[There’s a companion post to this piece: an interview with Scott Brinker, all about the Supergraphic. So you may want to read that after this.]
Rand Fishkin (subject of an earlier Let’s Steal From piece) talks a lot about “10x Content”, content that performs not just a little better but TEN TIMES better than a brand’s average content.
Well, this installment of the insanely popular* Let’s Steal From series is about a piece of content that’s more like 100x. Or maybe 1,000x.
Actually, it’s become so much more than a piece of content, it’s become a franchise. A juggernaut. A veritable juggerchise.
I’m talking about The Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic, put out every year by Scott Brinker of ChiefMarTec.com fame (with help from Anand Thaker on the data side and Jeff Eckman on the visualization).
The Supergraphic—hereby referred to as Brinker’s Beast—is the single most quoted, linked to and cut-and-pasted piece of content in a marketing marketplace drowning in marketing content about marketing to marketers.
That might be because it was never created as content marketing at all. It was created out of curiosity, inside-baseball geekiness and a genetic disposition to serve a community instead of squeezing it for ‘ROI’.
As B2B marketers, we can learn a HUGE amount from this seemingly simple model. More importantly, we can rip off its strategy and execution for our own markets, winning untold fame, fortune and… I can’t think of anything else that starts with f and is as good as those two. (Friends? Frankfurters?)
No amount of hyperbole will actually capture the power and success of this program.
The annual release of the latest Supergraphic (in a mega blog post by Scott that serves as his State of the Martech address) has become a big day on the industry calendar.
Nothing comes close to it for instant brand recognition, authority and reputation as a ‘close-as-possible-to-comprehensive’ snapshot of one of the fastest-changing markets… ever.
It’s almost illegal to create a deck about marketing to marketers without using a screen grab of the Supergraphic (all of mine do). (The next version of Powerpoint – version 14-point-suck – will no doubt make it available as a default slide.)
And all this came from one simple thing: a dedication to bringing something of value to an audience.
The beauty in The Beast
At its simplest, Brinker’s Beast is simply an organized collection of software vendor logos in the burgeoning martech industry (this year a whopping 6,829).
Under the bonnet, it’s just an Excel worksheet that Scott makes available to anyone who wants it for their own analysis (and, let’s face it, sales prospecting).
But the visible face of the program is the Supergraphic itself: a kind of periodic table of vendors, organised into logo-packed category boxes stacked into color-coded bands. This year, the bands are:
Advertising & Promotion • Content & Experience • Social & Relationships • Commerce & Sales • Data • Management
Each band has between six and ten categories in it. Things like ‘Advocacy, Loyalty & Referrals’ and ‘Channel, Partner & Local Marketing’. And each category has anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred vendor logos.
Taxonomy as added value
The more time you spend with The Beast, the more you realize how much work goes into it—and how much thought. Even trying to organize such a supply-side mess into anything resembling a structured market is a task that would make Sisyphus say, “No, thanks, I’m good with my rock”.
For one thing, every vendor claims to be in at least ten categories (Scott takes a very sensible approach to allocating space. Platforms like Salesforce or Adobe can touch many categories. Single-product companies will tend to live in their most relevant bucket). For another, the vendors are always changing what they do. And for a third, there are over six-bloody thousand of the bastards.
If you wanted to obsess about it, assembling Brinker’s Beast could easily become the full-time job for a whole team of wonks.
Part of Scott’s genius has been that he does obsess about it, but he doesn’t over-obsess about it. He knows he’ll never really capture an up-to-the-minute, high-definition picture of this chaotic market. So he goes for close enough.
And, as it turns out, ‘close enough’ is more than close enough to generate real insight into the industry; to spot trends; to identify hidden, tectonic shifts; and to visualize a market that, so far, has defied the Law of Consolidation (Turns out it wasn’t a law. More like a suggestion — see The Scott Brinker Interview).
Most importantly, ‘close enough’ has been more than enough to satisfy the target audience: people who care about marketing and the impact of technology on it (including marketing operations people, demand gen geeks, investors, analysts and the vendors themselves).
Yes, he gets hundreds of angry emails every year from vendors he’s inadvertently left out. And yes, he endures the high-pitched squeals of those who feel mis-categorized. But, from where I sit, the annual launch of each fresh Beast is almost universally welcomed, acclaimed and reported on as intended (from where Scott sits, it’s probably a bit more… intense).
A lot of that comes down to Scott’s independence, intelligence and integrity (the three eyes of Awesomeness). He doesn’t over-hype The Beast. If anything, he downplays it. He shows his workings, credits his sources and makes his data freely available. Only the most churlish of churls or quibbliest of quibblers could take exception to that.
For the most part, The Beast is accepted for what it is: a smart, honest and generous contribution to the market.
As such, it deserves every bit of its enormous success.
What we can all steal from The Martech Landscape Supergraphic:
There’s so much to rip off here:
Steal proudly (and openly) – Scott ‘borrowed’ the idea of the vendor landscape and adapted it to the marketing tech space. He still gives credit every time he launches a new graphic: “As always, a debt of inspiration is owed to Terry Kawaja, the godfather of vendor LUMAscapes.” Fair enough.
(Scott took a break in 2013, when Terry let him know he planned to do his own martech LUMAscape, but he returned to it when he realized how different these two exercises were).
Aim high and put in the work – What would happen if you cancelled your next five pieces of content and put all the time, money and effort into a single thing? My bet is that it would pay off. Bigly.
Give till it hurts – Long-game tactics like this often show very little immediate, measurable return.But if you believe in your idea, and stick to that belief, the goodies will roll in. Serve your audience selflessly and the more selfish you will end up happy.
(There may not be a Karma Trend chart in your dashboard… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.)
Monetize softly – Scott never used The Beast for overt promotion of his (then) company, Ion Interactive. Or to pimp the hell out of his (terrific) book, Hacking Marketing, or the (killer) MarTech conference. Of course, the Supergraphic brings in several shitloads of traffic every month to a page that does promote things. But he doesn’t shove any promotional messages into the graphic or blog post itself.
(In our chat about this, he points out that, since ChiefMarTech is a labor of love—and he has no boss or targets or… paycheck—he has the luxury to under-promote. He recognizes that 99.98% or marketers do not have this luxury.)
Stick to it – There’s no way Scott knew how big this thing would become when he started it back in 2011 (with all of 150 vendors). But his audience responded and so he kept doing it, making it better and better every year.
The history of Brinker’s Beast (profanity mine).
Just look at that progression since the first year. Doubling. Doubling again. And again. This market has been on fire.
Go low tech – Scott didn’t build an AI-powered algorithm to scrape the web, identify vendors and auto-clean the results. Instead, he opened a spreadsheet, trawled a bunch of sources to ‘triangulate categorization’, and created his list (today, these sources include CabinetM, Capterra, G2 Crowd, Google, LUMA Partners, Siftery, and TrustRadius).
When Anand Thaker came along, he added some automation to the process, but it’s still largely manual. And until this last edition, when Jeff Eckman and Blue Green Brands got involved on the visualization, Scott did this himself… in Powerpoint. Ouch.)
It’s not ‘Big Data’. It’s small data that went big.
“I think the power of small data has been overlooked unfairly in this day and age.” — Scott Brinker
Don’t over-claim – Scott never claimed the Landscape is definitive or exhaustive or even created with a particularly rigorous methodology.
Instead, he offers a frank disclaimer: “This graphic is only our personal approximation of the marketing technology space and is surely rife with errors and omissions (our apologies). It is intended only to stir discussion.”
Scott realized early that the value of this exercise was not to try to mirror the market in forensic detail but simply to collect the data, try to organize it, and stimulate conversation.
Don’t just curate, analyze – Scott could have simply assembled the graphic and released it for others to explore. Instead, he adds value to every installment, analyzing the state of the market from his uniquely authoritative perspective. Recent discussions look at things like vendor churn, the distribution of company size and the range of funding sources.
Simply in its organization, the Supergraphic comments on the market, like when he introduced the Integration-Platform-as-a-Service (iPaaS) category, a pretty bold call at the time. Or, this year, when he dissolved the Predictive Analytics category and decided not to have an Artificial Intelligence cluster (because both are represented in so many other categories).
So don’t just curate and collect stuff for your audience, do the hard work of showing what it means, too.
Make it easy to share – Scott explicitly grants permission for everyone to copy and use the graphic — as long as they use the whole thing (which carries the source credit). That’s helped it spread like wildfire.
If you get too precious about ‘owning’ your work, you’ll limit its reach. If you love it, let it go (with your logo welded to its arse).
Make multiple versions – If you’re going to invest so much time in a single piece of content, squeeze it. The Beast is also available in a high-resolution graphic and the data is available, free, in an Excel sheet. The main version is free to all. All you have to do for the higher-value versions is subscribe to his newsletter.
Make audience value your guide – Like so many successful things, the recipe is simple but the execution is hard. In this case, it comes from asking the question, “What would this audience really value that doesn’t exist yet?”.
We all could do a lot worse than asking and answering that question for our own markets.
To read an interview with Scott Brinker about all this, check out this post: An Interview With Scott Brinker, martech guy.
Others posts in the ‘Let’s Steal From’ series:
Marketo tells me you’ve already read four of these but Google Analytics says you’re ripe & ready to binge on the rest. So click through and steal shamelessly from:
Follow The Frog – Max Joseph and The Rainforest Alliance skip the guilt trip and get practical (and very, very funny).
Paths of Flight – A beautiful, understated film from GE Aviation
The Greatest Infographic Ever – Full of blood, Cossacks and misery.
Epic Split – Jean-Claude van Damme nearly rips his tight jeans (and dies) for Volvo Trucks.
Great First Lines of Novels – Turns out Orwell, Salinger and Garcia Marquez were content guys.
Rand Fishkin and Moz’s Whiteboard Fridays – the content franchise that ate SEO.
Airbnb City Guides – Useful, optimized, crowdsourced.. and so goddamn smart.
And if you want to send the whole series to your friends and family for Christmas, use this handy PathFactory link.
* (It’s insane how few people actually read it.)
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