So you are aware, HubSpot is a Marketing Pilgrim sponsor of our Inbound Marketing channel. Despite that, when I had the chance to talk to Halligan about his and his company’s view of the future of marketing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I can say that I came away thinking a bit differently about marketing in general. In a day and age where expert advice consists of many people saying the same things over and over despite not necessarily knowing what they are saying, talking with Halligan was refreshing. Simply put, he gets it.
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His path to being the CEO of HubSpot, one of the most successful SaaS (software as a service) product launches in recent memory, started in sales and continued through the VC circles. It was during this time of trying to help his investment companies attempt to navigate the waters of online services and options that he realized how difficult it can be to pull together disparate tools and make sense of it all for a marketer.
Halligan readily admits that HubSpot and this idea of inbound marketing was not something he is solely responsible for. His co-founder Dharmesh Shah had caught Halligan’s attention with his blog onstartups.com, which generated much more interest than the startups he managed could. As Halligan put it, “he played the game well using SEO techniques and good content.”
And the rest, as they say is history. Here is my conversation with HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan.
Frank: Congratulations on your success with HubSpot.
Halligan: Thank you. It was just about 5 years ago on the Fourth of July weekend that it all began.
Frank: What was the driving force behind getting together with Dharmesh to create HubSpot’s inbound marketing machine?
Halligan: Honestly it was the frustration of watching marketers work from the same marketing playbook that was busted and is, in many cases, still busted. Marketers are traditionally renters. They rent space on shelves, they rent space in Adwords, they rent space at tradeshows or they rent giant lists to cold call from. None of this is anything they own.
We decided to create something that was a fully integrated marketing program which helped marketers to generate and benefit from the idea that owning marketing assets which attract customers. It’s a better way than just renting space to hopefully get into your prospects’ or customers’ heads at a time when they might be interested in your product.
Considering where we are today let’s just say it has gone much better than we thought it would (laughs)!
Frank: Could you talk a little more about the importance of owning marketing assets?
Halligan: Sure. One of the biggest issues about renting marketing assets is that it costs a lot to deploy a traditional strategy of advertising and PR. They are essentially temporary messages that come and go as long as there is money to keep them in front of the ‘market’. In the end, you may have a few new customers but the cost of acquiring them and the effort involved is not congruent with the return.
We believe that the best way to market a product or service is to create assets that you own and can nurture. Things like unique content, links, Facebook fans, Twitter followers are assets that stick around and, from a monetary aspect, can cost a lot less than the old model.
Frank: Your market is mostly the SMB space who often has limited resources in and even sometimes even less marketing savvy. What are you trying to do to help them?
Halligan: Most of these companies are trying to find their way in the dark as we all navigate this sea change we have seen in the marketing world as a result of the Internet. We simply want to give solid advice and try to make it as simple for our customers as possible.
We try to execute a hybrid model. Almost all of our employees are geeks who like the analytics of online marketing. At the same time we realize that our customers are much like me, a mere mortal, who wants all of this technology and stuff to simply work. There is also a level of interaction that is critical for these companies to have success so we provide the actual people part of the equation through our Inbound Marketing Specialists. So far this mixing of tech and people has worked well. We are now at about 4,700 customers using HubSPot for their marketing efforts.
Frank: One thing that HubSpot is quite prolific at is content generation. What’s your take on the content creation game?
Halligan: Content creation and sharing are the most critical marketing activities in the new world marketing order. We are prolific in content creation and my gut sometimes tells me that maybe we are creating too much content and thus diluting its value. Then we get back to the numbers and they don’t support my gut. In fact, it’s the opposite. The more content we generate the more leads we get into our sales team. Since we are walking the walk we feel that this works the same for our customers as well.
Unique and engaging content catches different people at different times in different ways. Once again, it is unlike the renter’s mentality, which is to use something for a time but walk away with no ownership. Marketing asset management is critical for success in today’s online world and that ownership keeps people interested as Facebook fans, Twitter followers and ultimately as customers.
Halligan: Plenty. There was nothing like getting a cassette tape of a Dead show that was ‘endorsed’ by the band. They created great content and allowed it to be distributed outside of the normal music channels. They truly understood how they would be successful which was not like other bands who would promote an album, tour and try to sell as much as they could until the next album. The Dead instead made their shows the product and by giving the experience away freely they created more interest for more content. Marketers need to be looking beyond the busted marketing playbook much like the band did.
Frank: You recently promoted your VP of marketing, Mike Volpe, to the role of CMO (chief marketing officer). How is that role different in today’s business world?
Halligan: It certainly has evolved recently.
I can do a kind of compare and contrast between the old and new models as I see them. The traditional CMO is a renter who is skilled at putting together long time horizon marketing budgets and plans. The idea is that they will have a ‘waterfall effect’ and once they have placed their message in the various well timed, controlled and somewhat predictable outlets then the business cascades from these efforts.
The new model, like I see Mike being for HubSpot, is a marketing asset builder. Renting space is not the primary means of gaining attention but the new CMO must be interested in building marketing content that is owned and used by the company in many different ways. They work on a very short time horizon. I liken it to the agile software development model where you have monthly sprints to get things done then tweaking occurs as feedback comes from customers. Marketers need the same mindset.
The new CMO needs to think like a VC in terms of placing lots of bets. VC’s may place 10 bets with 7 being a complete “swing and a miss” while 2 may be doubles and one home run which is the real winner. Marketers today have to take risks to see what will work in this new market environment.
Digital Citizen or Native – Does your CMO have the Internet ‘gene’? Is he / she using the Internet to the fullest?
Analytical – Are they numbers driven and understand the measurability of the Internet space? Are they a numbers geek?
Reach – What kind of digital network does your CMO bring to the table. Are they going to expand your company’s reach because of their own ‘brand’ online?
Content Creator – Does you CMO know how to generate remarkable content and can they inspire the same in others?
Frank: Is there any other advice you would give marketers at any level as we continue to see this shift from outbound to inbound marketing.
Halligan: It sounds simple but you need to be provocative. You need to do and say something that is above the noise. Don’t be afraid to experiment in marketing because with the way things are changing you will not know what works unless you try it. Marketers can now miss opportunities if they wait too long or require a ton of testing before they act. Like I mentioned earlier, if you are afraid to take a swing at something because you might miss then you will not make it in marketing’s new world order.
Our thanks to Brian for his time. Be sure to visit HubSpot to learn about their product or simply click on the banner below to get some of that great content he discussed to use for your marketing efforts!