Innovation and Scalability Compete in Marketing Technology: Bi-Modal Framework Supports Both

June 8, 2016 - Ensighten

It’s true that innovation in marketing technology has been nothing short of stunning. But in enterprise marketing, the technology also must scale. And innovation and scalability are not necessarily easy bed fellows. Innovation gives marketers the ability to experiment, to explore new possibilities, to try out capabilities. You need to “fail fast” to identify and develop what works. Scalability, in contrast, requires standardization. The focus is on core applications in the marketing technology stack. Here the goal is, “fail not.”

Both must be accommodated, according to technology expert Scott Brinker. “In innovation, we want to question the assumptions. We want to look for how things are changing in our environment. But when you’re in a scalability mindset, we want to leverage assumptions.

“Speed is what we want mostly under innovation. How do we get these things fast, how to move it forward. But in scalability, we’re much more focused on dependability and reliability,” he added.

Brinker, of course, in an expert in marketing technology innovation. Five years ago, he became curious about how marketing and IT teams were beginning to converge. To support his thinking, Brinker drew the first of what has become the iconic Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic, charting 150 vendors in 2011. By 2016, that number had risen to 3,874—a 26-fold increase.

Among topics explored in his keynote for Ensighten’s industry event, Brinker talked about the competing needs for scalability and innovation in marketing. Senior marketers, he noted, are being asked to innovate and scale simultaneously. Is it possible to develop a single framework, either in IT or marketing, that encompasses both? Brinker’s conclusion is, “no.”

IT organizations, he pointed out, have been wresting with the balance between scalability and innovation for the past decade. IT typically manages the enterprise infrastructure, which includes telecommunications, networking and core business applications. Here scalability and reliability are critical. But IT also has been asked to develop more and more specialized applications for business owners, which has given rise to agile software development. Why wait a year to get a piece of software when it can be produced in weeks using agile processes. Ultimately, IT organizations have moved toward a bi-model approach, in which they “actually run two different kinds of IT management,” at different speeds. “Really, the thing that’s important here is to be very clear with all the stakeholders as to which particular project falls into which category,” Brinker told the gathering.


Bi-modal marketing

This same bi-modal approach also applies to marketing. Just as in IT, innovation and scalability can be balanced by understanding that marketing engages in two different modes. Hence, the term, bi-modal approach. Core marketing operations fall on the scalability side of the equation, require enterprise-wide reliability and typically take the lion’s share of budgets. Innovation can take place at the edge.

A bi-modal approach to marketing

For example, Brinker said, “70 percent of a marketing budget might go to the things that you know are going to work. Twenty percent goes to projects that have had some promise and now the marketing team wants to expand a bit. And the remaining 10 percent is to explore the really wild, ballistic, new ideas.”

These ratios may vary, but the basic principle remains the same. It’s not important what the numbers are, but distinguishing between the core capabilities requiring scalability and reliability, while also ensuring the innovation doesn’t get thrown out the window. It’s one more place where marketing can learn from IT and its software developers.