Two Heavyweights Debate the Future of MarTech in No-Holds-Barred Encounter

June 22, 2016 | by L. Erik Bratt, VP Marketing, Ensighten, @erikbratt
Heavyweight MarTech Debate

The recent debate of two MarTech heavyweights came down to a split decision as these thought leaders went toe-to-toe recently in an Ensighten-sponsored debate. In one corner was Scott Brinker, the founder and CTO of ion interactive and the publisher of In the other was Mayur Gupta, one of the first-ever Chief Marketing Technologists while at Kimberly-Clark and now SVP and head of digital at Healthgrades. The debate centered on three questions defining marketing and the technology supporting that mission in the years ahead. To learn more, read this post or watch the full-length webinar recording below.



Who should own marketing technology? Should it continue to be rooted in marketing, or is this something that needs to be managed in a cross-enterprise way?
Our two debaters came out swinging on this issue with Brinker taking a strong stand when he argued the question itself was a little like asking, “who’s in Grant’s Tomb?”

“What is the purpose of this technology? Why are companies adopting it? At the end of the day, this technology is about enabling marketing capabilities to achieve marketing outcomes. It’s all very much around capabilities that marketers invest in to engage with their audiences. Regardless of the implementation or execution, marketers have to take responsibility for the outcomes of this technology. Ultimately that’s where the buck stops in making technology decisions to support those outcomes.”

Gupta took a different tact, emphasizing that it’s critical that organizations understand the gap existing between traditional models of marketing and IT. From the standpoint of skills and operating models, both marketing and IT “have to dramatically evolve and shift in their traditional roles,” he said. Even more, Gupta argued, “IT and marketing cannot deliver the ultimate experience in isolation from each other.”

What is that experience? Gupta defined it as the responsibility to drive topline growth, along with behavior changes among consumers in support of brand engagement. Marketing and IT must be inseparable through the lifecycle of delivering a consumer experience. Pure information technology, such as supply chain or ERP systems, typically have clear business requirements. Marketing applications are more “ambiguous, more loosely defined,” says Gupta, with the end requirement being the ability to deliver multi-channel consumer experiences.


Should marketers be accountable for the ROI of technology itself? If so, how do you begin to do that?
Gartner analyst Laura McLellan in 2012 predicted that CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs by 2017 with the explosion in marketing technology. Understanding return on investment (ROI), however, remains one of the most difficult questions for every brand. Gupta argued that, “the best way to think about this is not ROI in the technology, but rather the ROI on the capability, which is a combination of the technology and the strategy and operations. The technology by itself doesn’t move anything, because it’s the consumer who feels and breathe the experience.”

Brinker challenged Gupta around the danger of confusing terms. What’s most relevant to a marketing technology management role – accountability, measurability or attribution? “And then above all, there is the notion of ROI, which is the reason people are in business,” Brinker said. “We make investments, and we want to get a return on them. But the devil is in the details when it comes to measuring ROI and doing it accurately.

“We have the notion that things are measureable quantitatively. But there’s also accountability, someone being held responsible for something that is quantitative or qualitative in nature. Then there’s attribution. We in marketing are collectively trying to figure out how to crack this nut.” In calculating ROI, there are broad variables and changes in the mix, when, for example, a marketing team implements a customer relationship management system over months, if not a year or more. How much of any lift you’ve received is due to the CRM – that goes to the question of attribution.”

That’s why ROI needs to be derived not purely from a toolset, but from the broader capability created, Gupta argues. “Financial acumen is yet another aspect of marketing technology …. The marketing technologist of today is perhaps the CEO of tomorrow at some point.”


Do we need a “marketing OS,” i.e., an intelligent wrapper around the tech stack to help unify disparate elements and orchestrate better experiences?
The question for the debate’s third round begs the question of definitions. What’s the difference between a marketing OS and a marketing cloud? Brinker’s view is that the marketing OS is less about specific applications and more about an “underlying fabric that connects all of these applications and allows marketers to share key data from customers about events. It becomes essentially the highway system underlying the transportation of all sorts of marketing goodness internally and externally.”

But integrating the applications in a marketing cloud may create something like the “Tower of Babel,” given their scale and scope. Brinker said. “I’m not sure there’s a tremendous advantage in making the cloud into a super integration. The marketing OS generically has more potential by connecting the key data between the applications, to really synchronize at that level.”

Gupta agreed. “At the end of the day, the key is to connect the disjointed pieces. And there are only two things that can make that happen, the pipe and the data. The real value that a marketer is trying to drive is in the data, in the connectivity of data that ties closely to the customer journey as she hops from one channel to another. That’s the biggest challenge marketers face.”

Tag management, Gupta argued, is an important area where many brands are investing alongside a data management platform. “Tag management basically brings data about consumer behavior in one place across touch points, both first party and third.” It’s a way for the technology pieces to become a cohesive unit that can be tied to business and consumer experiences and behaviors.

The debate ended with a look at enterprise tag management when it is embedded as a foundational application in marketing technology. Once the data generated by these applications, these third-party technologies, is unified under a common set of rules and definitions in a customer data layer, it’s possible to create customer profiles as a single source of truth to drive real-time action into the technology stack.

As moderator, I weighed in on how enterprise tag management serves as a foundation for the entire MarTech stack: “In essence, enterprise tag management creates an orchestration layer that can be used to harness the power of all of your marketing, all of your technology, and all of your data to drive more timely, personalized interactions. In effect this becomes a type of marketing OS because you are managing the data and creating the rules that will engage and drive action.”

Who Won the Three-Round Debate?

Who won? We’d have to call it a split decision between two formidable contestants. Brinker and Gupta both have deep convictions about marketing and the MarTech revolution. They don’t always agree, but they always have something meaningful to say to us – whether it’s about winning with new strategies and technologies, or measuring success that follows.

Erik Bratt

About L. Erik Bratt

Erik is a veteran technology marketing executive, helping accelerate brand awareness and drive lead generation capabilities for technology leaders. Previously, Erik held senior-level positions at Tealium, Microsoft, WebSideStory (now part of Adobe Systems), InboundWriter and VoxOx, a cloud ...
Read more about L. Erik Bratt »

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