some of these mechanisms in place to have better quality. And then, in the process, I think a lot of marketers actually discovered," Well, wait a second. Actually, this is better because my list might be smaller now, but I actually know who these people are, I'm getting better engagement from them. Now when I feed this stuff into my lead scoring mechanisms, the accuracy that's coming out on the other end is just a lot greater." And so I think, yeah, the marketers have started to get real religion around not just quantity of data, but quality of data. And as a result, yeah, we're now seeing this data field has a lot of opportunity for innovation around data quality.
Sam Balter: So, correct me if this is not a right interpretation. But it seems like part of what you're saying is that quality of the algorithms, the quality of the machine learning, could it overcome that it was garbage in data to start? Is that sort of the problem?
Scott Brinker: Yeah. And, again, I think if you look at the past two years, there's been sort of a parallel maturity here. Is a) the machine learning has been getting a lot better in the past two years. A lot of the algorithms and where they were being deployed was still quite limited a few years ago. Now it's much better algorithms, and they're embedded in a lot more scenarios. And, at the same time, over these past few years, again, initially inspired from a compliance requirement, marketers have just gotten a lot tighter on the quality of their data. And those two things feed into each other. What do they call that... virtuous cycle.
Sam Balter: The virtuous cycle. Yes. It's quality data, better machine learning, better machine learning, better quality data. All that stuff.
Scott Brinker: Exactly.
Sam Balter: So with a bunch of people adding all of this new tech, do you think things are going to lose their efficacy quicker? Is there going to be a great plateau of effectiveness for a lot of these marketing technologies?
Scott Brinker: There will be moments, here and there, where you get the edge with some technology. But, I mean, all of those products on my landscape are all commercially available. Anyone with a credit card can go and get them. So, you can't really think that buying one of those products is truly some mote of competitive advantage. The other thing I'd say on this is, as much as I love martech, the difference is not in the martech you buy, the difference is in the way you actually wield it. I mean, one of the things I've learned from going to 8, 000 websites of martech companies, is most of them have really crappy websites. I mean, I go to them and I'm like," Okay, I'm a martech person. I am reading your website, and for the life me, I cannot figure out what the hell you do. Can you just explain what you do, for the love of all that's holy." And most can. But then you'll come across one that does. And it's like," Oh wow, that's brilliant. I get the pitch. I see the value proposition." You're like," That's beautiful." It doesn't matter which technologies those different companies were using to build their website, the ones who are wielding it to actually make a really compelling presentation, they're the ones I'm going to put money on. They're the ones who are going to win. The others, it doesn't matter how cool their digital experience platform is, they're pumping terrible marketing through it.
Sam Balter: So I guess, in a similar vein, but switching gears, quick question: do you like the Beach Boys?
Scott Brinker: I do. Wow. That's non sequitur.
Sam Balter: Non sequitur. So one of the things about Brian Eno, is he was one of the people to popularize the idea of the studio as an instrument. Right? That the studio is more than just a place that you would record, it has a defined effect on the output. And I was wondering how you would respond to that idea, in the context of marketing technology? Often something where the tools you use, I mean, you just said, it's always that it may not have a huge effect. But, I mean, do you think that the tools we use have an effect on that output?
Scott Brinker: Yes. I think, here's the thing, it's the combination. I could go into the same studio that Brian Wilson recorded Pet Sounds in, and I'm pretty sure Pet Sounds is not coming out of my session. But you have to acknowledge that the tools that Brian Wilson had in the studio, combined with his vision and inspiration, created something magical. And I think that really is the way to look at it. Yes, these tools can enable us to create things that just weren't even conceivable a few years ago. But it's very rare to find a martech where it's just the tool itself, like buy this and magical things just automatically happen on the other end. You have to develop the skills, you have to wield it with creativity and talent.
Sam Balter: Awesome. Thank you so much, Scott. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. This is a great conversation.
Scott Brinker: Well, thanks for having me as a guest and putting up with my ranting on all of these things too.
Sam Balter: No, I love it. Thank you. I really appreciate it. So I think, the thing I like about Scott, is that there's this projection of: there's always going to be new stuff, there's always going to be new tools, there's always going to be more things, there's always going to be more capacity. But none of that is going to change the fact that, to do something that stands out, you have to be creative, and you have to do something new, and you have to do something that wasn't there before.
Speaker 3: And the way you combat the extreme overabundance and actually make decisions that will benefit you is by making data- driven predictions, instead of theorizing about what you think is going to happen when there's no actual evidence to back it up.
Sam Balter: Yeah. Yeah. Scott's very into this idea of: you can imagine your version of the world and you could get really caught up in your head with your expectations of how you think things are going to be," There can't be any more companies, there can't be any new tools. It has to have a limit." No, it doesn't necessarily have a limit. It could just go on endlessly. And you could look at things and assume that, yeah, my prediction makes sense for XYZ reason. But if I just look at the basic chart of... we started with 150 martech companies and nine years later we're at 8, 000, it's hard to argue against that. Thanks for listening to Talk Data To Me. If you'd like to know when new episodes come out, make sure to subscribe on Apple, or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you want to help us out please leave a review, because it helps people find the show. This episode was produced by Steph Tonneson, with help from me, Sam Balter, and Casted Productions. Thanks to Scott and the whole team over at Martech, working on creating crazy cool supergraphics. Thanks again, and see you next time on Talk Data To Me.
Over the last decade the number of Martech companies has grown exponentially. There’s countless tools for hosting websites, hundreds for sending emails, systems for housing data, tools for visualizing data, and on and on and on.
No one knows this better than today’s guest Scott Brinker, Founder of ChiefMartec blog and creator of the Martech supergraphic, a well-known visual that attempts to organize marketing technology by logos. 10 years ago the quaint graphic had 150 logos. Today’s version has over 8,000.
With the martech industry growing exponetially--and companies, on average, using 75+ tools--we have to ask: How much tech is too much tech?