I was interviewed by the amazing Jayme Soulati for what it appears will be the farewell episode of the Heart of Marketing podcast. You can listen to it here, and the full transcript is below as well.

Jayme and I discuss everything from how social media can be used to develop valuable relationships to how SEO and PR have changed over the course of the past decade to what’s happening in marketing technology (martech)—a lot about marketing tech. The podcast concludes with what I hope will be an inspiring message.

Many thanks to podcast and online video production guru Albert Maruggi for editing the recording down to something listenable. And thanks to Speechpad, the best transcription and video captioning service around, for the transcript of this conversation.

Now, on to the podcast…

Jayme: Hey Heart Marketers, it is Jayme with a very special guest today, so delighted. Tom Pick is with us and Tom, what is going on?

Tom: Good morning everyone. Great to be part of this. I’m really excited to be part of Heart of Marketing today.

Jayme: You know, we’ve been trying so desperately to bring you on the show and it’s been a long time coming. Everybody’s schedules are so busy these days especially yours, Tom. In fact, you’re a busy guy.

Tom: It’s been a crazy month but it’s good. Busy is good. No question.

Jayme: No, busy is very good. I wanted to reminisce first with our listeners about my relationship with you from way back in the day. I remember now when I first started getting acquainted with you on Twitter, probably 2010 I would imagine, right?

Tom: It may have been a little bit before that because I’ve been out there forever, so yeah. It’s been quite a while, and it’s amazing how Twitter is still such a great tool for connecting with people that you may not otherwise ever have a chance to get to know or interact with.

Jayme: That is so true and I tell you what: I never had any confidence back in the day when I was first starting out. I got on Twitter in March of 2009 and iit fast became my blog. I mean, I was afraid to blog because of the technical issues with blogging and I am still a solo. So, anything that required IT knowledge, I veered away from because I was so frightened. So Twitter was all I did for a whole year until I finally started blogging.

Heart of Marketing podcast - Jayme Soulati with Tom PickBut you were the A-lister that I was so impressed by because the content you generated back then was always so amazing. I don’t even know where you got your content fodder from but it was always these amazing lists. Top 25 things to whatever, and so perfectly poignant and I was afraid of you. I was really…so afraid of you.

Tom: I don’t bite, really.

Jayme: I know you don’t bite. And you had such a neat blog name, too, Webbiquity. That’s such a great name for a business and blog—webbiquity.com, right?

Tom: Yes. Correct.

Jayme: Okay. Well , you had all these lists, like the top 25 women to watch or top 25 social media bloggers. And when I finally made one of your lists, do you know what I did? I was so excited, I bought a pair of shoes.

Tom: I love it.

Jayme: But tell me about back then to now. Where do you think things have gone, not really awry, but the disruption is palpable. Talk about that a little bit because it’s really neat to get the perspective from those of us who’ve been around since early days.

Tom: It has been crazy. In a way, the principles and concepts I first started writing about on Webbiquity when it was launched in January 2010 still apply, but certainly the market has also evolved in many ways. It’s just gotten much more difficult to stand out and get attention because there is just so much content being produced today.

One of the first concepts I started blogging about because it was the idea of Webbiquity, of being ubiquitous on the web. Web presence optimization was the model or the framework I started blogging about right away with the new blog when that launched. It was about all of the different channels that you can use to get visibility online.

It was at the time when—okay, SEO was obviously a very mature discipline by 2010. It had been around for more than a decade at that point and it was pretty well-established. But social media was taking off, and content marketing was starting to become a thing, and HubSpot was out there with their inbound marketing.

Manage your social media marketing - AgoraPulse

So people were asking, “Well, is it just SEO? Is it search and social? Is it search and social and content? And then what about PR?” Because again, PR has been around forever, but the way that PR people managed their functions day-to-day obviously changed a lot once everything moved online. So was it search plus social plus content plus PR? It just really got to be too much of a mouthful and so, WPO was a way to put a shorthand to that. Instead of having to say this long string of tactics, WPO encompassed all of that, and we put it out there for people to do with what they will.

It didn’t get huge, but certainly other agencies started talking about it. Other bloggers started writing about it. And gShift Labs was the first toolmaker to actually produce an analytics package based on a WPO framework.

Even now, almost every day, something will pop up on my Google alert about web presence optimization. So it’s still definitely kicking around out there and people are definitely still interested in it even though, obviously the specifics of how to implement that have evolved and gotten more advanced, and more challenging with the proliferation of content.

Jayme: That’s a fascinating concept in general, web presence optimization. I remember when Danny Brown back in the day was always talking about personal branding. And even today, online reputation management, which I probably do every day, but when you’re focused on helping someone’s brand online, the personal branding situation, that’s similar to web presence optimization. But instead of branding a someone, you’re branding a something.

Tom: It is pretty much the same concept. WPO was designed to be broad enough that it could be applied to individuals or brands. We looked at online reputation management as a component of that because if you think about an organization, yes you are branding a thing. But you’re also branding key individuals within that company.

Especially inside startups, the CEO, the CMO, those people are out there and very visible in their own right but also are connected to the company. So in that sense, ORM becomes a key component of WPO in terms of the overall effort for the organization.

Jayme: Ha, so to encapsulate what we’re talking about here, if you were to take on a new client and that client was a startup, you would have two parallel tracks, one to brand the company with its web presence, and then to brand also the influencers or the thought leaders within that company on a parallel track. Would that be accurate?

Tom: Yes and I’m a big fan of doing that. In the story of any startup, obviously there’s the product, the idea, what they are doing. But the story of the people behind it takes it to a level that’s more interesting. Where did this person come from? Is this a serial entrepreneur where he or she is starting maybe a second, third, even a fourth even business? Or is this someone who hasn’t done this before and they’re new to it?

HootSuite - manage all your social media

And so that narrative becomes very intertwined with the startup story and sort of humanizes it and it makes it more compelling, more interesting than just the technology story or the product story, or whatever the idea behind the company is.

Jayme: Yes, that’s really interesting. I’m in public relations, but I call it digital PR now because we get to change our title every month or so to keep up with the changes. Again we maybe use wording in PR because we don’t want to be seen negatively by others.

Oh gosh, we’ve had a long road with our titles and our knowledge. But the concept of what you’re suggesting to me is resonating with the public relations orientation, Tom, and it’s when you think about the humanity John (Gregory Olson) and I talk frequently on the show about the human side of the equation.

And so when you look at your crystal ball at what you did do, what you’re doing now, and the future of what you’re going to be doing, has much changed? I mean it feels to me like there’s so much disruption and everything’s constantly new, but truly, has the foundation of what we do really changed that much?

Tom: It has and it hasn’t, because a lot of the basic skills, especially in PR—and I’m going to turn this around for a second and then ask you a question—but first just to address that real quickly. I think you probably agree that the fundamental skills of PR are being able to build relationships and tell stories, right? Those are the two basic skills. Those haven’t changed.

But obviously, as a practitioner you know, the way you utilize those skills has changed dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years.

So to my question, I wrote a guest blog for Michael Brenner‘s blog recently called Should we stop calling it PR? The case for influencer relations. My contention was that, especially on the B2B side which we’re both very familiar with, PR has really evolved from reaching out to editors and journalists—which is where it was 20 years ago—to having to connect with a much wider range of influencers: bloggers, associations, people who are influential for other reasons. People who do a lot of public speaking. People who bill themselves as coaches but have a lot of influence within a specific industry vertical or technology realm.

And it also encompasses dealing with industry analysts, sometimes with financial analysts or other investors. So my thought behind it was that PR has gotten much bigger, much broader than it was in the pre-web or early web days. And it touches on everything now: it touches on SEO because of the content and the links and the sharing. Obviously, it touches on social media. It touches on so many things. So what are your thoughts…is it still even PR?

Jayme: Boy, isn’t that a wonderful question and yeah, you flipped in on me, didn’t you? Wow. So…you’re fired. You’re not allowed to do that. I’m the interviewer. Don’t forget that. 🙂

But I anticipated your question and John is very familiar with how I do this on the fly. So let’s break this down, and the way I’d like to propose the answer to your question is this: in what I do every day in public relations, everyone’s an influencer. The journalist I pitch stories to is an influencer because I’ve got to get them on board with my message and what I’m selling because news is what I sell and media relations. Get that journalist to be my influencer, to influence all constituents on the story they write. So that’s an influencer.

If I’m on social media, sharing messages for a client, I’m influencing—the art of influence, right? I am influencing consumers to influence their network with my message. And what if I’m doing community relations or internal communications? Everything I do is to position and influence others to take my stance or heed my message to go influence their audiences. So the answer in a roundabout way is yes, what public relations truly is and does is influencer or influence relations. Does that make sense?

Tom: It does, absolutely.

Jayme: It’s such a broad word, “public relations,” and I think back in the day, it was very succinct…it was really to influence the public, outside of a company. But it’s so much more broad now and we blend the blurry lines where everybody talks about that. I call myself as one of my titles “a public relations marketer” because we’re a stem of marketing. And so  in that sense of that, Tom, I think you’re on track.

Which brings me to my question to you. You recently launched a new website with a new TLD, which is the extension of a website, a domain name and you’re using the dot-technology. So that full domain name is now what?

Tom: That site is b2bmarketing.technology. So it’s not a .dot-com or a dot-co or anything. It’s actually, you’re correct, a dot-technology website, the b2bmarketing.technology.

Jayme: So that’s a fascinating play. I mean I’ve not seen anybody in marketing do that yet and you’re the first and maybe there are many, I just haven’t seen them on my radar. But tell me why you thought that way to strategize about a new domain with a dot-technology ending.

Tom: Sure. So first very quickly, I do want to expand on something important you just said on the question that I threw back at you, which is that, in the B2B realm especially, it’s not even so much about public relations necessarily as you are really influencing the networks of each of the people that you reach out to.

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So for each influencer, you are encouraging them to share your message, your story, your client’s story, whatever, with their network. So it is…almost like “network relations,” right? You are influencing each influencer’s network, whether they’re a blogger, or a journalist, a speaker, just somebody who’s well-known, a well-regarded thought leader, opinion leader, whatever specific space. So that’s a really interesting spin on that.

Getting back to the b2bmarketing.technology site, what happened, actually was…gosh, I don’t even remember exactly how long—it’s been at least a year, probably. I started getting emails from one of the big domain registration companies about this new batch of TLDs they were putting out there and they were really pushing dot-CEO and I was like, “No, I don’t need a dot-CEO. I don’t have any clients who need a dot-CEO.”

They had some others that were interesting but very nichey to go along with, you know, dot-info, dot-us, some of those slightly-off-the-beaten-path TLDs. But when they came up with dot-technology, I looked at that for a few clients and they were being snapped up.

There was, sort of, as there always is with these things, right? There’s a bit of a land grab if people think those names are going to take off. And I just, almost on a lark, checked for b2bmarketing.technology to see if it would be available, and it was. So I grabbed it, not having at that point any idea immediately in mind of what I was going to do with it, but just that this is a domain name I can use at some point. So I grabbed it and hung on to it for quite a while.

Like I say, it was probably at least a year before it occurred to me what to do with it. I had been watching the writing from people like Scott Brinker, who’s brilliant and who puts out his big Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic annually. And that’s just exploded. I think the initial version, in 2011 or 2012, had like 150 marketing tools on it, and the newest version has 4,800.

Jayme: Wow.

Tom: Now, as Scott acknowledges, part of that growth is better data collection. He’s just doing a better job of finding all these companies. He’s got multiple sources feeding him now.

But also certainly part of it is double-digit industry growth, and there’s a lot of VC money being poured into that space. There’s a lot of buying being done by marketers because their role is expanding, right? CMOs especially are now tasked with, often, with managing the entire end-to-end customer experience. That can’t be done without new and more advanced tools.

So the space is taking off, and I was watching all this and had been writing about tools, and decided to do a big research project of my own—not wanting to duplicate Scott’s work in any way, but rather to  build on that, specifically targeted at the kinds of companies that I worked with as clients: small to midsized businesses, B2B companies, a lot of them in technology.

I focused on what was going to be important to them from the standpoint of what was happening in the marketing technology development realm. And that’s what occurred to me was a great use for the site.

I had bookmarked more than 100 blog posts from a large number of influencers—people whose names you’d know. I was going to do one of my typical “best of” posts and decided to go a different direction with it. I went through and looked at all of the tools that .all of these different writers were reviewing, saying “What are the ones that seem to rise to the top? What are the tools specifically for the smaller companies or midmarket that seemed to be important? What’s that subset of the big supergraphic Scott puts out every year that’s important to the kinds of companies that I work with?”

I ended up writing a series of 47 posts about different categories of tools: the best keyword tracking tools, best all-in-one SEO tools, best social media management tools, best social media monitoring tools. All those categories.

And then I put up (I know, I’m giving a long answer) the b2bmarketng.technology site, which sort of tied it altogether, and built upon, and really extended that original WPO model into the marketing technology realm and provided a framework for making sense out of the massive chaos of all these marketing technology tools out there.

Jayme: You know, I found it so creative when I went to your site to check you out. And it was the onus for me to invite you here because I was so impressed…

Tom: Thank you.

Jayme: Well, the dot-technology thing was going out on a limb because it’s so hard to get traction for a new domain anyway, especially a new TLD. In that land grab you spoke of, I went and grabbed about 50 domain names with a dot-news TLD and I got rid of a bunch of them after a while, but I own several that I’m still holding that…I’ve got to put into action. It’s exciting to see.

But then, you when you think of how everybody’s still oriented to a dot-com, and when you search on Google, the consumer masses, they just still assume everything’s a dot-com.

But your dot-technology is very clever, very creative. On that website, on that cover page, you have this amazing graphic and it’s very interactive and you’ve taken those 47 blog posts you’ve created…I thought they came from back in the day because I know that you wrote like this on Webbiquity back in the day, right? Did you repurpose much of that content that you wrote before?

Tom: Well this series goes back maybe about a year. I started writing that specific series of posts in spring of 2016 and many of those posts have already been revised, some of them two or three times. So they’re kind of evergreen, because I’m keeping up with changes.

In a couple of cases, tools have actually gone away so I’ve noted that. But in more cases, new tools have come up or emerged as important within those categories so I’ve added those. So I wouldn’t say “back in the day” because the oldest one is just maybe a little over a year old and they are being regularly refreshed with new content.

The graphic that you mentioned is actually created with a technology called ThingLink which is a tool I just absolutely love and I’m trying to get more clients to do things with it as well because it’s compelling. I love the technology of making graphics interactive. It can be used with any kind of online image or video.

Infographics have obviously been out there for a while and in fact, they’ve gotten to the point where people are starting to kind of mock them. An “infographic about the large number of infographics,” that sort of thing.

Jayme: Right.

Tom: But I think making them interactive takes them to a new level and kind of makes them fresh again, because now it’s not just the big list infographics that we’ve been seeing for years and have gotten ubiquitous. It’s now doing something with them that’s more interesting and gives them more depth.

Jayme: Well, you know, you are really an interesting man. You have so much knowledge and I would assume that so much of your knowledge comes from the research you do in writing your blog posts for your business. Is that true?

Tom: Absolutely, and this almost circles back to the very beginning of our conversation where we were talking about Twitter. So much of this has originated from Twitter, because it’s people that I’m following, influencers that I find interesting. I’ll click through to what they’re sharing if it looks compelling and bookmark, and come back to those things later. Twitter not only introduced you and me, it’s the base source for a lot of the research that I do that ends up finding its way into these “best of” blog posts, and now this new website.

Jayme: Yeah, I’ll tell you what, Twitter sometimes gets a bad rap from the rest of America. I mean, there’s—okay, let me just say it—the “elite marketer” who uses Twitter ad nauseam for tons of different things like relationship building, and social media, and shares knowledge. And then of course, the friendships that…man, I’ve created some amazing friendships off of social media, Twitter actually, and those are really dear to me and really great to talk to you, Tom. It’s our first time talking and it’s because of Twitter but…I feel like we’re fast friends because of Twitter.

So let’s do one more thing. But first of all, how the hell did you find the time to do all this? Because you’re a small business owner and you’re probably representing clients like I am, but where’s your time because what you do is very time-consuming, and you’re writing a lot, which I’m impressed by.

Tom: Thank you. You know, there are so many people that, when I look at their output, I feel like a lazy slug because  I can’t keep up with what they’re doing (I know that some of them have help, though). Unlike some of the people whom you and I probably both follow and admire, I don’t do a lot of traveling which helps actually because travel sucks up a lot of time, right, and it…

Jayme: Oh that’s for sure.

Tom: …throws off your sleep schedule and everything else. So, I’m sort of blessed in that respect. I don’t have to do a lot of traveling and you know, my kids are off to college so I spend time with them when they’re around but they’re not around a lot. So yeah, I just…and Minnesota winters, of course.

Jayme: I’ll let you have those.

Tom: Yeah, those kind of speak for themselves. But it’s also, I try to not only write about marketing technology but also use some of these tools to make myself more productive as well as make my clients more successful. That’s a key part of it too that that can help any business really…almost look bigger, or look like they’re doing a lot more online, like they’re spending hours and hours when really it’s being done efficiently by using technology.

Jayme: Well, okay that begs the question. Give me two, three, four tools that are must-haves in your book.

Tom: Oh boy, I don’t know where to begin.

Jayme: I threw you one that wasn’t on my list, Tom.

Tom: Okay, well I already mentioned one, right, ThingLink. I love that too. It’s not so much an efficiency tool as it is one that helps you do some really cool things with graphics. And it’s really easy and quick. It’s a very powerful tool. And one of the things that people are starting to do with it is…you’ve seen 360-degree video?

Jayme: Yes.

Tom: Right, where you can pan around and look up and…they’re adding interactive elements in those so you can do some cool things. For example, there’s one 360-video that’s a library tour that not only can you pan around it but you can click on icons to find out about individual collections and features and resources that they have, which is really cool.

So that’s one tool. Google Analytics is an obvious one. Everybody uses that, but there are tools that, sort of, extend that. There’s one I’m just starting to play with called…I’m blanking on that.

Jayme: Well ,how do you tweet? Do you tweet with HootSuite or do you have another platform?

Tom: Oh I use TweetDeck for a lot of the Twitter management. I use Authority Labs for a lot of the rank tracking, love that tool. I use SEMrush quite a bit.

Sorry, PaveAI is the name of the tool that I was blanking on. It’s actually pretty inexpensive and it’s really cool in terms of what it does with your Google Analytics data. If you spent any time in GA, you know, there’s just so much stuff there, right?

Jayme: I know. It’s crazy. Yeah.

Tom: How do you make sense of it all? What PaveAI does is it looks at your Google Analytics and it can do 16 million different correlations.

Jayme: Oh my goodness.

Tom: It takes about 20 minutes to run. So literally something that you could not do in three lifetimes, it can do in 20 minutes. And then it reports on correlations that seem to be meaningful. Sometimes it misses the mark, but often, it will point out correlations that you never would have found and so it’s very insightful and it’s a great tool to take that massive data that GA reports and actually makes sense of it, and in a fairly quick timeframe. Again, being very efficient, it actually gives you actionable recommendations you can take away from the tool.

Jayme: Do you have a social listening tool that you use also?

Tom: I’ve used a few different ones. I’m kind of playing with a few right now. I’m playing with one called Agorapulse. I’m playing with EpicTrack, and couple others, but I don’t have a, “Wow this is my go to, the one I would absolutely recommend.”

There are several good ones out there and I encourage people to try a few. Most of them offer at least like a 14-day free trial. And everybody’s preferences are different. With every tool, the interface is a little bit different. So an interface that might be confusing to me, which isn’t hard, might seem very intuitive to someone else. It’s what you’re comfortable using and what seems to produce really powerful results for you.

Jayme: So Tom, the final question. With everything you know and do, are your services for a small to medium business oriented to helping them find ways to use technology to advance their marketing goals? Is that what you do?

Tom: That is certainly one component of it, that’s grown out of…you mentioned how the PR world has changed. Certainly the marketing world has changed as well. I was sort of lamenting this with someone recently, literally a lot of the work that I use to do and that a lot of SEOs used to do, you can do with a plugin on WordPress now. So it’s really changed the way that the work functions.

SEO is still certainly part of what I do and social media’s a huge part of what I do and content’s a huge part of what I do, but technology is becoming an emerging part of it because companies just need to keep evolving with what’s happening in the market.

And as not just content but the amount of data explodes, businesses need tools to manage that. It’s gotten way beyond what people can do manually or even using the rudimentary tools that many of us were using a few years ago. So there’s this new wave of more powerful yet easy to use tools I think is really empowering small to midsized businesses to…I hate the term big data, but use smart data or use what data they have smartly, intelligently to help make their content rise to the top and really get their message through to their target markets.

Jayme: Boy, that’s…again, we could have you on the show again and talk for another two hours I’m sure. But are there any last words of wisdom, Tom, for our audience?

The Great MN Tech 2GetherTom: Yes, it’s a quick plug for something I’m involved with that’s really more important to the Minnesota segment of your audience, but also a broader point that I think will be applicable to everyone.

In addition to…it’s funny that you mentioned you don’t know how I find time. In addition to my blogging and client work and whatnot, I’m also volunteering with an effort—there’s a new event coming to Minnesota this fall I’m very excited about called The Great Minnesota Tech 2gether where we are bringing together local businesses and the tech community with 6th through 12th grade students to talk about, from the business side, “These are the workforce skills that are going to be important to us…”

Jayme: I love it.

Tom: “…in 5 to 10 years,” and communicate that to the kids, so they’re starting to think about, “Oh, this is what I should be thinking about doing.” It’s not just about STEM, which has been kind of overused. STEM is important but it’s not just STEM. A lot of kids just aren’t going to go down that path and that’s fine.

It’s really helping them understand how data and information will affect every role. If you’re doing anything in the music industry, technology is becoming a huge part of that. Sports, there’s so much technology around sports, around the recording and the analysis and the medical side of it. Technology, data, and information touches everything and that’s really the message of the conference.

So that’s the Minnesota element of the plug. But also, I would encourage people in your audience, and I know a lot of people already do, but it really is rewarding on many levels to find some time in your busy schedule to apply some of what you do professionally in a more volunteering sense, with causes that you believe in

It doesn’t pay the bills, but it pays in so many other ways. It’s gratifying. It builds new connections. You’re helping a great cause with your skills. It’s a great thing to do and I really encourage it. I really believe in this cause, and I’m having a blast with it. So even though it’s, yes, yet another thing to do, it’s a great thing to do.

Jayme: You know what, it’s just about paying it forward. At our age of seniority in our business practice, it is very important that we do share our knowledge and encourage the youth of our future to do exactly what you’re saying, Tom.

Tom: Exactly.

Jayme: So that’s fantastic. We are going to help promote that and thank you so much for being on the show, Tom.

Tom: Thanks for having me on, Jayme. This was fun.

A version of this post originally appeared on the V3*Broadsuite blog.

The universe of marketing technology tools and apps is exploding. The number of marketing technology vendors tracked by Scott Brinker, a.k.a. @chiefmartec on Twitter, has surged from 150 to nearly 5,400 in the past six years.

Though the flood of new entrants has significantly outpaced consolidation activity so far, merger and acquisition activity is picking up. Specifically, four large tech vendors—Oracle, Salesforce.com, Adobe, and IBM—hope to dominate the market by gobbling up small suppliers and rebranding the acquired products into all-encompassing suites.

The logic behind these moves, according to TFM Insights, is that buyers confused and bewildered by this fragmented landscape will flock to single-source solutions: “Thus the big software companies, alongside a number of smaller competitors, have seized the opportunity to sell their customers more complete marketing suites. In theory, this takes some of the hassle out of building a bespoke, marketing stack.”

Only time will tell how successful these vendors are. Industries do generally, of course, consolidate over time. Think of the American auto industry, which collapsed from hundreds of manufacturers in the early 1900s to just three main players by mid-century. Or the cable TV sector, which telescoped from 42 companies to four major providers in just 20 years.

Yes, but…Software is Different

But software industry consolidation is less linear. Even in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) segment, where a steep drop-off in new purchases after Y2K-fed consolidation—Infor alone acquired 16 companies between 2005 and 2016, and had snapped up several before then—there remain “hundreds of vendors offering best-of-breed (i.e., stand alone) ERP applications or integrated ERP software suites” according to Software Advice.

Software sectors are resistant to consolidation due to the low barriers to entry. It takes huge amounts of capital to build up an auto maker or build out a cable network. But it takes only an original idea, a couple of talented programmers, and modest quantities of pizza and Mountain Dew to start a software company. (Okay, that might be a slight over-simplification.)

The marketing technology segment may be particularly difficult to reduce to a handful, or less, of “suites,” given how diverse the landscape is. Brinker’s Marketing Technology Supergraphic organizes its 4,891 vendors into 49 functional groups across six major areas. Given the diversity, marketing technology applications don’t fall neatly into a “stack,” and “cloud” isn’t much more descriptive. The different functional areas actually resemble a large, complex matrix.

What’s a “Marketing Stack” Anyway?

The term “marketing stack” began getting traction in late 2015, as shown by the jump in Google searches:

Martech chart

Image source: Google Trends

The phrase was a play on the term “technology stack”—which is logical. That came out of the software programming world, where it generally described an operating system, database, web server, and programming language designed to work together to provide a development environment.

For example, LAMP is a technology stack combining the Linux OS with the Apache web server, MySQL database, and Perl, PHP pr Python scripting language, while the WINS stack consists of the Windows Server, IIS web server, .NET software framework, and SQL Server database.

A “marketing technology stack,” on the other hand, has no clear definition. This post alone highlights 21 different variations. The reason is clear: Unlike a programming environment, marketing technology isn’t so much a series of layers as it is a fluid matrix of different categories of tools, which can be mixed and matched to meet the specific needs of an organization’s overall marketing strategy, and even change within that organization over time.

Where to Start?

Unfortunately, there’s no clear “base” of the stack to begin with. Some organizations start with their contact database. Others start with tools that work at the top—or left side depending on your perspective—of the sales funnel, with tools that build awareness. Other models start with content at the base.

Regardless of the starting point, analytics are often at the top, or end,  of the “stack,” as that is where results are measured and decisions made about what to do the same or differently.

It’s the middle layer is where the functions, vendors, and tools involved get really muddled. CRM, marketing automation, and analytics are common needs, but what about social media campaign management? A tool specifically for Facebook advertising? Or content ideation, or influencer outreach, or video editing, or project management, or online surveys, or. . .

Across the “middle layer” of tools, the answer to which tools are needed is—it depends. The answers will depend on whether you’re a B2B or B2C marketer; in a large, midsized, or small company; whether your sales are low volume/high dollar or high volume/low dollar; and most of all on your marketing strategy.

But in any case, the notion of a “marketing technology stack” is problematic. Viewing marketing technology as a matrix helps broaden perspective and avoid gaps and overlaps in key functionality.

Suites Can Be Sweet (Or Not)

The diversity of marketing needs and tool categories make it extremely unlikely any vendor will be able to build or acquire enough tools to serve as a single source. But what about the range of tools the suite providers do offer; should companies limit their purchasing focus at least within those functions?

Not necessarily. Though the tools within a single vendor’s “cloud” are (presumably) well integrated, many third-party tools integrate with the applications nearly as well. For example, while Salesforce.com has acquired ExactTarget for marketing automation and Radian6 for social media monitoring, it also lists more than 3,000 third-party technology partners on its AppExchange.

The best approach for companies that own at least two applications within one of the big four marketing clouds (and are happy with the functionality of and support for those apps) is to include additional tools from those vendors in relevant evaluation sets, by default. But consider tools from other vendors as well. Effective marketing technology matrixes are frequently a mix of best-of-breed and suite-based tools.

Ultimately, marketing technology tool selections should be driven by a firm’s marketing strategy mapped to functional needs. Individual tools should be evaluated both on their functional fit for the company’s needs as well as their technical fit with other applications already in place. Making smart decisions about marketing tool choices will increasingly contribute to competitive advantage. But these choices won’t fit into a nice, neat “stack.”

Scott Brinker recently unveiled, to much (deserved!) fanfare, his 2017 version of the Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic.  This year’s version includes 5,381 different applications, up 39% from a year ago.

The universe of marketing technology tools continues to expand (though not quite as quickly as the Supergraphic; see below). The key questions are: how is the future of marketing technology likely to evolve? Why? And how can marketing professionals best manage the increasing proliferation of marketing technology (martech) applications?

The Ever (?) Expanding Martech Landscape

Life isn’t going to get simpler for those making martech buying decisions any time soon. The number and variety of tools continues to expand, with both new entrants in existing categories (e.g., CRM) and entirely new categories of tools emerging (e.g., promotions management software). This expansion is based on several factors, including:

The changing role of marketing: Tom Kaneshige, writing on The VAR Guy, quotes Doug Pepper’s observation that “No role has changed as much as the marketer. They now lead the digital transformation of business.” Marketing is now charged with managing the end-to-end customer experience, not merely generating leads. Tool vendors, established and new, are developing innovative new tools to help marketers address these changes.

Increasing clouds: Cloud technology has lowered barriers to entry for new vendors and simplified implementation for marketers. It’s much easier to embrace new tools when there’s little or no need to get IT involved, install new servers, or go through a long implementation process.

Capital ideas: Venture capital (VC) firms see marketing technology as a promising area for investment. As with cloud technology, the availability of capital reduce barriers to entry for innovative new providers. Again, as Kaneshige notes on The VAR Guy, “Venture capitalists speaking at (the recent MarTech conference) said marketing tech’s close ties to revenue make the category fertile ground for a new crop of innovative, best-of-breed solutions that offer differentiation from the competition and move the proverbial needle.”

So the market is growing—though to be clear, not as quickly as the Supergraphic. As Brinker acknowledged to Kim Davis on DMN, most of the increase in the number of companies on his landscape weren’t new to the market, but rather previously undiscovered; “different verticals, international ventures, flying under the radar before, etc..”

And as he told Dom Nicastro on CMSWire, “A lot of these MarTech companies have been around longer and it wasn’t until this year that I discovered them. One reason is the international players.”

Bottom line, while it isn’t growing at 40% annually, the martech space is still expanding. Brinker concluded on DMN that over the past several years, through 2016, the “space has grown more than it has consolidated.”

How Long Can This Keep Going On?

Will expansion continue, or is the martech space on the edge of consolidation? As Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Here’s a quick look at the case for both scenarios, along with a best guess.

One key consideration in asking this question is to define the “space.” The expansion and consolidation pattern for a specific product category (such as CRM systems) will certainly be different than for martech as a whole (which includes everything from video editing and social listening tools to analytics and marketing automation).

For example, Brinker’s Supergraphic includes 202 different products in the “Marketing Automation & Campaign/Lead Management” category. That’s unsustainable. It’s reasonable to expect that over the next several years perhaps half of those solutions will disappear, through market failure or acquisition and absorption into other products.

But the larger martech ecosystem may very well continue to expand, through both innovative new entrants into existing categories (particularly analytics) as well as the creation of entirely new categories.

Why might the martech market begin to consolidate soon? Markets normally follow a fairly predicable pattern of rapid growth and then leveling off, either entering decline or an extended period of modest growth. This is the point at which larger and stronger vendors begin acquiring smaller players in order to offer customers a broader product suite with fewer relationships and integration points to manage.

Indeed, as Brinker illustrates in this graphic, the market is already concentrated, if not yet consolidated: a small number of vendors command the majority of dollars spent.

Log tail of marketing technology vendors

George Slefo, writing in AdvertisingAge, reports Joe Stanhope of Forrester Research views the current market as a “complex” and “unhealthy ecosystem.” Brinker contends that duplication, particularly in apps, will lead inevitably to consolidation. “Remember when there were hundreds of flashlight apps? I think you see echoes of that in the marketing tech landscape; there’s a lot of duplication and overlap.”

Yet, Stanhope adds, “The fact it keeps growing this way — and the fact a lot of the categories shouldn’t be categories in the first place — shows us that we still haven’t gotten to the tipping point where you’re going to start to see more consolidation.” Brinker, per Slefo, “agrees that fewer choices would make it easier for marketers who are interested in adopting the tech. The thing is, that’s not the reality.”

And Kaneshige points out that “For more than a year, pundits have prophesized the end of the marketing tech boom. It’s a bubble on the verge of bursting, they warned…(yet) the marketing tech gold rush shows no signs of slowing down.”

So, on the other hand, why might the martech landscape continue to proliferate? First, it’s not clear the market overall (beyond well-established subsegments like email service providers and marketing automation) is anywhere near mature.

Second, low barriers to entry, combined with entrepreneurial optimism. invite a steady stream of new entrants. As Davis notes on DMN, “one of the traditional hallmarks of a consolidate(d) industry is a high barrier to entry: This doesn’t seem to exist with marketing tech — but…I suspect the traditional view of consolidation preceded the cloud.”

And Slefo quotes Chris Jacob of Salesforce.com observing, “There will always be new vendors and there will always be new players thinking they can disrupt the old world order. That will never change.”

Third, even the largest vendors—the potential consolidators—may be resigned to a large and expanding ecosystem, at least in the near to medium term. Nicastro quotes Brinker concluding these larger vendors have “realized there is no way they are going to be able to do it all themselves.”

Guidance for Marketers: Think Like a Wall Street Trader (and a Guitar Hero)

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, built a highly successful trading record by consistently keeping 85-90% of assets in relatively safe, conservative investments, while putting the rest into more speculative, but also potentially much more lucrative, ventures.

Marketing leaders may want to follow a similar approach. Invest most of the technology budget in established tools for core marketing functions. But reserve a slice for experimenting with intriguing new tools, startup vendors, and emerging categories.

That experimentation is important, because following the pack is no way to stand apart from the herd (pardon the mixed metaphors). Those interesting new tools may help you to leapfrog competitors rather than follow them.

A second source of differentiation lies in how well you use the marketing technology you have in place. Consider investing in real-time integration and strategic training to enable your team to get more out of those tools. Anyone can pick up a guitar, but not just anyone can be Carlos Santana.

Finally, take advantage of new sources of information to help make strategic martech decisions. As the marketing tools market grows larger and more complex, feature-function review sites like Software Advice, GetApp, and G2 Crowd, while still valuable, are no longer enough.

As Kaneshige notes, “Consultants with expertise in specific vertical industries and geographies know their customer’s unique business challenges and can highlight marketing tech solutions that solve them.”

Brinker himself has plans to make his supergraphic research more usable to midmarket marketers. Noting that “hundreds of MarTech companies orchestrate a niche set of capabilities on top of existing suite platforms,” Brinker told Nicastro, “It really seems like it’s suite and best-of-breed. Maybe the suite or best-of-breed discussion is coming to an end.”

To that end, per Slefo, Brinker says he is “working on some really big ideas, including one where his beloved chart evolves from conversation piece into something that can actually function as a utility for marketers.”

Brinker envisions creating “an Angie’s List-like database where marketers can sift through thousands of companies and find one that’s specifically tailored to their needs, as well as read reviews left by other customers,” along with new visualizations of his martech supergraphic data.

Another potentially interesting resource is martechexec.com, planned for launch soon. Founder Lana K. Moore has promised a site that will help “marketing technology execs get to the top of their game,” through peer reviews, discussion forums, and other tools. The goal of the site is to be “Angie’s list meets Reddit for marketing technology professionals,” Moore adds.

And of course there is this site, designed to fill the gap between cutting edge enterprise-tech blogs and the feature-function review sites, by providing a B2B marketing technology model and guidance for B2B marketing professionals in small to midsized firms.

The best online business tools series on the Webbiquity blog, which led eventually to the creation of this website, is the result of months of research, cataloging more than 100 reviews from 67 experts, covering more than 700 unique tools across nearly 50 categories.

Several have acknowledged their contribution along the way and helped promote the series; a few may still be unaware of the role their wisdom and judgments played.

So, with apologies for the reference to the maudlin Chicago tune in the title above, to fully recognize all the bloggers, journalists, and other experts whose work inspired development of the Webbiquity series and this site—here are the 67 reviewers.

Aaron Riddle
Adam Connell
Aidan Huang
Alexandra Jacopetti0
Amanda Pressner Kreuser
Amanda Stillwagon
Anders Orsander
Anders Pink
Andrew Jenkins
Andrew Medal
Andy Crestodina
Ann Smarty
Antonio Calero
Ashley Feinberg
Carolyn Nicander Mohr
Catherine Pham
Cent Muruganandam
Christopher S. Penn
Dan Trefethen
Daniel Hebert
David Leonhardt
Dhiraj Das
Emily Bonnie
Emily Taing
Frederik Vincx
Holly Chessman
Ian Anderson Gray
Ian Cleary
Igor Beuker
Jack Simpson
Jackie Dove
John Lincoln
Julia McCoy
Kari Rippetoe
Kathryn Aragon
Katie Lance
Kevan Lee
Kevin Webster
Kim Roach
Kristen Tischhauser
Kristi Hines
Lauren Goode
Lesya Liu
Lilach Bullock
Lindsay Kolowich
Lisa Sicard
Matthew Capala
Michael Brenner
Michael Estrin
Michael Stelzner
Mike Lizun
Mike Williams
Nate McGee
Neil Patel
Nick Mead
Nikhil Jain
Nikki Woods
Patrick Whatman
Rebekah Radice
Richard O’Flynn
Robbie Richards
Shira Abel
Stephanie Castillo
Teddy Hunt
Tim Ash
Ty Rothstein
Wendy Marx

Thank you all!