Editor’s Note: This post is based on a presentation that Scott Brinker, the co-founder and CTO of ion interactive and editor of chiefmartec.com, gave at Content Connections, Acrolinx’s online, virtual conference. Held in November 2016, the event attracted thousands of content professionals from around the world. You’ll also find a recording of Scott’s full presentation embedded in the post below.

Earlier this year I published my annual marketing technology landscape supergraphic, which encompassed the nearly 3,800 marketing technology solutions available at the time. In the months since, plenty of others have arrived on the scene. I mention this because it highlights one very simple truth: Technology is infiltrating so many dimensions of what we’re doing in marketing.

And that’s not all.

Marketing and software development are becoming increasingly intertwined. Look at professionals in either field today and you’ll find people who are analytical thinkers, take programmatic approaches, understand automation, focus on creativity and customer experience, and pay attention to user interface and design. Plus, as marketers, we don’t just use software; in many cases we’re creating it too. Just look at how we’re evolving our websites, automation tools, and more.

As marketing and software development become ever more entangled, the question I’ve been asking is: Are there ideas from software management that we can adopt in marketing? It turns out that there are.

The Rise of Agile Marketing

You may have noticed how agile marketing has become a thing over the past few years. It’s a product of agile software development and the basic idea is to try to do things faster by taking an iterative approach. This is pretty much the exact opposite of the traditional waterfall approach that software developers historically followed, where it could take anywhere from six months to three years to plan for, build, and eventually ship a new piece of software. The problem with the waterfall approach, of course, was that by the time the software did finally ship, requirements had often changed.

What software developers learned is that they had to stop fighting change and instead start harnessing it. Practically speaking, what that meant was that rather than look at software creation as one big, monolithic effort, a better approach is to break it down into a series of much smaller tasks that you can iterate on quickly and get out to end users for feedback.

For a long time, marketing used the exact same waterfall approach. You’d create a big annual marketing plan and then execute against it with very little ability to pivot or adapt throughout the year in response to what was happening. By moving to agile marketing, however, marketers can be more responsive, take more risks, and experiment to get better results. It creates an opportunity for marketers to actually keep up with the breakneck speed of today’s digital world.

The Intersection of Marketing and Software Development

Marketing has historically been the intersection of messages (what you say) and media (how and where what you say appears). Communication is the resulting art form between these two things. In today’s digital age, there’s a third dimension in the mix: mechanisms. Mechanisms are how things behave and what they do. Websites are a good example. As a marketer, you’re not just concerned with what they say or how they look, but also how well they function. At the intersection of messages, media, and mechanisms, you find customer experience.

Software development is much the same. Instead of messages, media, and mechanisms, however, it’s focused on data, user interfaces, and code. But when you look at the intersection of those three things, what you find, just as in marketing, is a focus on the customer or user.


Given these parallels, Ray Velez, the global chief technology officer at Razorfish, has said that marketers should think less like marketing managers and more like product managers. To find out what he means by that, and what the implications are for your content marketing program, check out my full presentation in the video player above.