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Scott Brinker's Transformational Marketer Interview

“Look at the evolution of websites, where marketers increasingly have responsibilities not just for content but the whole experience that’s being delivered.”

The Transformational Marketers Interview Series features marketing leaders that drive change in their industries, business models, and organizations. During these brief interviews, successful marketers share how they practice Transformational Marketing to lead company-wide change, altering how they market, communicate, and engage with their customers.

By reshaping their story and redefining relationships with their customers, these transformational leaders build valuable customer experiences and convert customers into brand advocates.

Episode 4: If You Don’t Like Change, You Will Like Irrelevance Even Less

Chief Martech Scott Brinker shares his expert insight on the major shifts happening in marketing today then discusses the importance of making the customer the center of the brand story and the hero of the journey. In many ways, marketing technology has removed marketers and CMOs from the “grand vision of the Story”. The companies that are succeeding today have intertwined the product with the story/marketing in a way the two are indistinguishable from one another. Listen to the full interview with Scott Brinker on SoundCloud or by clicking below.

Scott Brinker
Editor and Publisher,

Scott Brinker publishes the Chief Marketing Technologist blog,, and is the program chair of the MarTech conference series. He is the author of the book “Hacking Marketing” published by Wiley. He is also the co-founder of Ion Interactive, a provider of interactive content marketing software to many of the world’s leading brands. He has degrees in computer science from Columbia University and Harvard University and an MBA from MIT. Follow Scott on Twitter @chiefmartec.

Click here to listen to the recorded interview with Scott Brinker.

Transcript: Scott Brinker’s Transformational Marketer Interview

Bill Fasig: As you think about how things have changed and evolved and you think about what Transformational Marketing means from your vantage point, give me a snapshot definition of how it’s evolved and changed and truly transformed in your recent experiences.

Scott Brinker: If I was going to pick one word to describe marketing today, it is change. Change is happening on pretty much every dimension of what the marketing profession is dealing with. Yes, there are core principles of marketing: identify our audience, find the right way to engage them, be able to scale that in a consistent and profitable way.

While that high-level mission has been stable, the actual mechanics of how that happens today just continues to change and evolve. The number of channels and touchpoints that marketers are having to learn and deal with, the  technology’s certainly a component of that. You look at all these technologies that marketers are having to understand which ones are relevant to them, how do they incorporate them into their capabilities, how do they actually work with them? But to me, the technology in some ways is actually the easiest part of it. I don’t want to say it’s easy, but at the end of the day it’s technology and there’s a certain logical nature to how these things get architected and implemented.

When you look at marketers, to me the challenge for them isn’t just getting the technology. It’s how do we reinvent the art of marketing in these new channels, through these new touchpoints? And here, it’s like all green field. This is new territory for marketers and they, just as soon as they start to figure something out, you know, some new channel or some new nuance to how Facebook or Google is doing it, it requires them to rethink a whole new way to approach it.

Bill Fasig: How have you seen that? When you look at the changes that are coming at marketers, it’s almost like drinking from a fire hose, where it’s coming every day and it seems to just be constantly evolving.

I just saw a statistic of the average consumer gets 3,000 commercial messages a day one way or the other that they have to sort through. But if you think about it, a marketer today and crafting the art of the story using different channels-  the technology has evolved and changed, the channels have evolved and changed to some degree, and the platforms have evolved and changed. But being able to communicate and tell that story is still that fundamental discipline.

How do you do that when, in fact, a consumer is being hit with 3,000 or X number of thousand messages a day- how do you truly engage with them today?

Scott Brinker: I think you really hit on it. The story is at a level above all of that executional way of okay, how do we deliver that story in a way that’s going to reach people? And to be honest, I feel like I should apologize on behalf of the whole marketing technology industry because, in a lot of ways, the technology has become very distracting. A lot of marketing organizations get distracted with the systems and how is this going to work and how do I configure a marketing automation campaign and what is personalization- all these mechanics that, in the process, it’s kind of easy to lose track of what’s the overarching narrative? What’s our story to the world that makes us worth to stand out from all of the other competitors?

There’s a really debate that at the moment we’ve perhaps tilted the field too much into the swampland of all the mechanics of the technology and have lost a bit of that grand vision of the Story to really guide how we use the technology.

Bill Fasig: When you’re talking to CMOs now, as I know you do, and you identify for them, look, in the new landscape, technology is evolving quickly and changing almost daily.

If you had to say here are some things, some advice, what would that be? What are the things you must, absolutely must achieve that’s essential for your organization if you want to transform your marketing organization and your Story?

Scott Brinker: You know- I think one of the things you recognize when you sort out the Strategy side, is this shift in power between buyers and sellers in almost every industry at this point. Whether you’re B2B or B2C.

The buyers really do have control over how they’re finding the things they’re interested in, how they’re evaluating them, how they’re comparing their options on them. You can pretend that isn’t happening because it would be nice if there was the old world where we marketers told people what they wanted to buy. I think once you recognize that  modern marketing here is about understanding the journey that our buyers are going to take regardless of what we do.

This is the journey that they’re pursuing, but as I really look to understand that through their eyes, then I can start to answer the questions of okay, how can I be helpful to them at the different stages of their journey? And I think as you start to get a picture of that for a particular audience, that starts to lay the groundwork for saying okay, well, that actually translates into a certain set of channels. It translates into a certain set of expectations that those buyers are having within those channels. How do we fulfill them? And that starts to now get us down to what systems and capabilities will let us execute that? If you don’t have clarity around that strategy, how are you going to serve that audience?

Bill Fasig: I would even argue that even to have an effective strategy you have to have a story that is itself compelling, a story that actually starts to resonate, that goes though the why you do what you do, what you do, and how you do it. Once you have that story, then the strategy is how you deliver it and to whom, right? In which technology becomes one of those tools and one of those platforms. What have been sort of the seminal inflection points in how it has changed? And how you’ve seen it changed over the arc of your career. And what have you learned from those different points that you’ve taken with you at each step of that journey?

Scott Brinker: Yeah. I think by … There’s an external pivot and an internal pivot and um, and I think the external pivot- phrase inbound.

But the shift of power from the seller to the buyer in dictating how the purchase process was going to be done. How information was going to be acquired and shared and leveraged in making a purchase decision. That goes all the way back up to strategy and story.

By 2006, 2007, 2008, the world was starting to move in that direction. I would say by 2012 we’d reached a point where that transformation happened. So either you were serving customers in the way that they were running their buying process or you were starting to lose out.

For a very long time marketing had an arm’s length relationship with IT. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad. It was just, you know, these were 2 different groups doing 2 very different kinds of things.

You know, and I think more than anything, if you look at the evolution of websites, where marketers increasingly have responsibilities not just for content but the whole experience that’s being delivered. The services, the utility that’s being delivered to these websites that are more and more sophisticated, the behind the scenes, having to work with IT teams, multiple stakeholders, providers, and the technology to make that happen… that shift has been 10 or 15 years here. Today you look at the technical sophistication that marketing groups have to be capable of- even if they’re not doing it all themselves, even if they’re working with partners, if they’re working with IT, they have to be sophisticated enough to really be able to have those partnerships work well. So those feel like the 2 big changes from my view.

Bill Fasig: You have reached a pinnacle as a Thought Leader and Influencer- how do you continue to stay sharp and learn and grow? And, and if you had to pick an iconoclastic brand or individual that you think is interesting, compelling, who would that be or what company would that be?

Scott Brinker: Every day is just being overwhelmed with the number of new things that are happening in the world that are relevant to this profession. I assure you, I mean, I struggle as much as anyone to try and keep up with as much as I can. And there’s no way, there’s no way any of us can stay on top of all of it. It’s what makes it exciting, terrifying, wonderful. 

Bill Fasig: Well I know, I know I try to do that just by reading what you write. That helps me stay on top of it.

Scott Brinker: Well, thank you. It’s not so much any one brand as much as I feel the folks I learn the most from are the digital natives. You know, the Amazons, the Ubers, the Netflix. You know, it’s these companies that really were born through serving an audience in digital channels and, to be honest, when you look at them, they don’t organize marketing the way marketing has been classically organized. It is much more integrated into the product, this digital experience becomes part of marketing.

To me, not every company has to be Uber, Netflix, or Amazon today, but I think there’s a lot we can learn about where expectations are heading for how, frankly, almost any business is going to have to be able to engage with their audience using these digital touchpoints. So a lot to learn there.

Bill Fasig: Those types of companies, from my perspective, they’ve almost perfectly melded, perfect being a deliberately provocative word there, but they’ve melded the product with the marketing in a way that’s almost indistinguishable. Right, so in many ways, their product and their marketing are almost the same thing which means that they’ve created a customer experience and that engagement with the customer that is so inextricably wound up in your experience of the product itself that you become, you the customer become, their largest marketing arm.

You talk to any Uber user or any Airbnb user, you know, or Amazon Prime, they, they’re more than happy to tell you why they not, not only buy but they stay and they engage and they become an advocate for that. And to me, that’s been a big transformation. You don’t just have customers anymore. You have sort of lifetime experiential results that you hope to be able to achieve with those customers.

Check out more Transformational Marketing Interviews with Kelly ChmielewskiMike Ziegler, and Scott Barton.

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