HubSpot’s Brian Halligan gives marketers a good-natured slap in the face
By Bob London, President of London, Ink
Brian Halligan is CEO of HubSpot, and he has biz cred. He’s one of the current “it guys” of the start-up world, and it’s hard to ignore his pitch after you hear how his company is crushing it.
HubSpot, an online software company that “gives (businesses) all the tools you need to make marketing that people will actually love,” has seen revenues grow more than 6,000% since 2007. HubSpot is the second fastest growing software company on the widely admired Inc. 500 list. The company has raised money from, among others, Google Ventures and Salesforce.com.
Last night, while in town to attend the Inc. 500 gala, Halligan spoke at an event sponsored by the Technology Marketing Alliance (on whose board I sit) and FounderCorps at the Deloitte Executive Briefing Center in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The event was conceived by ZoomSafer CEO Matt Howard, a master connector who brought together TMA, Halligan and FounderCorps.
Halligan raved about the future of marketing, and he is a stitch: at one point he bent over and mimed the act of shoveling in order to demonstrate how old school marketers (including most of the audience) are just dumping their freshly minted VC investments into a furnace—essentially renting rather than owning their own marketing assets.
What marketers should focus on, according to Halligan, is getting found. How do you get found? Here’s his prescription:
- Have a smart web site that personalizes the experience based on the visitors.
- Create a blog and use it and your site to publish a high volume of content to drive visitors, generate inbound links and improve your SEO.
- Syndicate that content around the web to various high-traffic sites and channels (i.e. SlideShare, Twitter, Facebook, etc.).
- Use real words and thoughts instead of business-speak.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
- Hire young, hungry and cheap digital citizens.
- Measure and analyze everything and refine consistently.
Woven into almost every part of his pitch is that the era of money-wasting marketing dinosaurs is over. Marketers need to stop using the traditional marketing playbook, which includes buying lists, spamming them, cold calling your brains out and going to tradeshows.
(By the way, Halligan told us that HubSpot just spent $700,000 to sponsor Salesforce.com’s DreamForce event and that if the ROI doesn’t prove its value they will not do that again.)
In general terms, Halligan is spot on. The typical marketing approach needs to be reinvented. His pitch is reminiscent of the seminal 2008 New Yorker article by Ken Auletta, which chronicled the meeting between Google’s co-founders and Mel Karmazin, an old-line broadcast ad sales guy who was then CEO of Viacom. Here’s part of their exchange:
“You buy a commercial on the Super Bowl, you’re going to pay two and a half million dollars for the spot,” Karmazin told the Google team. “I have no idea if it’s going to work. You pay your money, you take your chances.” To turn this lucrative system over to a mechanized auction posed a serious threat. “I want a salesperson in the process, taking that buyer out for drinks, getting an order he shouldn’t have gotten.”
(Larry) Page and (Sergey) Brin thought Karmazin’s method manipulated emotions and cheated advertisers. Just as egregious, it wasn’t measurable and was therefore inefficient. They were convinced that they could engineer a better system.
Karmazin looked at his Google hosts and proclaimed, only half in jest, “You’re f@%ing with the magic!”
So Halligan and HubSpot are clearly on to something big and game-changing. The cringes and nervous laughs from last night’s audience indicates the type of old vs. new tension that usually precedes a tectonic shift.
But his evangelistic fervor seemed to suggest that the marketing dinosaurs who are doing it all wrong today have only a few short moments left on earth. They need to evolve now. Today. Yesterday. Run out and re-staff your marketing departments with fresh-faced, recently graduated digital natives who shun email, hate rules and love Wilco. Turn them loose on the web and don’t edit them too much, if at all. Stop wasting money on trying to find your audience; let them find you.
This is the right idea, and hopefully the companies that are buying (actually renting) HubSpot’s software will adopt Halligan’s Inbound Marketing strategies to make the software live up to its potential. Then the world can see proof that the vision is taking place now—not in ten years.
But there is the question of timing. How quickly will or should the marketing world evolve. It is already unrecognizable from just five or certainly 15 years ago. How soon and how fully will the HubSpot view of the world take hold?
As the event ended, the over-riding feeling I was left with was one of feeling refreshed. Marketers should appreciate Halligan’s good-natured slap in the face. To dismiss his point is to risk becoming extinct—if not next year then perhaps the year after.
Bob London is President of London, Ink, a marketing and communications consulting firm based in the Washington, DC area. He can be reached at email@example.com. His business humor writing, Bobservations, can be seen at www.bob-servations.com and is now a monthly column in SmartCEO DC magazine (www.smartceo.com).