Scott Brinker – Co-founder and CTO of ion interactive

Scott Brinker is the co-founder, president and CTO of ion interactive, a provider of post-click marketing and conversion optimization software. ion’s software has been adopted by hundreds of organizations worldwide, like American Greetings, DHL, eMusic, Intuit and Juniper Networks.

At ion, Scott leads product development and technology operations. He also evangelizes the benefits of post-click marketing, frequently speaking at industry events such as SES, SMX, Pubcon and Search Insider Summit. He writes a regular column on conversion science for Search Engine Land, and he is co-author of the book “Honest Seduction: How Post-Click Marketing Turns Landing Pages Into Game Changers.”

Before co-founding ion, Scott led a technology consulting practice focused on Web applications for companies such as CBS Sportsline, Fujitsu, Siemens and Tribune. In the days before the Web, he was the president of Galacticomm, one of the largest BBS (bulletin board system) software companies.

Scott also is an advocate for the emerging profession of “marketing technologists” — technologists and engineers who work directly in the marketing department. He writes a blog on marketing technology management called Chief Marketing Technologist at He has a B.S. in computer science from Columbia University and an MBA from MIT Sloan.

What are you working on right now?

Growing ion! The conversion optimization space has picked up tremendous steam this year. We’re working with a number of great new customers and rapidly adding new talent to our team. The potential of online experiences that are crafted by an organization but live outside their general purpose website has just begun to be tapped. The list of features and ideas our development team is working on takes as many hours in the day as we can give it.¬†Closely related to this, I’ve also been speaking and writing more about the shift of marketing into a technology-driven discipline. I see this directly with our customers all the time, and I hear these recurring themes from a number of other marketers and technologists. It’s time to start rethinking the management and organizational structure of marketing — and its relationship to IT — to really take advantage of our new environment.

3 trends that excite you?

First, the trend toward transparency that social media is fostering. Charlene Li’s book on open leadership captures the exciting potential of this dynamic beautifully.

Second, the slow but steady progress of the semantic Web — or “linked data” if you prefer. The opportunity for the Web of data to enable a whole new generation of intelligent applications online will take off, sooner or later. And once it does, it’s going to be a wild ride. Imagine data as an external asset, not just an internal one.

And third, the ongoing progress in cloud computing, making it easier than ever for more people to create and distribute software to new markets.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Start small. Whether it’s in marketing or engineering, one of the best things the “agile” development methodology teaches us is the power of iteration. Don’t spend all your time mapping out elaborate plans in your head. Jump in with some sort of concrete implementation, however simple, to start getting feedback and momentum. It’s through this act of creation that ideas become real — and take on a life of their own.

What inspires you?

The intersection of disparate fields and disciplines. The book “The Medici Effect” by Frans Johansson really hits the nail on the head, as does Steven Berlin Johnson’s new book, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” and the concept of the “adjacent possible.” I try to read and learn from a broad range of sources and topics — things that are ostensibly completely unrelated to my immediate work — and ask myself along the way, “How might this apply?” in an entirely different context.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

In 1994, I completely underestimated the Web. At the time, I was running one of the largest BBS (bulletin board system) software companies, which enabled people to connect together on online services without the Web. Back then, a BBS was much more advanced than nascent websites. Caught up in our own technology and the needs of existing customers, I didn’t realize just how transformational the Web was — until it wiped out the BBS industry within two years. It was a classic example of one S-curve eclipsing another. It was a painful lesson, but I sure learned to appreciate the awesome power of disruptive innovation.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Simplification. You can pick almost any domain you want — I’d nominate marketing operations, but the challenge exists throughout our professional and personal lives. There is just so much data coming at us that “information overload” is now a major barrier to productivity and happiness. Since the problem — at least at this magnitude — is so new, I think we’ve barely begun to explore novel approaches to countering it. Create software, or a system, or a service that can genuinely reduce complexity to simplicity in some context — with a minimal loss of value within the stream — and you will be a hero. I suspect that the technologies surrounding the semantic Web will be one of the keys to this kingdom

What is one book and one tool that helps you bring ideas to life?

For books, aside from the ones I’ve already named, I’d go with Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma” (and all of the sequels that followed). Christensen really has a clear way of looking at disruptive innovation and evaluating the potential of new ideas and markets through that lens.

For tools, I’d go with blog software. Typepad, WordPress, Squarespace — whichever you prefer. But blogging is a great way to get an idea out of your head and into the world. Writing something for other people to read is one step toward making it real, and the blogosphere provides a way to open it up to collaborative discussion and debate.

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

Eric Von Hippel, author of “Democratizing Innovation.” Given the success that crowdsourcing has had, particularly in recent years, I think his view of how ideas can emerge collaboratively out of the cloud are fascinating — and we’re just starting to realize what’s possible.

What do you think is the secret to a long and happy career?

Keep learning. Keep pushing yourself to try new ideas, collaborate with new people and master new skills. Physically and mentally, I believe that vitality flows from activity. New adventures keep us awake and alive. As Seth Godin recently said, “Nine years of experience is not the same as one year of experience repeated nine times.”

What would you recommend for an evening in New York City?

Go to Lupa for dinner for some amazing rustic Italian food and then head over to the Village Vanguard for some great jazz. It doesn’t matter who’s playing. If they’re playing at the Vanguard, they’re good.


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