There’s a lot of marketing technology in the world, my friend.

The 2015 edition of my marketing technology landscape supergraphic has been released, now with 1,876 vendors represented across 43 categories. To actually read it, you need a hi-res version (be prepared to zoom and scroll, and then zoom and scroll some more):

Marketing Technology Landscape — Hi-Res PNG (2800x2100px, 6.5MB)

Marketing Technology Landscape — Hi-Res PDF (22.5MB)

Even I was surprised that the number of vendors nearly doubled from last year’s edition, which charted an already-staggering 947 companies. This growth was partly due to new entrants, but also due to more thorough research:

Marketing Technology Landscape Evolution from 2014 to 2015

And yet, amazingly, this is still not comprehensive. Counting marketing technologies is like counting stars in the sky — there’s always a higher resolution at which you could see more. Consider this the Mauna Kea observatory view, but not yet the Hubble telescope view.

Before I share some analysis of this, three important things to state up front:

1. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute this graphic “as is.” Feel free to include it in presentation decks, embed it in blog posts, or publish it in other media. A link back here would be nice — the Google equivalent of a tip — but it’s not a requirement.

2. Please forgive my many errors and omissions. This is intended mostly as a high-level conversation piece, not a definitive encyclopedia of the industry. Dear vendors: if I failed to include your company, mis-categorized it, made a mistake with your logo, etc., I apologize. Please feel free to set the record straight in the comments at the end of this post.

3. I have enormous gratitude to many who inspired and enabled this project. My original inspiration for these landscapes came from the excellent LUMAscapes prepared by Terence Kawaja and his team. Other sources that I turned to in my research included VB Profiles, Crunchbase, Raab Associates, Digital Marketing Depot, Altimeter, Gartner, Forrester, SiriusDecisions, IDC, G2 Crowd, TrustRadius, VentureScanner, Angel.co, CMSWire, Vendorsi, and Email Vendor Selection. And a whole lot of Google.

And one, quick promotional pre-roll:

MarTech 2015 in San Francisco

If you’re fascinated by this landscape — as a marketer, a technologist, or even a product developer — you should really come to the MarTech Conference in San Francisco this spring. We’re going to have 24 great sessions, packed into 2 days, by pioneering marketing technology practitioners and leading analysts and authors, explaining how to harness all this marketing technology innovation to deliver amazing customer experiences. You’ll be able to connect with 600 of your peers. And we’re going to have an independent exhibit area with 50 companies from across this landscape, in which you will certainly make some cool new discoveries.

The alpha rate (geek-speak for early bird discount) expires this Friday, and last year’s conference sold out. So if you want to attend, try to register by the end of this week.

Oh, and one more thing: as a little swag, every attendee will receive a special edition poster of this landscape. I know, it’s a small thing — well, not physically — but it would look great on your wall. (Heaven knows it’s not readable on an 8½x11 sheet of paper.)

Okay, let’s dive in…

“Nearly 2,000 Martech Companies?!? What does this mean?”

One early reviewer of this graphic said it gave her agita. Another called it terrifying. If it causes you distress, I apologize — that’s not my intention. (I should probably accompany this with the kind of disclaimer you hear on pharmaceutical commercials: “Talk to your doctor before considering a marketing technology regimen…”)

My intention with this graphic is to visually demonstrate four points:

  1. Marketing has unquestionably become a technology-powered discipline.
  2. The quantity of martech ventures is a barometer of how much marketing is evolving.
  3. The marketing technology field is heterogenous, with a very broad range of products.
  4. To thrive in this environment, marketing should steadily develop its technical talent.

When you consider the implications of those four points, the “technology management” piece of this is non-trivial — but it’s definitely not the biggest hurdle most companies face. The real challenge is changing how firms think and behave in this hyper-connected, always-on, customer-controlled digital world. The nature of marketing has exploded from an ancillary communications function to the Grand Central Station of customer experience. And the bar for delivering great customer experiences is rising rapidly.

That’s the real challenge. And most companies are still early in the maturity curve of such transformations. The difficulty of trying to sort out the marketing technology landscape is merely an echo of that revolution.

The good news is that most of the marketing technology innovations on this landscape are designed to help marketers conquer that revolution. They’re by no means miracle transformation pills (“instant relief, just add money!”). But when applied in the service of a well-organized, strategically-sound, executive-led digital transformation effort, these technologies are your friend. They can imbue your organization with superhero powers.

So please, don’t be disturbed by this landscape per se. We can navigate the technology.

But you should probably be daunted by the larger transformation of your organization that this landscape heralds — if you’re not, at least a little, you probably don’t yet appreciate just how massive of a management challenge that really is.

The Myth of Marketing Technology Categories

The most objectionable aspect of this graphic is its categorization. My choice of categories, the labels I used for them, which companies I placed in which category, etc., are all subject to debate. However, this isn’t just a problem with my graphic — this is a challenge across the industry (as any product manager for any of these companies will surely testify).

First, new categories keep emerging, often as rebellious offshoots from previous categories. For example, I charted “Influencer Marketing” separate from “Social Media Marketing” this year, because of the momentum of so many companies using that label. But it’s arguably a subset rather than a separate category, with enormous overlap between them. As product managers vie to differentiate their products, alternate labels and variations flood the digital airwaves. Most vendors wrestle with wanting to dominate a category of their own invention (“blue ocean”) yet compete in larger and more popular fields (“red ocean”). It makes for a frothy brew of ever-shifting category labels.

Second, many categories contain radically different kinds of software. Look no further than the “Content Marketing” category. Based on popular usage of the term, most people would agree there is a category of content marketing software. But when you examine all the myriad of products offered under that umbrella — production, workflow, curation, distribution, resource markets, analytics, etc. — you quickly realize they aren’t apples-to-apples: there are oranges, bananas, pears, and a whole exotic fruit basket in there.

Many of the products in such a category are complementary, not competitive. They’re not mutually exclusive. And they’re also not interchangeable.

Third, and a major source of confusion, categories of technologies and categories of “jobs marketers want to do” are often conflated (tip o’ the hat to Clay Christensen). But they’re not the same. For instance, almost all of the categories on this graphic have products that could be applied in a content marketing program. (In fact, if there is an overarching theme to the landscape, it’s that the “content marketing movement,” writ large, is the engine of the marketing technology landscape, and vice versa.) Marketers should strive for clarity about their “jobs to be done” and consider tools that help them achieve that, without getting too hung up on the category labels of the tools themselves.

And fourth, many innovative products have an architecture or a value proposition that inherently spans multiple categories. As Neeraj Agrawal of Battery Ventures said, “I think we’re still in the early innings, maybe the fourth inning” of this grand transformation of marketing. Indeed, many of the popular category labels that we use today — “marketing automation” — have baggage from earlier mental models of digital marketing. I believe it’s a really good thing that many entrepreneurs in this sector are inventing solutions that are untethered by those labels. But it does make them hard to categorize.

Given that, almost any categorization scheme is bound to be flawed. I’d be tempted to do away with categories entirely, but that would look something like this:

Marketing Technology Landscape with No Categories

Not an improvement, right? So imperfect categorization is better than no categorization.

But you should certainly take my categorization with a grain of salt. In addition to the four existential issues raised above, which would confound any categorization strategy, I’ve got a whole additional dimension in which mine is flawed: I optimized for space.

To accommodate this industry-wide view on a single slide, I merged together categories that I believe share some strands of DNA (e.g., “Display & Native Ads”) that most reasonable folks would maintain as separate groups. If page real estate were not a constraint, I would have broken down these categories in a more granular fashion.

Also, in the interest of space, I worked hard to eliminate multiple instances of the same company. There are maybe a dozen or so companies who have logos in more than one category. For most, I forced myself to put them in just one, whichever one I thought was the most relevant. This woefully under-represents many of these vendors who cross multiple categories. That’s just a limitation of my format, so please keep in mind that many of these companies have much more to offer than my low-fidelity graphic depicts.

However, a few marketing technology companies have suites and portfolios with so many tentacles across this entire landscape that I needed some way to communicate the breadth of their offerings…

The Multi-Category Marketing Clouds/Platforms/Suites

Generally speaking, there is no hierarchy of vendors expressed in this graphic. Any given category contains companies of wildly different size and maturity, often serving entirely different market segments (i.e., SMB vs. enterprise). Read no meaning into my positioning of companies within a category, or the slight variations in size of the logos. I simply arranged them to optimize for fit and — try not to laugh too hard — aesthetics.

However, one of the big trends in marketing technology has been the emergence of a set of “marketing clouds” that incorporate many capabilities from across this landscape under the umbrella of a single vendor.

Marketing Technology Platforms & Suites

Some are multi-billion enterprise software companies — notably Adobe, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce, Teradata. HP, Infor, Microsoft, SAP, SAS are sizable forces in this space too, even if their portfolios and positioning still have a ways to go. HubSpot and Marketo are both native digital marketing technology companies who are public with over $1 billion valuations. SDL and Sitecore are rising challengers, born from the web content management category. And Act-On, Infusionsoft, and Outmarket are leading representatives of the SMB incarnations of this marketing cloud strategy.

I put them in their own category, partly to acknowledge their relative scale, but also to avoid the redundancy of having their logos in dozens of categories. The Platform/Suite category is a visual short-cut for “operates in many of the categories on this graphic.” That’s why I didn’t include Adobe in Creative & Design or Oracle in Databases & Big Data, even though they are obviously each giants in those areas, respectively.

Many of these companies are remarkable because they have developed significant ISV ecosystems around their platforms — indeed, this is what makes many of them true platforms, and not just large-but-closed product suites. I’ve been an advocate of open marketing platforms for a while, and it’s been exciting to see so much progress on that front over the past year.

Admittedly, this may be a controversial category, as there are many other companies on the landscape who could justifiably qualify for it. For the most part, I relied on the analyses of Forrester and Gartner, and the vendors they evaluated in their latest marketing cloud and digital marketing hub reports, to determine which companies were included. So again: take my categorization with a grain of salt.

There’s also an interesting new flock of companies that’s challenging the model of these pre-packaged marketing clouds…

Marketing Middleware: Do You Want To Build A Marketing Cloud?

Marketing Middleware - Build Your Own Marketing Cloud

There’s a growing cluster of marketing middleware companies on this landscape — which includes five more specific categories: Data Management Platforms/Customer Data Platforms, Tag Management, Cloud Integration/ESBs, Identity, and APIs — that are advancing rapidly.

I call them marketing middleware because they were designed from the ground up to help interoperate many different marketing technologies from all across the landscape. Not of all the vendors in this group like that “middleware” label — in other industries, middleware doesn’t typically get much glory — but I mean it in a very complimentary fashion. Operating systems are a kind of middleware. Now, that may not sound very sexy at first, but when you realize that companies like Apple thrive on their OS X and iOS operating systems, which are beloved by their users, there’s definitely glory and sex appeal to be had at this layer.

Whereas many of the marketing clouds described in the previous section opened up their products to support ISVs as a follow-on, a strategic shift from their original vision of an all-in-one suite, customer data platforms (CDPs) and tag management systems were built with the purpose of multi-product integration in mind from the start.

In particular, most CDPs were built to be massive switchboards of data. They’re able to pull data from many different sources, in high volume, into a centralized repository. Here they correlate and connect the dots, striving to offer a more complete view of customers. In talking with CDP vendors, they often emphasize the large number of “characteristics” — essentially data fields, but possibly dynamic or unstructured ones — that they track for each prospect or customer. High-dimensional models, in data science lingo.

Depending on the CDP, they then offer different ways to act on that data. Some specialize in predictive analytics to dynamically score leads and drive marketing/sales alignment. Others aim to be multi-channel campaign management nerve centers. But what makes this model so interesting is that most of them then use other software to deliver those campaigns within each specific channel. So they integrate with an email service provider, a social media management product, a web content management system, etc.

In this way, the relationship between CDPs and marketing clouds can be complementary. It’s not unusual for a CDP to push and pull data to and from a CRM or a marketing automation platform. Indeed, they may rely on the channel execution capabilities of a marketing cloud to deliver through “the last mile” to the target audience.

But they dramatically alter the balance of power in the landscape. A marketer with a CDP may more easily bridge multiple marketing clouds within their organization. Or more easily switch from one to another. Or even “build their own” marketing cloud, so to speak, by using a CDP to coordinate best-of-breed products from across the landscape.

I lumped data management systems (DMPs) and CDPs into the same category mostly for space reasons. But also because they seem to be converging — DMPs and CDPs are the front lines of the collision between adtech and martech. The crude oversimplification is that DMPs were built around anonymous cookie data across broad digital advertising ecosystems, while CDPs were built around known customer records available from internal company systems such as CRMs. But they’re quickly overlapping. (Note Oracle’s acquisition of BlueKai, a leading DMP, and connecting it natively into their marketing cloud. Expect more marketing cloud companies to assimilate DMP and CDP software in the year ahead.)

Tag management systems are also a rising force in these middleware architectures. They started out by facilitating the myriad of scripts that people have to plug into their websites for tracking, optimization, ad serving, etc. But some of the more advanced ones are now taking a more active role in all the first-party data that they have direct access to through those scripts.

The whole field of cloud integration services that have blossomed in the past couple of years — plus the entrance of enterprise service bus (ESB) providers into the marketing domain — are more tools that further empower marketers to architect and manage a heterogeneous collection of marketing technologies. Some, such as IFTTT, let even non-technical marketers program lightweight event triggers and data routing on-the-fly.

Most middleware-based architectures do typically require a little more technical savvy to implement. But with the growing ranks of marketing technologists within marketing and deeper collaboration between marketing and IT, these more sophisticated marketing stacks are within reach of more and more organizations.

With Platforms or Middleware, Richer Marketing Stacks Will Thrive

Whichever approach you take — a marketing cloud with a strong ISV ecosystem, an open middleware-powered architecture, or a hybrid of the two — one thing is clear: while the marketing technology landscape is vast and varied, it’s slowly getting easier to manage.

Note that I said easier, not necessarily easy. It is still a complex environment. But with the relative stability of large public companies behind most major marketing clouds, the standardization of plug-ins to those clouds offered by their ISV programs, and the open architectures enabled by middleware, the vendor risk associated with most marketing technologies is increasingly being mitigated and controlled.

And at a high level, as a marketer, it is worth acknowledging that all this diverse marketing software out there is a good thing in many ways. More vendors means more competition among vendors, which gives greater market power to you. It tends to drive prices down and drive innovation up.

There’s also tremendous upside — so much opportunity to differentiate your business with creative use of the innovations rippling across this landscape.

Ambient Marketing Software

And keep in mind, not all of the marketing technologies represented on this landscape are massive enterprise-wide investments. In fact, most of them are rather lightweight, software-as-a-service offerings that you can pick up for a specific purpose without even really thinking of them as “software.” As I’ve pointed out before, as marketers in web-based world, you probably already use 100 software programs today, most of them as ambient tools in your work.

But Are 2,000 Marketing Technology Vendors Sustainable?

Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s not simply a question of the number of marketing technology companies. It matters what kinds of companies we’re talking about.

Of course, there are not going to be a thousand Oracle-sized marketing software giants. There is a ceiling with the world’s GDP, and it’s certainly not all going to marketing tech. However, it is economically feasible to have thousands of small to mid-sized companies in a software market — the mobile app development world, which has millions of products, albeit most of them quite tiny — proves this is possible. In an increasingly agile world, it’s plausible that the structural advantages of small, nimble businesses may outweigh the disadvantages of their size. It’s David vs. Goliath for the digital century.

5 Forces of the Cloud

As I outlined in a post last year — What if 1,000+ marketing technology vendors were the new normal? — the dynamics of the cloud enable relatively small software teams to deliver enterprise-class solutions with unprecedented speed and a minimum of capital. As a result, software markets of the past may not be predictive of our future.

The fact that this isn’t limited to martech — we’re seeing a similar expansion of companies in fintech, legal tech, HR tech, etc. — suggests that this is possibly just the new state of software. In a digital world, more and more companies produce software as a part of their business.

What’s especially exciting in marketing technology, however, is that the “platformization” of marketing clouds to support ISV ecosystems and the independent interoperability afforded by marketing middleware may both serve as force multipliers to those cloud dynamics, enabling a very large and diverse universe of marketing software. Integration has been a big barrier in the industry up to now, but platforms and middleware are finally lowering it. An even greater flood of innovation may result.

To be sure, there will be acquisitions and consolidation — I believe that’s especially true at the platform and middleware layers. Even within more specialized categories, higher up in the landscape, there will certainly be a small set of winners in each, who outpace their direct competitors. Lots of companies will simply go out of business. Unquestionably, there will be outflow from the marketing landscape.

At at the same time, there will continue to be inflow too. New companies will constantly be forged, as eager entrepreneurs dream up ever better ideas. The consumer landscape itself will continue to rapidly evolve (the Internet of Things era is nearly upon us), offering fresh opportunities for disruptive innovation. Vertically-specialized software — e.g., marketing automation for law firms — will carve out new niches. (This is point #1 in a recent article on TechCrunch about The Enterprise in 2015.) And the blurring of the lines between software and services will make it easier for all kinds of companies to be, in some fashion, software companies with novel value propositions.

After all, this is a huge market. IDC predicts that the worldwide spend for marketing software in 2015 will be $22.6 billion — and by 2018, it will grow by nearly 50% to $32.3 billion. Supporting this growth has been approximately $22 billion of investment in this sector to date. With marketing overall being a $1 trillion industry, in the throes of being reinvented in every way possible, it’s likely that both of those numbers will rise even more.

So which will be greater, the inflow or the outflow?

Either seems possible to me. But at least on the immediate horizon, I don’t think we’re going to see a dramatic shrinking of this landscape. The landscape will change, for sure. What qualifies as “marketing” and “technology” under the umbrella of marketing technology will undoubtedly morph. But if mere quantity is the metric we’re measuring, I think it’s going to be a world of 1,000+ marketing technology companies — perhaps even a world of 2,000+ of them — for some time to come.

What do you think?

Interactive Content

P.S. Disclosure: I am the co-founder and CTO of ion interactive, one of the 1,876 companies represented on this graphic. I included us in two categories, Interactive Content and Testing & Optimization.

While there are a dozen or so other companies that have duplicate logos on this graphic, I acknowledge this may be considered a slightly favorable treatment of my firm. In fairness, our product is a hybridization of those two categories (I wrote up the story of our pivot to interactive content and marketing apps last year). I also included every competitor or product substitute that I’ve ever encountered. As far as clever PR ploys go, the cost-benefit ratio of this as a promotional stunt for my firm seems dubious. However, I provide this disclosure in the spirit of full transparency.