written by
Tanguy Verbelen

Scott Brinker: How The MarTech Landscape Is Shaping Business Growth

Interviews 14 min read

Recently, we sat down with Scott Brinker, HubSpot's VP of Platform Ecosystems, to talk about the importance of ecosystems and the future of the marketing technology landscape.

HubSpot is a CRM platform that makes it easy for your entire company to work together — from marketing, to sales, to customer service.

Besides that, Scott is also the founder and editor at chiefmartec.com, founder of the MarTech Conference, and author of 'Hacking Marketing'.

During our interview, we talked about:

  • The importance of ecosystems for HubSpot’s growth
  • How marketing is becoming more technical nowadays
  • The evolution of the MarTech landscape
  • How AI and Machine Learning are shaping the future of marketing technology
“20 years ago, marketing was a very non-technical profession. People went into marketing because I don't want to go into like I.T. or anything like that. But now, it's not that every marketer needs to be super technical. Marketing teams as a whole have become so dependent on these technologies to be able to execute their strategy and operations.” - Scott Brinker

Watch or listen to our interview with Scott Brinker:

Hi Scott! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at HubSpot?

Scott Brinker: ‘Sure! So, my background is always kind of been at this intersection of marketing and technology, primarily as an entrepreneur, like right before I joined HubSpot.’

‘I was the founder and CEO of a company called Ion Interactive that made a SaaS platform for interactive content, things like quizzes, assessment tools, calculators. And then, after that company got acquired, I ended up joining HubSpot.’

‘It kind of grows out of that MarTech landscape. People just have a tremendous variety of tools that they're plugging into their sales and marketing organization now. But one of the challenges you keep hearing from people is like, “OK, well, I love this tool, this tool, and this other tool, but I need them to work together better”?’

‘My mission in joining HubSpot was really to help HubSpot be a better platform to connect these solutions. It is kind of like a dream job. I get to work with all these amazing companies that are creating specialist apps and marketing and sales and related capabilities and help them plug into HubSpot to then promote their solutions to our customers.’

How important has the ecosystem been for HubSpot’s growth throughout the years?

Scott Brinker: ‘Yeah, it's increasingly important. HubSpot started out as a great marketing product, but it is, over the years, expanded to be a suite of marketing tools and sales tools, and customer service tools. Where we really see the company growing for the next stage is a true CRM platform that is a foundational system of record for managing customer data and interactions.’

‘Increasingly, the things that get exciting for customers who are running the HubSpot as a CRM platform is not just what they get out of the box with HubSpot, but the ways in which they're able to plug in all of their other favorite tools and get even more value out of them together.’

The HubSpot App Ecosystem

You mentioned in your book that marketing is becoming more and more technical. How how do you look at that in this day and age?

Scott Brinker: ‘I think marketing, more than almost any profession I can think of, has really gone through just cataclysmic changes over the past 20 years.’

‘A lot of other professions had their profession enhanced or evolved a certain amount with digital technologies, but with marketing... It was like entirely new channels, entirely new like tactics. What are the strategies we do to orchestrate this?’

‘20 years ago, marketing was a very non-technical profession. People went into marketing because I don't want to go into like I.T. or anything like that. But now, it's not that every marketer needs to be super technical. Marketing teams as a whole have become so dependent on these technologies to be able to execute their strategy and operations.’

‘First of all, you probably do need someone on the marketing team who understands that at a deeper level. But then you also need the rest of the team. They don't have to be the architects of the MarTech stack, but they have to be comfortable using these tools as part of their day-to-day work. And one of the things that are exciting to me is when I see larger marketing organizations investing in like continual training and enablement for their teams to help teach them how to take advantage of these latest capabilities.’

Man at a laptop in an office

So, what you saw was a trend is that the synergy between it and marketing is becoming more and more important. Where did you initially find that interest in marketing technology?

Scott Brinker: ‘Where it really sparked for me was the early 2000s, when I was running the technology team at a web development agency and our agency would get hired by the marketing teams of these Fortune 500 companies to build the website of their dreams. It would be my responsibility to go and talk to the company's I.T. team to figure out how do we actually build this and integrate it with their systems.’

‘The funny thing was that the marketing team and the I.T. team at that client just didn't really speak to each other. And it wasn't even like about hostility between them. It was more that they just lived in such separate worlds. They didn't understand each other because they didn't speak the same language. And so it ended up being that a lot of my role was this subtle diplomacy, back and forth between the marketing team and the I.T. team of companies.’

‘That's where I got really fascinated by the fact that these worlds had to come together. Finding this new emerging professional who felt comfortable with one foot in one world and one foot in another, that was the role I was playing. And that's where the phrase marketing technologist came from, which at the time everyone thought was like an oxymoron. Like “These two things don't go together!”. But yeah, today we've got literally tens of thousands of marketing technologists in the world. And it's really cool to see.’

This evolution in terms of synergy between I.T. and marketing has created a new profession. What's your take on the evolution of the marketer profile?

Scott Brinker: ‘I think there are different evolutions. It's hard to have one kind of marketer that's great at everything. I think we do have a lot of generalist marketers whose primary mission is, whether it's demand generation or building a brand for a series of strategies and tactics there.’

‘But what you start to see is we now also have more specialists in the marketing department. We might have someone who's leading our marketing operations. For example, I'm responsible for the processes and the marketing stack that's supporting that department. We might have a specialist who's on the marketing analytics side and bringing a little bit of data science savvy to helping marketers really get a deeper understanding of opportunities in their data.’

There's this balance between being creative and being data-driven, and it's very sometimes challenging to find the right balance between those two. What's your take on that?

Scott Brinker: ‘I agree. There's this stereotype that marketers are the creative kinds and developers are the analytical kinds. But in practice, what actually happens is you have a whole bunch of marketers who are really super analytical about identifying what's working and what’s not. They take a very methodical, methodical approach to what they're doing. Companies like Procter & Gamble and some of those big consumer packaged good companies really got this down to a science.’

‘At the same time on the developer side, many of the best software engineers are some of the most creative people I've ever met. Because it's not the typing of the code, which is where the magic happens. The magic happens where you see a problem is trying to figure out what are the creative ways we could solve that problem and how do we do this elegantly. So, I actually think there is more intertwining of creativity and analytical thinking across the marketing spectrum.’

You started mapping out the Marketing Technology Landscape in 2011. What was the MarTech landscape like back then?

Scott Brinker: ‘At the time, we thought it was huge. We've put together that slide with around one hundred and fifty companies and were like “Oh my God, look at how big this thing is”.’

Marketing Technology Landscape, 2011 edition.

‘Actually, the reason we put the landscape together back then was to persuade senior marketing executives. They were becoming so dependent on so many different kinds of technology for executing big marketing in the organization, that they really should be thinking about hiring some more technical people to be a part of the marketing team.’

‘And so the landscape really was intended almost just as I like a side exhibit to help make that argument. But then when we kept going back to it year over year to revise it and it just started to grow exponentially. I mean, I wouldn't have predicted that I was as surprised as anybody by just how quickly and how massively this whole space grew.’

In 2020, the last edition of the Marketing Technology Landscape had 8,000 vendors. How do people choose the right tools to manage their processes?

Scott Brinker: ‘That's a great question and there are a few answers to it. I think one is you have to be OK with the fact that you can't evaluate all the tools out there.’

‘It's not so much about finding the theoretical perfect tool. It's much more about finding a tool that does what you need and you like it and you like the company. And as you work with it, you're able to be really effective. The fact that theoretically there might have been other tools out there you could have chosen instead, it's not worth losing sleep over because it is just a tool. It is very much what you're going to do with it, which is where the real work is.’

‘That being said, one piece of advice I give people, and I'm obviously biased on this, but I still think it's true. The MarTech industry becomes more driven by ecosystems around these platforms. In many ways, I think that can help marketers whatever they choose as the foundation of their MarTech stack. I'd like to hope it would be HubSpot, but you do have other choices out there. If it is, let's say, then you ask yourself “What are the tools that I know integrate and work well with HubSpot?”. And now you’ve sort of narrowed your set down to, OK, maybe there's these two or three that I want to compare more closely.’

Marketing Technology Landscape, 2020 edition

There's the rise of no-code tools, which allow you to build apps or build websites without writing a line of code. What do you think that the impact that will have on the MarTech industry?

Scott Brinker: ‘I definitely think we're going to see more tools for a while because even while consolidation is happening in the industry, there's just so much innovation happening.’

‘There are some incredible advances that are happening in Artificial Intelligence right now. I'm sure you've looked at it like that GPT-3 engine and it's like it's starting to even change what's possible. And any time those changes happen, that tends to trigger a wave of new start-ups and new apps trying to take advantage of that. So I think they'll definitely be a lot more apps.’

‘The thing that makes me excited about the no-code movement is we were talking earlier about the different kinds of marketers. And I said most marketers are doing that general demand generation and brand building, which is super important work. But then they rely on a set of specialists, developers to build those websites and apps.’

’What ends up happening is these things become bottlenecks: “If I want to actually analyze that campaign more deeply, I have to wait for our marketing analyst to get some time on his or her schedule to do that”. This is actually really constraining. I mean, there's a bunch of things that we don't do. And what excites me about these no-code tools is for a larger and larger set of things that we think of we're going to say: “Well, actually, I can just do that myself”.

‘There'll be plenty of work for the experts for a very long time, but it's almost as if all of these other ideas that we were kind of throwing away just because it wasn't practical to have the experts do them, the generalist marketer is going to be able to experiment and try more of these things on their own. I think it's just going to unleash an incredible wave of productivity and creativity and just growth in the marketing industry.’

One of our previous guests, Kevin Indig, said that A.I. is going to make a marketer's life easier and that it’s going to free up time to become more productive. Does that align with your vision of the future?

Scott Brinker: ‘I agree with that view, 100%. Let's face it, for a lot of marketers, they're still doing a lot of very manual and low-impact work. When you actually dig into the tasks marketers have to do, there's a lot of hard labor that frankly isn't very valuable labor. I mean, the valuable labor was coming up with the idea, what I wanted to do, and connecting the strategies and the pieces. But typing away on my keyboard is actually not a particularly productive use of time.’

‘It's really exciting that more and more of these tools with machine learning and A.I. get better and better. They're very good at taking these manual repetitive tasks and essentially automating them for us. And what that ultimately ends up doing is it's giving time back to the marketer.’

‘If you had two more hours that just magically got added to your day, what would you do with it? Would you talk to more customers? Would you try some new experiments? Would you be trying to learn something new? Would you maybe take an hour and just sit back and think? I mean, this is like super valuable stuff for marketers. And I think this next generation of A.I. and machine learning is going to give us that extra two hours in the day and it's going to be up to us to put that time to some good use.’

Photographer: Possessed Photography | Source: Unsplash

If there's one piece of advice I would love to give marketers in general, what would it be?

Scott Brinker: ‘In the past year, a lot of the old ways we used to work got disrupted and changed. We had to figure out new ways of working. We started to experiment with new tools, new ideas. If you were a marketer who was driving a bunch of leads through in-person events, you needed to come up with new ways to do it.’

‘And I'm actually so impressed with how so many companies and marketers were so creative and resilient, you know, in this past year. My advice would be, as we come out of the pandemic, let's try not to lose some of that. This was a chance to sort of almost reset our thinking of what's possible. There was the old way we used to do things but there’s a new way we can do things now. So let's take advantage of this opportunity to sort of reset at the next level up.’

Thank you so much for doing the interview. Where can people connect with you?

Scott Brinker: ‘Thank you so much for having me. My blog is chiefmartec.com. It’s without the H at the end. Long story there for another time, but also I'm @chiefmartec on Twitter too. If you want to reach out and strike up a chat I’m more than happy to talk with you.’

If you loved the interview with Scott, you can also check out previous episodes of The Growth Through Content Show via our blog or on Spotify and Apple Music.