Scott Brinker knows all too well the complexity of the marketing technology landscape.

He created the famous supergraphic that now lists more than 3,500 MarTech companies. Editor of chiefmartec.com and co-founder and CTO of Boston-based ion interactive, Brinker unveiled his latest MarTech landscape monster graphic in March at his San Francisco conference, MarTech conference..

The number of companies included on the supergraphic jumped from 150 in 2011, the first year Brinker produced it, to nearly 2,000 last year ... before nearly doubling again in 2016.

The categories are simply staggering. They include:

  • Sales Automation, Enablement & Intelligence (220)
  • Social Media Marketing & Monitoring (186)
  • Display & Programmatic Advertising (180)
  • Marketing Automation & Campaign/Lead Management (161)
  • Content Marketing (160)
The pure sight of the infographic is enough to want to make marketers either (a) pull their hair out or (b) reach for some wine (as Brinker gently suggests here later) or (c) both.

Scott Brinker's Marketing Tech Landscape Supergraphic 2016

It doesn’t have to be this way, according to Brinker. Marketers can cut through the MarTech mess and de-stress through a method called "Hacking Marketing," which led to a book by the same title.

In the book, Brinker discusses agile and lean management methodologies, innovation techniques and approaches for scaling up marketing in a fragmented and constantly shifting environment.

Brinker is optimistic about marketers' abilities to execute solid digital experiences amid today's the swath of marketing technologies. And he will discuss this vision at CMSWire's DX Summit this Nov. 14 through 16 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago.

We sat down with the Godfather of MarTech recently to learn about his experience as a marketer and author — and hear his suggestions for creating the best marketing practices in the digital world.

Daunting MarTech Landscape

Nicastro: In your book, you note that marketers are inundated with software choices, but describe that as a good thing. Why?

Brinker: I know ... the large marketing technology landscape can seem a bit daunting. There are plenty of challenges for marketers in finding, selecting, implementing and succeeding with the right products in their marketing stack.

But there is also a big upside to this Darwinian MarTech soup, too.

Thousands of marketing technology companies are competing to provide marketing teams with the best possible tools imaginable. They're competing on price. They're competing on innovation. They're competing on service and support. Marketers have more options and, as a result, more bargaining power in choosing their technology partners than you'd typically see in an oligopolistic market of just a few dominant players.

All this software is fueling a new generation of marketing capabilities. People say that marketing technology is "just a tool" — that what ultimately matters is whether you apply it in the service of brilliant and compelling marketing. That's absolutely true. But it's a tool that can serve as a fulcrum to give marketing teams incredible leverage in a digital world.

Those who embrace that potential, and synthesize it into their marketing strategy and operations, are at a tremendous advantage in today's environment.

Nicastro: How do you define hacking marketing?

Brinker: Hacking is a term that's been abused in the mainstream media. Most people think of hacking as shady characters breaking into computer systems to steal credit cards or what not.

But the original meaning of hacking, which emerged at MIT in the 1960's — and the way the term is still used in the software industry today — is about making things, not breaking things. As Mark Zuckerberg said, "Hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done." It is about being creative with computers, a blend of human ingenuity and the leverage of digital technology.

Hacking marketing is about applying that pioneering digital spirit in the context of marketing — and marketing management, too.

Nicastro: You include five principles in hacking marketing. What are they, and can you give a sneak peek of what today's marketers should know about them?

Brinker: First, marketing is now a fully digital profession — even non-digital campaigns and tactics are coordinated behind the scenes by digital infrastructure. Since everything digital is controlled by software, marketers need to embrace software management — and software thinking — as an integral part of their discipline.

Second, agile and lean management — a digitally-native approach to management that took shape in the software development community — is much better suited to the challenges of modern marketing than classic marketing plans and hierarchically siloed teams. "Agile marketing," as it's called, emphasizes iterative and adaptive programs, fast feedback loops, cross-functional collaboration and full transparency for processes and priorities.

Third, marketing is no longer merely the communicator of innovation ("new and improved!"), but also the producer of innovation itself. Marketing must constantly innovate new ways to find and engage with prospects and customers. But managing innovation — a highly experimental process — requires us to add new tools to the marketing manager's toolbox, which we can borrow from R&D.

Fourth, as marketing becomes more complex — more moving parts, with more interdependencies, than ever before — marketers must develop better processes and governance around scalability. Again, this echoes the challenges software developers have faced in managing complexity in large products. In "Hacking Marketing," I give an introduction to these concepts and describe how to tame both "essential complexity" and "accidental complexity."

And fifth, there's a long-standing meme that "the best software engineers are 10X more effective than average software engineers." In general, this is true because of the interplay of talent, opportunity and leverage. But why don't we hear about 10X marketers? There's always been plenty of talent in marketing, but it's only recently that digital dynamics have given marketers at all levels greater opportunities and software-like leverage. The final chapter of my book describes how the age of the 10X marketer is now upon us.

Nicastro: In one of your principles, you remind us that people actually operate the marketing software engines in their organizations. What kinds of skills do today's marketers need in light of the software advancements?

Brinker: Not every marketer has to be a technologist. But given the need marketers have today to deftly leverage software in almost everything they do, having technology talent embedded in the team is immensely valuable.

Probably the most universal skill that you want is "software thinking" — the ability to approach marketing algorithmically and understand the strengths and limitations algorithmic solutions.

Beyond that, it's helpful to have experience in selecting, configuring and maintain large, complex applications: knowing the right questions to ask, anticipating issues that will need to be addressed, understanding how to navigate roll-outs and upgrades, and so on.

Nicastro: What advice do you have for marketers who stress out when they look at your supergraphic?

Brinker: This is probably an overextended metaphor, but think of that landscape like a wine list at a fancy restaurant, with thousands of bottles to choose from. With a little help from a sommelier, you can almost always find a great wine within your price range.

You don't need to overspend on the most expensive bottle on the list. And you probably shouldn't try to open more than one bottle at a time. Take the time to appreciate the one you choose and, above all, enjoy your meal and the company you're sharing it with. It doesn't have to be the theoretically perfect bottle. It just has to be a wine that contributes to a great evening with friends.

More literally, if you feel stressed out by that infographic, I might suggest opening a bottle of wine.