82: Scott Brinker: Balancing excitement for AI and composability with a renewed focus on the human element in martech

What’s up everyone, today we have the distinct honor of being joined by the Martech Landscape creator, the Author of Hacking Marketing, The Godfather of Martech himself, mister Scott Brinker.

Summary: Scott sees AI as a power boost, not a replacement in marketing. He imagines marketers wielding AI to parse data and enhance specialist roles. AI’s potential when combined with composability democratizes technical tool access, letting every marketer glean key insights from huge data. Yet, the human touch in martech is vital; marketing leaders need training and internal communication chops. Scott’s future martech leaders are tech-savvy, eloquent communicators, guiding their teams through the constant evolution of the marketing landscape.

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About Scott

  • Throughout his career, Scott’s navigated seamlessly between the realms of marketing and technology
  • He put his first entrepreneurial mark in the martech world when he Co-founded ion interactive, a martech SaaS providing interactive content tools for marketers
  • In 2008, he began sharing industry insights on the Chief Marketing Technologist blog with the hope of serving as a resource to help spread the “marketing technology” meme
  • A few years later, he released the first ever version of the Martech Landscape maps, back when there was only about 150 martech vendors 
  • He launched the esteemed MarTech conference in 2014 and remains its program chair to this day
  • Today he’s VP of Platform Ecosystem at HubSpot where he enhances their synergy with the broader marketing tech landscape, a landscape that maps over 11,000 vendors today 
  • He continues to be the acclaimed force behind chiefmartec.com, hailed universally as the martech world’s ultimate wellspring of knowledge and insight

How Marketing Jobs Will Be Reshaped by AI

Scott firmly places himself in the camp that views AI not as a threat to marketing jobs but as a crucial tool for the modern marketer. He holds a strong belief that good marketing requires human input, and this won’t be changing anytime soon. Scott reframes the common adage, often heard in marketing circles, that a marketer’s job won’t be replaced by AI but by another marketer who is adept at using AI.

As tongue-in-cheek as this phrase might be, Scott sees a lot of truth in it. He views AI as a broad set of capabilities that can be harnessed in various ways to enhance marketing. While the initial applications, such as content generation, are undoubtedly intriguing, the real potential of AI in marketing goes beyond these use cases.

Scott argues that the power of AI lies in how it allows marketers to better harness data, and enables more sophisticated automation across the entire marketing spectrum. Particularly on the Martech side of things, Scott anticipates marketing operations leaders and Martech professionals leveraging generative AI to up-level their stack and operational capabilities.
Rather than viewing AI as a potential replacement for their roles, Scott suggests that marketers should see AI as a key part of their job description. It won’t take over all aspects of their work, but it will become a significant component of what they do.

Takeaway: The future of AI in marketing is not about replacement but about enhancement. AI is set to become a vital tool that will empower marketers to up-level their operational capabilities and harness data more effectively. As Scott astutely points out, the job of a marketer won’t be replaced by AI; instead, it will be reshaped by those marketers who can successfully integrate AI into their strategies.

Early-Stage Marketers Should Choose a Focus Area Then Utilize AI

According to Scott, marketing has always offered a myriad of different specialties and that, arguably, has been amplified over the past 10 to 15 years. Yes, there’s a role for the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ or marketing generalist. Still, as Scott astutely notes, there are also several specialized roles that marketers can pursue, each requiring a unique set of skills. Whether it’s hosting a podcast or being a master in content creation, each specialization requires dedication and unique abilities.

In terms of marketing operations, Scott suggests that this is another area of marketing requiring a specialized skill set. For those new to marketing, the challenge then becomes deciding whether to become a generalist marketing manager or specialize in a specific area. Scott believes that the generalist path, while rewarding, can be quite challenging because of its broad scope. 

On the other hand, specializing in a particular area, like content creation or marketing operations, can provide a focus. This concentration, according to Scott, not only enables you to become proficient in a specific aspect but also allows you to learn generalist capabilities, given that marketing is inherently a team sport.

Scott’s advice for those looking to utilize AI tools in their early marketing career is to choose a focus area, then learn and grow from there. While the field of marketing may appear vast, narrowing your scope and honing in on a specific skill can provide a strong foundation from which to expand your knowledge and skills.

Takeaway: For early-stage marketers, leveraging AI doesn’t mean trying to master everything at once. Instead, it’s about selecting a specialization within marketing, and honing your skills in that area. This approach, combined with a keenness to adopt AI tools, will equip them with a ‘superpower’ that keeps them ahead of the curve in an ever-evolving marketing landscape.

Unleashing AI in Marketing with the Power of Composability

Scott is particularly excited about the rapidly evolving concept of composability in the realm of marketing. This concept, at its core, revolves around the assembly of different elements—software, data, workflows, and steps—to achieve specific outcomes, much like putting together building blocks. Up until recently, composability was largely contained within the ‘no-code’ space, with a suite of tools allowing marketers to construct, analyze, and manipulate workflows across various apps and data sets.

But the democratization of composability was somewhat limited. Scott noted that these no-code tools often necessitated a level of technological prowess akin to the ‘power user,’ those individuals comfortable with the complexities of Excel formulas and intricate app functions. This requirement often resulted in a smaller subset of marketers taking full advantage of these tools, leaving a significant amount of potential untapped.

Enter the advent of AI interfaces and generative AI. Scott strongly believes that these technological advances are about to open up the world of composability to all marketers, effectively democratizing these previously restrictive functions. Scott particularly emphasizes the potential of AI in data analysis, marking it as a highly accessible and immediately beneficial application for marketers. In the current data-driven marketing landscape, organizations often grapple with vast amounts of data, making it challenging to find the right information and draw actionable insights promptly.

The generative AI’s capacity to serve as a tireless, personal data analyst is an exciting prospect. Unlike a human analyst who might get overwhelmed with constant inquiries, AI does not tire and can handle a myriad of questions without losing efficiency. This capability empowers marketers to interact with AI as if it were their personal analyst or data scientist.

Marketers can ask the AI system a series of questions in a conversational manner, enabling them to quickly cut through the noise and extract the insights they need. This way, the AI system can assist in navigating the vast sea of data within the organization, simplifying data analysis processes, and, as a result, significantly enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of data-driven decision-making. 

This transition, according to Scott, will not only revolutionize how we interact with data but also how we automate workflows and inter-system tasks. While there’s still progress to be made, promising examples are already emerging, like the execution engine in HubSpot’s Chatbot and innovative use cases from Zapier. These developments foreshadow a future where AI will function as a powerful IT assistant, readily carrying out complex tasks across different systems on command.

Takeaway: The advent of AI and the concept of composability herald an exciting new era for the marketing industry. It promises to dramatically democratize access to advanced tools and capabilities, enabling marketers at all levels of technical proficiency to extract unprecedented value from their work. A significant application of this lies in data analysis, where AI can act as an indefatigable personal analyst. Marketers can interrogate these systems in a conversational manner to efficiently cut through vast amounts of data and extract essential insights for strategic decision-making. This capability holds immense potential to boost efficiency, spur innovation, and fuel growth in the marketing landscape, completely redefining the way we approach and understand marketing.

AI Shifts Marketing Towards Orchestration, Not Substitution

Scott brings a fascinating perspective when it comes to understanding the role of AI in marketing teams, and in particular, he suggests that it’s not as clear-cut as many might expect. This isn’t a story about machines replacing humans. Instead, it’s a story about transformation and adaptation, about finding ways to harness the power of AI to tackle routine tasks, leaving marketers with more time to address the more complex aspects of their roles.

This perspective sits between two contrasting viewpoints about AI’s impact. One camp warns about the job losses AI could cause by taking over tasks traditionally performed by humans. The other camp counters that notion with the lump of labor fallacy argument, suggesting that work isn’t a fixed pie. As AI automates certain tasks, new, more complex tasks arise that we previously didn’t have the time or resources to tackle.

Scott leans towards the latter perspective but with a twist. His concern lies not in the potential job loss but rather in the speed at which AI could cause shifts in the roles and responsibilities within marketing teams. He believes that the swift advancement of AI presents an uncharted territory that could change the dynamic of what humans do at a rate faster than we’ve ever experienced before.

However, he doesn’t see AI replacing marketing altogether. Scott is a firm believer in the human ability to understand context and continuity, qualities that he sees as central to marketing and that AI, at least for now, is not equipped to fully grasp. While AI can perform tasks within a certain context window, human marketers are still far better at seeing the broader narrative, stitching together various pieces of a complex marketing landscape.

In Scott’s view, as AI accelerates and handles a growing number of tasks, the demand for orchestrating these capabilities and providing context will increase. This shift might create a unique role for marketers as orchestrators of this AI-powered symphony, managing and directing AI capabilities within a broader, contextual marketing strategy.

Takeaway: Far from replacing marketers, AI might empower them to take on new, more complex roles. As AI handles more tasks, the role of marketers could transform from task-doers to orchestrators, responsible for contextualizing and directing AI’s efforts within a broader strategy. This shift might demand a new skill set from marketers, opening up unexplored possibilities in the marketing field.

Scott’s reflections on the growing interest in “warehouse native martech” laid bare the benefits and challenges of this emerging trend. The idea of pooling all company data into a single warehouse is undoubtedly appealing. It offers the potential to access this aggregated data across diverse applications, making analysis and decision-making more comprehensive.

Yet, Scott drew attention to the complications of this approach. While data warehouses house a wealth of information, the sheer volume and variety of data they hold can lead to daunting challenges. One of these is the lack of inherent data rationalization. Data coming in from different sources don’t always align, leading to discrepancies and confusion. This requires additional layers to rationalize and give context to the data – a function that individual martech products are often designed to provide.

Performance issues further complicate the shift towards warehouse native systems. Scott acknowledged that although the speed of read-write data in warehouses has improved, there’s still a long way to go. User experiences and web interactions often hinge on millisecond performance differences. This requirement renders operational databases, which can be fine-tuned for specific engagements, invaluable. 

Scott’s views suggest that although the martech industry is moving towards a universal data layer, this won’t necessarily lead to the eradication of localized, context-specific databases. These continue to have a critical role in catering to real-time, performance-driven requirements.

Scott also touched on another aspect – the potential problems in coordination across different systems of truth. He referred to a situation where a CMO argued against integrations between marketing automation and CRM. This situation illustrates that while seamless data flow across an organization might sound ideal in theory, it can lead to unintended consequences in practice.

Takeaway: While the rise of data warehouses is undeniable, it doesn’t spell the end for localized databases. As the industry continues to evolve, there will be ongoing exploration and experimentation to determine the best strategies for data management. Ultimately, the most successful solutions will likely involve a blend of warehouse native tools and dedicated operational databases.

The Overlooked Innovations of the Mid-Sized Business

When Scott was asked about the future of Martech applications in small and medium businesses (SMBs), he provided an illuminating perspective that diverges from the common narrative. The discussion often polarizes into two distinct ends of the business spectrum – very small companies with fewer than 20 people and colossal enterprises with thousands of employees. However, the reality of the global business landscape lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

Scott emphasized the critical and often overlooked role of medium-sized businesses, the “M” in SMB. These are companies with dozens or hundreds of employees, bridging the gap between the small enterprises and the multinational corporations. Contrary to common perception, the use cases within these organizations are substantially more complex than smaller companies. Moreover, they possess more resources, allowing them to apply both human resource and capital to foster innovation.

Interestingly, these mid-sized businesses strive to balance the stability and strength of larger enterprises while retaining the agility and innovation that typically characterizes smaller companies. The willingness to embrace emerging technologies, new capabilities, and to instigate change is more pronounced here, perhaps due to the lesser extent of legacy technologies, processes, and politics that can hamper such endeavors in larger companies.

The alignment between the buyers in these mid-sized businesses and the continually innovating range of Martech vendors, is in fact, a sweet spot. They are nimble enough to adapt to new technologies and have the resources to implement them, offering a fertile ground for innovation. Scott’s perspective paints a compelling image – we can expect to see a significant wave of innovative developments happening in this often overlooked ‘M’ segment, perhaps even faster than elsewhere.

Takeaway: Medium-sized businesses, often overlooked in Martech discussions, are potentially a hotbed for innovation. Their unique position enables them to leverage the agility of smaller companies and the resources of larger ones, setting the stage for rapid adoption and development of new Martech solutions.

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Martech Careers in SMBs vs Large Corporations

When Scott was asked about early-career marketers and their approach to adopting technology, he painted a vivid picture of the landscape. He advocated for both paths: starting at a small to medium-sized business (SMB) to gain hands-on experience with cutting-edge technologies or delving into the complex structure of a large corporation to develop organizational skills.

Scott highlighted the dichotomy that exists in the marketing world. On one side, there’s the thrill of a smaller setting, an SMB, where marketers can swiftly run experiments with emerging technologies. The nimbleness of an SMB environment allows one to innovate and play with the newest tools without being encumbered by the usual organizational and political hurdles.

On the flip side, Scott emphasized the value in honing skills in a larger corporate setting, albeit laden with more technical debt and legacy tools. The true talent lies in navigating the breadth of a company’s tech strategy, building strategic alliances, and effectively collaborating with vast IT teams. As Scott pointed out, those who excel at this often find themselves highly valued.

However, Scott stressed that each path had its unique set of challenges and benefits. An SMB may offer the opportunity to quickly adopt and experiment with new technologies, but it might not provide the same level of organizational skill development that a larger company would.

Takeaway: There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ route in marketing technology adoption. While SMBs offer a playground for rapid technological experimentation, larger corporations cultivate indispensable organizational skills. The choice lies in what skills one wishes to prioritize early in their career.

Remembering the Humans in Martech

When Scott was asked about the implications of an over-reliance on technology in marketing, he illuminated an enduring conundrum. Scott expressed that the most enduring problem in martech is indeed our chronic over-reliance on technology at the expense of the human element. He cited an often-heard grievance in the industry: underutilization of martech resources.

He argued that this supposed underutilization isn’t a question of the technology itself, but rather the lack of investment in educating people on how to use these tools effectively. Training, according to Scott, is not just about tool mastery but about empowering and encouraging marketers to apply these tools in innovative ways.

He touched on the barriers to change, explaining how new initiatives often clash with existing processes, rules, and established norms. This mismatch, he reasoned, discourages full utilization of martech capabilities and leads to underinvestment in the human side of things.

Scott, being part of a martech company himself, took a fair and balanced view of martech vendors’ role in this problem. He pointed out that vendors’ sales pitch often oversimplifies the process, focusing too much on the magic of the tool and underselling the required human and organizational investment for its effective use.

Over time, however, he believes the industry is slowly recognizing this gap and improving. He highlighted the need for a shift towards better balancing technology and human investment to truly harness the power of modern martech.

Takeaway: Scott calls for a renewed focus on the human element in martech, arguing that the supposed underutilization of martech tools is less about the technology itself and more about the industry’s lack of investment in training and enabling people to effectively use and apply these tools.

When asked about the evolving roles within the marketing space, and how organizations might better utilize their investments in technology and people, Scott shared valuable insights. He affirmed that investing in marketing operations and marketing tech teams is indeed a crucial aspect, yet he pointed out that there’s more to the equation. 

He noted that the real barriers are often found beyond the “bubble” of marketing operations. These barriers may take the form of ingrained processes within legal, finance, or other teams outside of the marketing sphere. These processes, which were established and became calcified at some stage of the company’s history, may not be in sync with the evolving capabilities of marketing technology.

Marketing operations, Scott argued, while potentially having some influence within the marketing team, often struggle to exercise leverage outside of it. Hence, the key challenges are often constraints stemming from areas outside of their immediate sphere. This makes it difficult for changes to be initiated from within marketing operations.

This led Scott to highlight the crucial role that savvy CMOs or marketing executives play. It’s these individuals who can successfully navigate these challenges, understanding the constraints, and engaging their executive peers in other functions to bring about the necessary changes. By doing so, they can adapt and evolve these processes to align with the advanced capabilities of current marketing technology.

Takeaway: The role of marketing executives extends beyond simply supporting marketing ops and tech teams. They play a crucial role in navigating and overcoming external organizational barriers, ensuring that processes across different departments align with the evolving capabilities of marketing technology.

Martech Curiosity, Focus, and Communication 

When asked about the essential skills required to navigate the intricate landscape of marketing technology, Scott emphasized a triad of characteristics – curiosity, focus, and communication.

Scott agreed that curiosity indeed plays a pivotal role in the Martech world. The desire to explore, to question, and to understand is integral to innovation and growth. However, he cautioned that unbridled curiosity, without focus, can potentially dilute productivity and outcome delivery. Balancing an inquisitive mind with a disciplined approach to prioritization, he suggested, forms the backbone of successful leadership.

But the game-changer, the third magic component, as Scott described it, is the skill of effective communication and engagement. A common misunderstanding is that the rest of the organization does not comprehend the technicalities of marketing or the value of marketing operations. Yet, Scott sees this not as a failure of other departments, but rather as a challenge for marketing leadership to communicate their mission and their value more effectively. 

It might seem ironic that an industry devoted to communication can struggle to communicate internally. However, effective internal communication is a skill that often goes underappreciated and requires focused development. Leaders who can marry their curiosity with the ability to maintain a structured focus and who can communicate effectively are the ones set to redefine the future of Martech.

Takeaway: The leaders shaping the next generation of Martech need more than technical skills. They must cultivate a balance of curiosity to explore new possibilities, the focus to drive specific outcomes, and the communication skills to articulate their vision and value to the wider organization. They are the ones who will not only understand the potential of Martech but can also guide their teams and stakeholders on the journey.

Marketing Ops Evolving to Become the Operating System Underpinning Marketing

When asked about the evolution of marketing operations, Scott described it as an ever-changing environment that has significantly matured over the last decade. While marketing operations was previously perceived as a support mechanism for marketing, it has transformed into a comprehensive operating system underpinning not only marketing but also branching into other departments. Scott painted a vivid picture of the future of marketing operations and emphasized the increased need for individuals adept at both the technical aspects and, crucially, internal communication.

Scott acknowledged the shifting terrain of marketing operations. What was once about simply supporting marketing through reporting, tool management, and data hygiene is now a lot more expansive. In the coming years, marketing operations is set to morph into an operating system that doesn’t merely support marketing but reaches out to other departments, knitting together disparate teams through technology.

Scott identified the key ingredients for success in this evolved landscape. Mastery in the technical aspects of marketing ops and marketing tech is of course vital. But it’s the other part of the equation, the ability to communicate effectively with internal teams, that elevates the role from tactical to strategic. The individuals who can not only handle the technical details but also engage effectively with other teams are the ones who will pioneer the future of marketing ops.

He projected an optimistic vision of the future, suggesting a kind of seller’s market in marketing operations. Those with experience in marketing operations and marketing technology already have a wealth of career options. But, as Scott pointed out, it’s those who are able to anticipate and lead the evolution of the sector who will create the most significant opportunities for themselves.

Scott ended on a hopeful note, reflecting that now is an incredible time to be in marketing. With so many technological advancements, particularly at the data layer and with artificial intelligence, there’s an unprecedented opportunity to write the future playbook for marketing. It’s an exciting journey that he considers a real gift.

Takeaway: The future of marketing operations requires not only technical expertise but also exceptional communication skills to facilitate broader internal engagement. Those who can strike this balance will be the leaders shaping the next generation of marketing ops.

Embracing Passion and the Power of Saying No

When asked about the secret to managing his diverse roles and interests, Scott confessed that his life might seem one-dimensional to some. With his work and his passions converging around martech, he truly embodies the idea of doing what you love and loving what you do.
Scott’s approach to balance, however, is not about juggling every opportunity that comes his way. Instead, he emphasizes the importance of being selective and knowing when to say ‘no’.

Despite being immersed in a fascinating field that continues to evolve and offers endless possibilities, he recognizes that the hours in a day remain finite. As such, Scott makes deliberate choices about how to spend his time, focusing on those areas he’s most passionate about and letting go of the rest.

It’s a powerful message about achieving balance in a fast-paced and demanding career: true balance isn’t about doing everything but choosing what matters most and dedicating yourself wholeheartedly to it.

Takeaway: Despite the myriad of roles and responsibilities in his life, Scott finds balance by aligning his work with his passion and exercising selective focus. The secret to his success lies not in pursuing every opportunity, but in dedicating himself to what truly matters to him.

Episode Recap

In a world increasingly augmented by Artificial Intelligence (AI), Scott puts forward a compelling view: AI isn’t here to replace marketers but to enhance them. It’s this nuance that informs his views on the future of marketing and the pivotal role of AI. The image he paints is of a landscape where marketers can navigate vast realms of data more effectively, and up-level their strategies, thanks to the precision and insights AI affords. 

With this view, he also advises budding marketers to focus their efforts on a single specialization. The added power of AI allows these marketers to master a distinct area, turning them into formidable specialists ready to conquer the ever-evolving marketing landscape.
Scott’s vision extends to how AI and composability can democratize access to advanced tools. It’s an exciting future where every marketer can command their personal AI analyst, efficiently mining vast amounts of data for crucial insights. This new capability is set to spark innovation, boost efficiency, and drive growth, redefining our understanding of marketing.

It’s not just about the technology, though. Scott argues for a renewed focus on the human element in martech. This means investing in training and enabling people to harness the power of these tools effectively. He also stresses the importance of communication skills, especially for marketing executives who play crucial roles in aligning various departments with the evolving capabilities of marketing technology.

Looking to the horizon, Scott outlines the future of marketing ops. It’s one where the leaders are not just technical experts, but also exceptional communicators who can articulate their vision and the value they bring to the broader organization. Balancing these skills is key to shaping the future of marketing ops, guiding their teams, and stakeholders on this transformational journey.

It’s a riveting episode, one that promises a future where AI isn’t the end of the marketer’s journey but a new beginning, offering untapped potential and possibilities in the vibrant field of marketing.

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Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Art created with Midjourney

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