Hacking Marketing Interview with Scott Brinker (video)

Anna Talerico chats with ion co-founder and Hacking Marketing author Scott Brinker about his new book and what it really means, as a modern marketer today, to hack marketing. Check out the video or read the transcript below and get an insight into hacking marketing straight from Chief MarTec himself.

AnnaHi everyone. I’m Anna Talerico and I am excited to be here with my business partner at ion, Chair of the MarTech Conference, blogger at chiefmartec.com, popular speaker on the marketing circuit, and author of the forthcoming book, Hacking Marketing, which is due out on March 21st, I think. Right, Scott?

ScottYeah. Hi.

AnnaThat’s what we’re here to talk about today, what’s going on in marketing and a sneak peek into Hacking Marketing. Welcome.

ScottThank you.

AnnaScott, I was thinking we could cover a few of the key ideas from the book. I want to start just high level why this book right now. What compelled you to write Hacking Marketing?

ScottI think almost everyone in marketing feels this visceral sensation of how software has just overwhelmed marketing. Marketing is becoming a software-powered discipline. On one hand, that’s amazing. It’s wonderful. It’s given us all these new capabilities and possibilities but on the other hand, it can also be incredibly frustrating. Most marketers do not start out their careers with the intention of having to be these responsible technology managers and they’ve accidentally inherited that role. The purpose of this book was to essentially say, “Don’t panic.” This is actually a good thing. Hopefully, with just a little bit of a walkthrough, some of these ideas of software management, marketers can adapt to that to get a lot more control over this environment in which they’re operating.

AnnaGood. Then, I’ve got to ask the question, right? You’ve spent some time talking about it at the start of the book. Let’s talk about the word “hacking.” Why that word? I like that you’ve really covered the spirit of what that word is intended to mean in the software development world. Let us talk about that a little bit.

ScottYeah, hacking is definitely one of those words that catches people’s attention. They’re like, “Wait. What do you mean?” In a lot of popular culture, we think of hacking in a very negative term. From movies and the media, we think of hackers as these people who break into systems and do bad things. That’s certainly one meaning of the word but that’s not actually where the word started. Indeed, there’s a whole other meaning to hacking and that’s really what I want to bring marketers into the loop on.

Hacking got started at MIT in the ‘60s and it was largely this subculture of engineers and early software people who really got good at tinkering, at finding ways to make, put parts together, and creatively invent new devices, new software programs. That meaning of that creative inventor, tinkerer has continued throughout the software world. Actually, I consider it a high honor to have these skills of being a hacker who can just make amazing things happen with software very quickly, very fluently.

One of the examples I start out with the book is talking about how Mark Zuckerberg when he started Facebook very much was the epitome of that hacker culture, the way he created Facebook. When Facebook filed to go public, he actually wrote an essay in their SEC documents called “The Hacker Way” that explained this idea of having this fluid, inventive, anything-possible-almost attitude is something that Facebook tried to not just do in their software programming but really build that into the culture of their business.

I thought it was a really great way to look at, for us as marketers, software has given us this opportunity to just become tinkerers and much more creative with what’s even possible in marketing. I hope we can capture a bit of that hacker spirit for the marketing world too.

AnnaYeah. That was a great little tidbit. I, of course, had heard about the hacker way philosophy at Facebook but I didn’t even know it was in the SEC filing. That was fascinating. I think I took away from that the idea of let’s just try it. Let’s try something. 

Now before we can get into a couple of the cornerstone principles of the book, there is one little nugget that I thought might really surprise marketers, and I had never thought about it this way. You talked about the ‘software creator mindset’ and that many marketers who probably don’t think of themselves as technical are probably already thinking programmatically and they don’t even know it. Can you talk a little bit about that? 

ScottYeah, that’s definitely one of the more interesting phenomenon in marketing right now. I was actually inspired by this gentleman, Isaac Wyatt, who is the Director of Operations at New Relic, Marketing Operations. He gave a presentation at MarTech last year where he was showing how marketing automation configuration was actually essentially programming. He showed side-by-side these Marketo screenshots of configuring a nurture campaign and then on the other side, some pseudo code, some program symbols, and these two things were logically equivalent.

His point was, “Hey, marketers are building little software programs. They have logic. They have flow every time they create these marketing automation campaigns.” It’s not just marketing automation. Marketers are now involved in designing the user experience of their websites. A number of them are involved in designing mobile apps that are being used in marketing. We talked about programmatic advertising, how do we configure those kinds of campaigns.

Even the work we do here at ion. Interactive content is a great example. These marketers are now designing things like assessment tools, and calculators, and configurators. Incredibly powerful way to engage with their prospects and their customers but there’s some programmatic thinking that goes into that. You start to pull all these things together and you’re like, “Wow. Actually, marketers are doing a lot of software programming already.” They just maybe don’t necessarily think of it that way.

AnnaIt was a good reminder for me because at ion, when we’re talking a lot to internal teams about developing their capability, we talk about who on the team has some programmatic thinking, like, “Does your designer?” but we never actually ask it of the actual marketer that’s in the meeting with us. We’re talking more about who do they know on their team that thinks like that when the very person who might be thinking like that doesn’t even know it and they’re sitting across the table from us. That was a good ‘aha’ moment for me.

Ok. Let’s get into the more macro level concepts. You have these what I think are cornerstone concepts in the book, agility, innovation, scalability, and talent. I thought we would just briefly touch on those the key principle of each of those, why you included them…those starting with agility.

ScottSure. Agility really is the backbone, I believe, of operating marketing in this software-powered world. A good chunk of the book, probably about 40% of the book, is essentially an introduction to agile marketing which is a management methodology that marketers have started to adopt from the software world taking things like Scrum and that lean startup methodology. These ways of just approaching our work in a much more iterative and incremental approach so that we learn as we go, we adapt as we go. A big chunk of the book for that agility section is just actually walking marketers do that. Here is an approach to adopting agile marketing, how it could work, both the mechanics but also hopefully a bit of the spirit, and how do you change your thinking to really take advantage of this. 

The next action, innovation. The reason we want agility usually is because we want to get better at innovating. We start to look at some of the ways that there’s some rethink, the opportunities they have for innovation. One example we’re just talking about here is if marketing has a lot more of the things it’s doing that have some of these similarities with software, starting to take a look at how software developers approach innovation to their products. This mode of being in perpetual beta that we see with certain products, how do we think about that for marketing? It’s like perpetual beta for marketing. 

Another thing there in the innovation section I know is near and dear to your heart is this idea of testing. It’s amazing. All these software that marketing has, so much of it has capabilities built into it. We have these incredible capabilities in our products or A/B testing different kinds of interactive content but for all these capabilities, a lot of marketing organizations today still don’t do a lot of testing or they do very light testing. Like, “We might try a different headline or we might try a different button color,” but as you know very well from our experience with conversion optimization, there’s so much opportunity now for marketers to explore a wider landscape. I try and champion this idea of big data is fine but what we really want to adopt in marketing is this culture of big testing, doing meaningful tests, doing a lot of testing, building testing into marketing’s culture. Then … 

Anna: Sorry, but it’s almost like if you have the agility and you have that focus on innovation, it’s like then the testing comes. I think it’s all wrapped up together. I think people are afraid to test because they don’t think they can.

Scott: Yeah. We saw this for years in the early days of landing pages and things like that is the more agile an organization was, almost always the more effective they were in their conversion optimization programs because they were just able to try more things, they were more adaptable.

Anna: Totally, totally. Scalability, I know that’s a big one for everybody.

ScottYeah, because that’s the next question like, “Okay, you got all these crazy experiments all over the place but how do I pull this all together?” It’s challenging. Marketers, I believe, are being asked to manage two very different kinds of organizational responsibilities. On one hand, there is this drive to innovate but on the other side, you also have the need to be scalable in your operations, in what you’re delivering. If you’re a B2B, you have certain numbers of leads, qualified leads. You have to meet the handoff to your counterparts in sales. These are things that you cannot just … You have high variance from one month to another.

Scalability looks a little bit at, how do you balance those two things? One of the ideas I borrowed from the technology world is… Gartner had come up with the idea of what they called bimodal IT. This idea that IT organizations, in many ways, have the same challenge where on one hand, they were being asked to manage infrastructure and these things that could not be experimental, could not fail, we have to really rely on them, but at the same time, they were also being asked to do more and more innovative level software projects and for business owners as well too. It was very hard for them to find one approach that would satisfy both of those needs. 

Gartner suggested, don’t try to do this with one approach. Actually, run two kinds of IT organizations, a group focused on the scalable ops and another set of approaches you use for these innovative projects. I think, actually, marketing can very easily adopt that same framework. We shamelessly call it bimodal marketing of really just identifying which activities we’re doing in marketing are we going to run on a scalable methodology and which ones are we going to run on a light, quick, agile, experimental approach, and just being very clear about which one is which.

Anna: Then, talent which I was glad you included this. Now, one thing I’ve noticed over the past year especially is the diversity of types of roles on marketing teams. I think there used to be this very narrow category of types of marketers. It is rapidly changing. Now, even designers, developers who used to sit on other teams are coming and sitting on marketing teams. That’s a big change that I’ve seen over the last year. Talk about talent.

Scott: Yeah, talent is amazing. In some ways, talent becomes the synthesis of how do you bring all of these pieces together. There’s a myth that’s been very popular in the software world for decades called the “Myth of the 10x Engineer.” The very best engineers are ten times more effective and more productive than an average engineer. There’s a lot of debate around that because we’re in a world today where we try and emphasize more team achievement rather than individuals, the rock star programmers falling out of favor, but the reality is the very best engineers do have this outsized impact on their organizations.

Thinking a bit about that, it wasn’t for marketing because marketing has no shortage of talent. We have all of these incredible talents. You’re going out, actually, there’s many new kinds of talents that are coming into marketing too but I think what this 10x engineer relies on is talent is one ingredient but the other two ingredients are opportunity and leverage. 

Back in the days when you did marketing plans on a yearly basis, when the creative opportunity for marketing was, say, limited to a very big campaign that the creative director and ad agency would be the person who had their chance to say, “Yes, this is my opportunity.” There just wasn’t a lot of opportunities for all these other people in marketing to really shine but now, today, marketing has so many touch points happening with their audience that almost everyone in marketing has an opportunity to shine. This incredible fragmentation actually, it can be a good thing. It gives us a lot more opportunity for people to have a more impactful role. 

Then, the other part of that is this idea of leverage that right back in those days of the creative director and the big ad campaign, you spend a lot of money on your big advertising campaign. There wasn’t really leverage, per se. It was a one-to-one relationship between dollars and exposure to the world but here in this digital environment and this world where we have all these social dynamics, really building an effective marketing can have an outsized impact in the world relative to the amount of money that was spent on it.

You combine all these things, the talent and marketing with all these new opportunities and with the leverage that digital is giving us, and yeah, I think we’re entering a place where we have the 10x marketer. Then, we can argue, is it really the individual rock star marketer or the whole team but we’re getting to a good place when we have those outsized impacts overall.

AnnaYou used the term ‘full-stack marketer’ which was not the first time I heard that term but it did make me think that my prediction is we’re going to hear a lot about that term in the coming year or two, definitely.


Anna: Fifth and final question and hopefully not the hardest question but what do you want the biggest takeaway or inspiration to be for a marketer who reads the book?

Scott: Yes, I think it goes back to this idea that we have to accept that marketing is now a software-powered discipline but with just a little bit of insight into the dynamics of managing software, being able to adapt that better to what we do in marketing is going to give marketers an incredible amount of leverage in what they do. This is a really great opportunity.

AnnaIt is and we’re super excited. Thank you so much for sharing a bit of insight about the new book. Hacking Marketing due out March 21st. Available at barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, lots of other bookstores, available for preorder right now, and actually coming out on March 21st, the same day as the Martech Conference, right?

ScottYeah. Just everything is all coming together in one day. I can’t wait.

Anna: All right. Thank you again, Scott. It’s been great.

Scott: Thank you, Anna.

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