The Rise of the 10X Marketer

Scott Brinker

There’s a persistent “myth” in software development: great developers are 10X more productive than average developers. I call it a “myth” in quotation marks because there’s disagree­ment around that statement in the software community. For one thing, it’s hard to precisely measure the difference. Is it 2X, 3X or 5X instead? And second, the adoption of agile management has tended to emphasize the productivity of teams and to downplay the notion of the solo rock star programmer.

However, as a software executive for many years, I can attest that, precision and popularity aside, it’s basically true. The best software developers do have an outsized impact on their organizations.

It’s interesting to note that this myth actually got started by Fred Brooks, a famous software engineer, in his 1980s essay, “No Silver Bullet.” While Brooks didn’t believe that any single management technique or technology innovation could have a tenfold impact on software, he did believe that great talent could achieve that kind of effect:

“The differences are not minor — it is rather like Salieri and Mozart. Study after study shows that the very best designers produce structures that are faster, smaller, simpler, cleaner and produced with less effort. The difference between the great and the average approach is an order of magnitude.”

Brooks reasoned that organizations would be best served by focusing on finding and nurturing that talent. Indeed, most of the world’s best software companies today do just that, as observed by the heated recruiting battles between firms like Apple, Facebook and Google.

But why haven’t we heard of the 10X marketer?

Talent, opportunity and leverage
To understand how this now connects with marketing, we need to appreciate that there are actually three factors that enable people to have such an outsized impact.

The first is talent. Great talent has the potential to deliver great outcomes. But the software profession doesn’t have a lock on talent. Every profession has great talent — smart, passionate, hard-working individuals who rise above average expectations. And there’s no doubt: marketing has incredible talent within its ranks.

But to harness that talent, two other things are required: opportunity and leverage.

It used to be that marketing didn’t have a tremendous number of opportunities, because we produced a relatively small number of mass market campaigns. CMOs and creative directors had the opportunity to shine on those big bets, but most of the people working below them played more of a supporting role.

But today, that’s obviously changed. Marketing has a treasure trove of opportunities — dozens or hundreds of touchpoints with customers in the digital world aching to be addressed every month. Marketers at all levels can seize those opportunities to shape remarkable marketing experiences that bolster the brand.

The smart use of marketing automation can multiply the number of customer touchpoints that a single marketer can effectively orchestrate by an order of magnitude. The number of marketing experiments that can be run in a given year — to explore more opportunities for innovation, more rapidly and more efficiency — has increased many times over.

The third ingredient, leverage, used to be missing too. In traditional marketing there wasn’t much leverage. Instead, there was money. If you wanted to reach more people and establish a deeper impression on them, you had to spend more money on advertising.

But that too has changed in an age of search and social media. Great marketing ideas, large or small, can spread through digital channels as much on their merits as the budget behind them. The reach and recall of brilliant content and campaigns can be multiplied by its audience — if they deem it worthy.

This combination of talent, opportunity and leverage has now enabled the rise of the 10X marketer.

Like in software, that will surely be a “myth” to some degree too, of course. Marketing is best executed as a team sport, and for many marketing metrics, 10X would be an unreasonable goal. But it’s a myth worth chasing, because even a fraction of such accelerated growth — 2X or 3X — by individuals and small teams can have spectacular impact on a business’s success.  

Scott Brinker is co-founder and CTO of ion interactive, a software company that provides marketers with a platform for creating and testing post-click experiences. He also is editor of, a blog on how technology is changing marketing strategy, management and culture. This column is excerpted from his book, “Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster and More Innovative” (Wiley, 2016).