‘Take Ten’ Interview with Scott Brinker, Co-founder & CTO of ion interactive

scott brinkerScott Brinker Co-founder & CTO of ion interactive
Editor of chiefmartec.com
Program Chair of MarTech
Author, Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster and More Innovative

“The vision of marketing as the keeper of the relationships between the customers and the market at large is more true than ever, but as a result, marketing now has all this increased responsibility for engaging with the sales team in a deeper way, engaging with the customer service team, working more closely with IT.”


Welcome to ‘Take Ten’, OMCP’s podcast where we spend 10 minutes, more or less, talking to online marketing thought leaders, educators, and career professionals about training and certification with hosts Jane Flint and David Temple.


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OMCP: This is Jane Flint, and I am here today with Scott Brinker who is the author of Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster and More Innovative. This is a book that’s coming out very soon in March. And in addition to being an author, Scott is also the co-founder and CTO of Ion Interactive, Editor of chiefmartec.com and Program Chair of the Martech Conference. So, welcome to you, Scott.

Scott Brinker: Thank you.

OMCP: Please tell our audience a little bit about yourself and your background, and if possible, think back to a key event that changed your marketing career and share it with us.

Scott Brinker: Sure. So my background was originally as a software developer, a very entrepreneurial software developer. And for many years, I found myself working in the service of marketers, essentially building products and solutions for marketers, particularly the launch of the web. People were getting very excited about what they could do with early websites and that was actually…led to really a pivotal moment for me. So my web development company would typically get hired by the marketing team, but because I was the technical guy, it would become my job to…after the marketing team had hired us, they sent me down the hall to go talk to their IT department to figure out how this would actually go live in their organization.

And it was fascinating to me talk to both sides of that organization and on one hand, recognize how far apart they were just in the way they were thinking of things, the language they used, the priorities, their incentives. Very different worlds, but at the same time, if you looked at what needed to get accomplished, it was clear these two teams were going to have to collaborate just at an incredibly tight level to an incredibly tight degree. And that was a bit of the epiphany that led to the starting of the Chief Martec blog, was looking at the fascinating ways in which technical teams and marketing teams would collaborate, and in some cases, even start to merge.

OMCP: So OMCP works with industry and academia to continue to develop standards for online marketing that align with the ever evolving needs of the online marketing industries. So from your vantage point, what advice do you have for today’s working professionals in online marketing? What skills do marketers need and where do we need to be focusing?

Scott Brinker: Wow, so the easiest advice is probably pick another career while you can. I mean, marketing is really hard. It always was challenging with what it traditionally had to do: being the story-teller and the keeper of the brand for the organization. And it still has those responsibilities, but now we’ve layered on all these other responsibilities about the technology layer in which our businesses interact with customers in the market, that marketers can become responsible for, that intersects to so many other departments throughout the organization. And so the expectations for marketers today are just incredibly high. I have such enormous respect for everyone who is in this career right now.

So I guess my advice is probably, first and foremost, to recognize nobody has all the answers. This is an industry that is going through a phenomenal amount of change and if you can’t be entirely comfortable with that, I think it’s helpful to recognize it’s not just you, it is everybody. It’s every organization is wrestling with this. And to the greatest possible degree then, as you start to build out your next generation of marketing capabilities, and even more so the way in which you build out your team is to recognize that we are not done with the change yet.

You almost want to build for a change so that you can expect technologies are going to have to be swapped out over the years ahead. You’re going to have to expect that the roles you have in your marketing team today will likely evolve over the next couple years, and just be in that mode of constantly stepping back and being willing to say, “Hey, do we need to shift our navigation to really adapt to what’s happening this month in the market?” It’s easier said than done.

OMCP: Easier said than done, but it does sound like a very great argument for ongoing learning. As I mentioned, you’ve got a book coming out in March. I believe it’s through Wiley and it should be available on Amazon. The title again for folks is: Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster and More Innovative. So as you mention in the opening chapters of your book, for many people, the concept of hacking conjures up this concept of cyber criminals who are stealing credit cards. And why is hacking marketing a good thing? What do we do as marketers? What do we as marketers stand to learn from this concept, and what do you foresee as the challenges for hiring managers in the next coming years?

Scott Brinker: Hacking is an interesting word. You’re absolutely right. In the popular culture, we think of hackers as these very dark and shady characters, but there’s an entirely different meaning of hacking. The word “hacking” actually got started in the 1960s at MIT, and it was very much about this first generation of computer scientists and electrical engineers and people who were just getting really good at taking little pieces of things and creating, making new inventions, experimenting, trying new ideas.

And throughout the past several decades, still in the computer software world, that’s how a lot of professional software engineers…they think of hacking as a good thing. They think of it as a “Hey, this is a chance to…let’s figure out something new. Let’s experiment with something instead of just debating what might be possible. Can I throw together a quick, little prototype to actually see what’s possible?”

And so that attitude of almost like a playful experimentation, to me, feels like one of the…not just concepts, but almost like a little philosophy that marketing can benefit from adapting. Because as we were just talking, marketing is just going through so much change right now that it’s really difficult to have all the answers. It’s really difficult to be able to start at the beginning of a year and say, “This is our marketing plan for the entire year. We’ve got it all figured out. We’re good.”

At best, we’re lucky if we look at the year as a sort of scaffold, like a high-level strategy of what we want to do. But the way in which implement it, the way in which we adapt to changes in the market, feedback from our customers, this requires a little bit of that hacker spirit of being willing to experiment and act on the fly, to be able to react to new opportunities or challenges. So, I try to explain in the book that hacking marketing is really a chance for marketers to have a lot more fun with this crazy set of new capabilities that we’re all wrestling with.

OMCP: Well, and maybe it is an invitation, too, to step a little bit outside your comfort zone and kind of reach out into an area that you might have thought, “Well, the data guys are going to take care of that” or “The webmaster will figure that out.” Or now, maybe there’s a little bit more of bringing that knowledge in for ourselves as marketers, really beginning to understand those pieces.

Scott Brinker: Absolutely.

OMCP: Yeah, great. So in your book, you make a really compelling case from marketing adaptation to the culture of now, that our current digital capabilities have given us. Among some of the capabilities that you call at are adaptability, speed, precision. What will change the most in the online marketing domain over the next three years? What does the industry need to see in terms of competency standards in order to support these changes, and how can we as humans make the best use of these capabilities given our more human capabilities of story-telling and invention and connection?

Scott Brinker: Yeah, wow. There’s a lot there. So I guess I would emphasize three major changes that marketing is trying to expand its skill sets around. One is the shift from being primarily in the business of communications to now increasingly being in the business of experiences. What we deliver to prospects and customers is no longer just things for them to read or watch or listen to. There is plenty of that. But we’re also now with our websites, with mobile apps, with the interactions we have on social networks, is there is this actual functionality of: what is the service that we provide to prospects and customers? What’s the utility we offer them? And to start to think of that as actually an incredible axis of innovation.

There are so many new things that marketers can now do to engage with their audience, but there is a lot of skills in that that we all have to learn. So that’s one. I think the second thing related to that is finding the balance between managing innovation and managing scalability because in many ways, as marketers, we’re now being asked to do both of those things. It’s like “Hey, innovate really new ideas.” And then on the other side of it, “Hey, make sure that you have the scalable, reliable organization that we can count on for leads and sales and a steady growth trajectory.”

And those are really…those are challenging on their own, but finding the right way to balance the two of those is, in my mind, an Olympic sport. And there’s a set of skills that I think marketers can learn from the IT world, from the software development world, of how they’ve found methodologies to balance those two competing priorities and actually get them to have a synergy between them. So I think there’s a lot of interesting things to look at there.

And then the third thing, which is both exciting and terrifying I think for all of us, is marketing is no longer that sort of isolated department that people would hand off stuff to. Marketing would do whatever it did in its silo, throw something over the wall. The now marketing is almost like the hub of the organization. The vision of marketing as the keeper of the relationships between the customers and the market at large is more true than ever, but as a result, marketing now has all this increased responsibility for engaging with the sales team in a deeper way, engaging with the customer service team, working more closely with IT.

Now that we’re talking about larger investments in these capabilities that marketing creates, having a tighter relationship with finance, are we just doing these things as an expense or are we building these capabilities as a tight part of how we actually deliver revenue to the organization? And so this learning as much as we can about these different departments that we used to keep at arm’s length but now, increasingly, we have to have a very deep and collaborative relationship with, there’s a lot to learn there.

OMCP: The things that you are saying just really make my heart beat because it is…it’s got such a great parallel to what we are out there in the world to offer and do. So…

Scott Brinker: Thank you, Jan. It’s been great chatting with you. I hope to see you in San Francisco.

OMCP: Great, thanks so much.

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