Morgan McLintic, CEO and Founder of Firebrand Communications, breaks down what start-up companies need to consider when building their martech stack and why choosing the wrong products can result in losing visibility of what is and isn’t working.

He also shares his optimistic views on how AI may change the marketing landscape and why this makes technology exciting again.

Listen to the podcast now via the links below:

Transcript: Interview with Morgan McLintic – Firebrand

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Morgan McLintic

Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing B2B Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in B2B marketing today.

Welcome to marketing B2B technology, the podcast from Napier. Today I’ve got Morgan McLintic. Morgan is the CEO and founder of Firebrand. Welcome to the show. Morgan.

Morgan: Great to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Mike: So, tell me a little bit about your career journey. How did you get to the point where you decided you want to start Firebrand?

Morgan: Well, I was lucky enough to join a small PR agency in the UK. And when they only had 10 people, and then it gave me the chance to come over to the US where I’m based now in San Francisco. And I founded the US part of the business and we grew it up to be about 600 people when I when I left, so it was a fun ride. And then, having grown, that agency decided to set up firebrand and we work with tech startups exclusively.

Mike: So that’s interesting. I mean, obviously, the startup market is pretty hot in San Francisco. Is it because of location you decided to go for startups? Or were you particularly interested in working with startups for other reasons?

Morgan: Well, I think that working with startups, you know, it’s that’s an entrepreneurial sort of person, you get to start the beginning of that sort of company’s journey, you get to shape their messaging and win their early customers. And I think they also can be more flexible in what they do. And you can try new tactics. Plus, just from a practical perspective, when you’re starting out a new firm, you maybe don’t have the resources that a large enterprise might require. And I just, you know, love the innovation that comes with tech. And it’s sort of part of the culture here in the Valley.

Mike: So yeah, and presumably, I mean, you know, the reason you decided to move from being sort of more pure PR into more general marketing is working with startups as well. They need a wider range of services from their agency.

Morgan: Yes, yes. I mean, I think, you know, you can solve problems in a number of ways. And most startups, they have two problems, one awareness, like nobody knows who they are, and they need investment, and they need customers, and they need partners, employees, and the other is that they need to drive demand. And classically, startups will look for a PR agency when they get funding. But when you’re relatively small, maybe you don’t have a lot of news, a lot of new products, a lot a big drumbeat that is traditionally this sort of backbone of a PR programme. But there are other ways to raise that awareness. So it was a natural extension. And plus, they don’t have large marketing departments. And so as a partner, the more elements that you can fulfil, just the better the partnership becomes.

Mike: Obviously, being in San Francisco, you’re really into technology. And the thing I really wanted to talk to you about was the MAR tech stack. So I mean, maybe you can start by explaining, you know what martech stack means to you?

Morgan: Sure, I mean, fundamentally, it’s all that software tools that you need to implement the core parts of a marketing programme for corporate product and, and growth. And for a startup, that typically means someone coming to a website to do something. And so you will need a CMS, most of the startups that we work with will use like WordPress, or web flow. So that you have you can host your site. And you’ll need them to go into some kind of marketing automation system. Most of the startups that we work with, use HubSpot. And and that’s a fairly integrative sort of platform in terms of providing email marketing, and a number of the other things that they’ll need. They’ll need some measurement, and a lot of startups will use the Google, you know, from Google Analytics, Google Search Console, all those good things. And then plug in all their social channels and ad networks, etc, to get people to come to the site. So typically, it’s the CMS marketing automation system, the ad platforms that they’ll sort of traditionally used and, and whatever analytics, they want to for attribution.

Mike: And attribution is really interesting. I mean, presumably one of the reasons people want to think of a stack rather than discrete tools, is so you can actually measure the impact of the different things you do within your marketing campaigns.

Morgan: Yes, absolutely. I mean, you know, where the finite resources you have to know what’s working so that you can do more. And so literally one of the first things that we’ll do when we work with a Client is to help configure their martech stack so they can see what works and so that we can prove the value of what we’re doing. And then they can adjust their channels and their budgets accordingly.

Mike: And is that the real, you know, issue with choosing the wrong products in your martech? Stack? Is losing that visibility of what’s working and what’s not? Or are there other issues as well?

Morgan: Well, I think often, at the beginning, literally, the founder will be the person to sort of implement HubSpot out or build the website. And often there’ll be different tools in there. They may not because quite naturally have configured those correctly. So we’ll come in and help them sort of dial that stuff in. And I think as they scale, they need something that’s going to be sustainable for different stages. And as their budget and their team gets larger, that’s going to be important. So yeah, those are the main benefits.

Mike: So it’s interesting, you talked about scaling up, and obviously, you know, some of the Silicon Valley startups grow very quickly. I mean, if you’re starting a new company, or working at a relatively small company, I mean, how much attention should you pay to the needs of today versus what might potentially be the needs, you know, in two or three years time as the company grows?

Morgan: Well, startups tend to work on a quarterly cycle, you’ve got to get from one funding stage to the next and hit your your metrics. So necessarily, their time horizon is going to be shorter than it would be for an enterprise a business. I do think that they need to think well look, 24 months out, we could have different level of funding different sides of our team, that team will evolve. And maybe they’ll bring in a demand gen person, or maybe they’ll bring an SEO expert whole build out the whole growth marketing team, that whole product marketing. So this, the stack is going to expand over time, but they need to get to those different benchmarks. And I think also, the staff will change. And so we tend to sort of think about, look, don’t go down one particular path, we’re only a few people know that try and stick to a stack that’s going to be familiar for new people coming in so they can get up to speed quickly.

Mike: And that’s really interesting. You talk about getting up to speed. And obviously, having something that’s popular and widely used is one way to do it when you hire but in early times, you mentioned that quite often it’s the CEO setting this stuff up. I mean, how much of a problem is, is learning the tools, particularly for on this quarter by quarter time horizon?

Morgan: Well, I think marketers love trying new tools, right, we like testing new things out, most of the tools are relatively easy to use, relatively easy to use at the startup stage, when you get up to be I don’t know, in marketing automation, if you implement a Marketo system that’s going to need a dedicated Marketo person and team or agency to manage, right, or you’re unlikely to have someone or you may only have one person in house can do that. But we tend to think that the sort of the biggest risk of bringing in too many different tools is not necessarily the speed of getting up to learning how to use them. And it’s more that they will have different ways of measuring something. So even something as simple as website traffic, when a visitor to up to a page, when is that visitor fired? Is it is it when the first assets are downloaded? Is it when the whole full page is downloaded? What if it gets interrupted? So you tend to get even at something as basic as website traffic, different measurement from different systems. And the problem with that is then integrating all those things. You spend more time on trying to say, Well, why is this one saying I’ve got 1000 visitors? And this one’s only saying I’ve got 800? Which is it? And why you end up wasting cycles on sort of integrating and trying to get one clear picture of what’s what’s going on. And so that can be the bigger risk, I think of bringing in too many different tools, rather than just sort of how long does it take me to get up to speed with one individual one?

Mike: And that makes sense. I mean, you mentioned you do a lot of work with HubSpot, which is, you know, well known as being quite an integrated product with lots of features. I mean, do you believe that’s, that’s one of the key things is pick something that’s integrated to avoid these discrepancies between different tools?

Morgan: You know, I think so I think keep it simple because it just enables you to implement your marketing programmes more effective. Roughly there may be specific tools that provide a distinct sort of technical advantage. But over the sort of medium term, those features are going to become democratised across other platforms. And so we tend to find having something that’s integrated, that enables you to actually implement the rest of your marketing your create, you know, and spend the time on the creativity and implementation or the strategy is probably better than trying to find a tool with a specific feature.

Mike: I mean, that certainly makes sense. But I wonder, you know, maybe if you look at some startups, you know, SAS companies, for example, quite often drive a lot of their traffic, and a lot of their customers from search ads. Do you think where you’ve got a particularly important channel, it’s worth going for best in class? Or is integration still gonna give you more advantages?

Morgan: I mean, taking that particular channel search, search ads, Google search is obviously going to be the primary channel there and integrates very nicely into the Google search. And then you know, you can you could put that through HubSpot. And then we also use lots Google Data Studio, I think it’s called look at data studio now, right to sort of analyse that. And so keeping it within one framework, I think, is just keeps it easier, cleaner data, better decisions.

Mike: That makes a lot of sense. And I’m interested, you know, you obviously, sometimes going to clients, and they’ve already got systems installed, you may have to fix some configuration. I mean, presumably, other times they ask for advice. I mean, how would a startup, you know, narrow down the choice of tools, there’s so many marketing technology providers, what sort of approach they take to narrow down and decide what they need,

Morgan: They normally have a fairly good idea of what they’ve you know, these are experienced marketers, they’ve seen things, try things before. So they have a sort of an idea of the stack that they that they like, that they’re familiar with. But clearly budget for a startup is, is a big, a big factor. The the skills, can I tap people to do this. So I mean, if they’re using WordPress, there are lots of WordPress developers, rather than building your website on a headless CMS that only a few people will know, there may be very good reasons that you want that because you want a super fast and super flexible e commerce oriented website. But for many, they’ll say, Okay, I’m gonna use WordPress, or they’ll think, okay, look, when I want something hosted and modular. And Webflow has sort of come up. HubSpot, we talked about has its own CMS, we tend to find for this very reason that many, many companies, even though that tool is relatively new, and probably quite integrated, they’ll think, you know, there’s not a big community of developers, plugins, templates for that, yet, that might change in future. So they, they tend to look at it through that, through that lens.

Mike: It’s interesting. I mean, you’re coming from basically the centre of the world’s technology, and you’re actually saying, the technology is secondary, to being able to get the people to run it. I mean, is that kind of your philosophy?

Morgan: I haven’t thought about it in that way. But, you know, I do think that, you know, that is a, that is definitely a fact. Because there we’ve had clients who come in, and who changed the CMS, who changed the marketing automation system, rebrand the company, let’s change to a Account Based Marketing go, you know, motion, implement ad roll or something like that. And that takes two years, they come in, and then the CMO will leave, having made all these changes. And I think that leaves the business, you know, it’s such a big amount of change. And that leaves the business, sort of struggling to cope with all of that, you know, a different go to market motion, different web platform, different brand, you see that fairly often. So I tend to think, make incremental change to try and keep something that is going to scale over time, so that other people who come in will know, okay, I’ve got a clean stack of data, I know what’s happening, and I can focus on implementing my programmes, rather than debugging the tech stack.

Mike: Sounds like I mean, really good advice. I love that idea of incrementally improving it. I mean, I guess as a follow up to that, do you see categories of tools where you think, you know, particularly the startup world, it’s actually not worth investing in them, they’re probably not going to give you a good return.

Morgan: Well, let’s take intense Data intent data is great. We like that right? Finding surging intent through specific keywords with your target buyers, that is a grey area, it is not cheap, you have to have a level of sophistication to be able to then capitalise on that that data, customise your website to the people who are coming and sort of get that full flow, do an account based advertising to that account list. Now, you know, that is a great model, and really, really works as you become a late stage company as you move into IPO and at enterprise company. For a startup. It’s just probably for an early stage startup, it could be a distraction. And so spending, I don’t know, a certain amount of money $5,000 A month, let’s say on intent based data, when you haven’t got the rest of these other things you could you could be using that budget elsewhere on other programmes might be might be a better use of the money.

Mike: I think it was great advice. I was interesting. Obviously, some of these intent based products are AI based. And we’ve got to talk about artificial intelligence, I think Oh, yes. I mean, the first thing to say is I see you, you’ve launched within firebrand labs group to look at generative AI. I mean, do you want to talk a little bit about why you chose to do that and why having, you know, a slightly separate group is going to be better for your clients.

Morgan: Yes. So I think tech is exciting again, right? Suddenly, we have the generative AI, I mean, AI has been around for a long time. But generative AI is now at a standard where we are all amazed about what it can do. And people are coming up with new ways of working all the time. We’ve just seen the launch of GPT, four, right, but you can now go and sign up for the for the waitlist for that it’s an exciting time. And so I think, just as when the internet first came out, or when mobile phones became or smartphones became more use, we’re at another sort of inflection point like that. And you can either hide from that and hope it goes away, or you can sort of jump in. And I think our labs group is there to explore it and learn how can we use this? Where does it accelerate the process says of ideation, or copywriting, or image production, or audio clean up or whatever it might be. And where there is it sort of just not there yet. And that is changing. So quickly, chat GPT only came out in mid November. And here we are, a few months later. And you know, the next version is coming out. We should as marketers, or be keeping a strong eye on that, because it could radically change the way we work. And that is exciting. And so that’s what our labs group is, is trying to do to advise our clients and also just for our team, because their careers are going to be heavily influenced by by these kinds of technologies, and we want to help set them up for success there.

Mike: I mean, that sounds like a very positive view about AI. It’s it sounds like you see it as being more opportunity than threat. Is that right?

Morgan: Well, well, I certainly think that, you know, you look at the something like I drew the analogy with the internet and where the internet touches a process. It sort of drives the price of that down. But it has also opened up multibillion dollar opportunities for other organisations. So will this dramatically change the process of marketing, copywriting, SEO, all advertising? All of that? Absolutely. Does that terrify me? Yes, it does. And it should, even the Sam Altman, the CEO of open AI, said it does get even him. And we should all be reassured by that. And I don’t know how reassured I am but but you know, it definitely, it definitely is going to change us. But I, I feel like there’s going to be opportunities there. And as somebody who likes technology and who feels like it can improve people’s lives, that’s we we like to work with companies that are going to make tomorrow better than today. This is definitely going to have that potential, but it also has the potential to you know, remove the lower end of the market, for sure.

Mike: I mean, I’m really pleased that you’ve got sort of a positive view on this. And it sounds like you know, what you’re saying is that companies need to actually get involved now they shouldn’t sit back and wait, but whether it’s working with firebrands, labs So doing, you know, testing in house, you know, now’s the time to try and learn about the technology.

Morgan: Absolutely. I mean, just look at how many companies are now getting funded with generative AI, or all I mean, open AI is also a back end company, how many are plugging it, you know, it’s plugging its technology into every, you know, lots of different organised technology stacks that we use. descript, for example, is, you know, is now you’re going to be using it. I do think this is new for everyone that, you know, they’re learning how to write prompts for a chat based interface, so you can get what you want out of it, where its limitations are, where its opportunities. I think we’re all learning that and there’s a can sort of consensus and a joint excitement about that. And I think, I think it’s fun to be part of that there are not many times in your career, that you’re going to get that opportunity. And so look, if you haven’t looked at it yet, totally fine. You’ve missed three months. This is going to be here for years. And so don’t feel like, you know, Have I already missed that. But, but I think if in a year’s time, we’re still not, you know, we’re still hoping it’ll go away, and we’re still sort of haven’t quite got round to it, then others will have leapfrogged ahead.

Mike: That’s great advice. I mean, I think the question that would really test your, your optimism here is if a young person asked you for career advice, they’re thinking about marketing, given the fact that AI is potentially going to turn our industry upside down, would you recommend they go for marketing? Or they choose another career?

Morgan: Oh, well, listen, I could argue that if the technology like open AI, etc, reduces the cost of production of a website of coding, then differentiating it with marketing, maybe the most important thing to and the go to mug might be the most important thing. But here’s something if you’re early in your career, you have the chance to be the expert in your company, at choose a tool, write any of these AI tools, you could be the best, because all the years of experience that everybody else has had is irrelevant to that. So if you’re the best at writing prompts, or you can use the script better than anybody else, or you’ve just tried all the tools that gives you a seat at the table. And we saw this with the birth of social media, where people who were new to the companies could be the experts, and that has launched 1000s of careers. And I think we’re at the same point. So to your question, Should you go into marketing? I love marketing, so I’m biassed, but absolutely. It could be the critical function. And should you you know, is this exciting moment to be that, of course, because you could be the expert, and you can be it very quickly.

Mike: That’s very inspiring, I think for for anyone thinking about marketing as a career. One of the questions I always like to ask people is about marketing advice. What’s the best bit of marketing advice you’ve ever been given?

Morgan: Well, you know, I think always make your customer, the hero of the story, right? It’s about your customer. They want to be the hero. And so whether that’s Nikes, famous strapline of just do it, making them the hero or applies to our little agency, we help startups crush their marketing goals. That’s what we do. They’re doing it. They’re the hero. We’re guiding them through it. I think if you think about the customer first, and make them the hero of the story, you’re not going to be too far wrong.

Mike: That’s awesome. I love that advice. I mean, I’m sure people have really enjoyed this conversation. And there’s gonna be listeners who want to get in touch with you or find out more about fire Brandon and your labs. What’s the best way for people to get ahold of you?

Morgan: Great. Well, the agency my agency is called Firebrand. We’re a startup marketing agency. So you can come to that at, or reach out to me. LinkedIn is probably the best way to reach me, Morgan McLintic, I’m on LinkedIn. And I’d love to hear from any of your listeners.

Mike: Morgan, it’s been a great chat. I really appreciate your time. Thanks so much for being a guest on the show.

Morgan: Thanks for having me. It’s been a great conversation.

Mike: Thanks so much for listening to marketing B2B Tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier B2B dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.