In its simplest form, content marketing is the art of telling stories, with the goal of attracting and retaining customers.
The practice dates back to the 19th century, when brands like John Deere began creating educational content to help form relationships with customers that were built on an exchange of useful information, instead of on simply advertising their products and services.
Now, content marketing is ubiquitous. In fact, MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 B2B Content Marketing Report found that 88% of respondents use content marketing, up from the previous year’s 86%.
When many marketers and business leaders think of content marketing, HubSpot comes to mind. “Everyone knows HubSpot’s name,” said Andrea Fryrear, Owner of TheAgileMarketer.net, and Founder of Fox Content, a full-service content marketing consultancy that uses agile marketing principles.
Why is this? HubSpot’s founders are credited with developing the term inbound marketing, a concept that’s synonymous with content marketing.
According to eMarketer, “Inbound marketing refers to efforts that provide web users with information, or tools of value, … as opposed to outbound, or interruptive marketing, that pushes messages in front of them.” In other words, inbound marketing aims to create content that’s useful to existing and potential customers, drawing them in organically.
Conversely, outbound marketing, what some deem “old marketing,” is more disruptive. It may entail cold calling a customer to sell products and services or paying for targeted ads that appear in web browsers.
As part of its Content Marketing Survey 2016, Clutch interviewed Jeffrey Vocell, Principal Product Marketing Manager at HubSpot. He expanded on how HubSpot pursues its mission of “transform[ing] how organizations attract, engage and delight” by developing both the educational and technological resources marketers need to 1.) create and promote content and 2.) acquire and retain customers.
“Content marketing is, in many cases, the future of how people will find and discover a business,” Vocell said.
This article uses insights from Vocell, as well as data from our Content Marketing Survey to explore two topics:
- Why HubSpot performs so well in the digital marketing software space
- The benefits of inbound marketing
HubSpot as a Platform, Not Just a Service
Founded in 2006 by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot aims to transform how businesses do marketing.
Inbound marketing efforts revolve around the concept of creating content that matters. The goal is “to earn people’s interest instead of buying it.” Or, as Halligan describes in his introduction to the eighth annual State of Inbound Report, “matching the way you market and sell with the way people actually want to shop and buy.”
Halligan’s introduction paints a picture of how inbound marketing has evolved from a verb, inbound marketing, to a noun, inbound – a value all its own. He explains how the concept began as a means of turning “complete strangers into website visitors.” Then, it tried to address “how you turn that visitor into a qualified lead” and finally, into a “delighted customer.”
This final step, turning a lead into a delighted customer, “was the step that changed everything,” Halligan writes.
“HubSpot’s methodology is fundamentally designed to attract potential buyers, convert them into leads, hopefully close them into customers, and finally … make sure those customers are delighted with the product.”
— Jeffrey Vocell, HubSpot
HubSpot's business model, which resembles a platform more than the traditional pipeline, is one reason why the company seemingly dominates the digital marketing software market. A platform fosters an open, interactive environment that ultimately facilitates the co-creation and exchange of value between customers, the business itself, and other organizations.
“A platform is a business based on enabling value-creating interactions between external producers and consumers. The platform provides an open, participative infrastructure for these interactions and sets governance conditions for them. The platform’s overarching purpose: to consummate matches among users and facilitate the exchange of goods, services, or social currency, thereby enabling value creation for all participants.”
— Geoffrey Parker, Marshall Van Alstyne, and Sangeet Choudary, authors of The Platform Revolution
Co-creation of value is inherent to platform-based businesses and is one of the main reasons why they tend to grow rapidly and push out market competitors. The responsibility of value creation doesn't fall on the business alone: users play an active role in the process. In turn, user participation results in feedback loops, where a user signals the information they need so the business can respond quickly and effectively.
HubSpot's rapid growth in the digital marketing space corresponds to its ability to facilitate the exchange of information about all things digital marketing, instead of just selling its marketing software packages. Overall, HubSpot creates value for its customers and primes an online community for interaction in three main ways.
1. Provides Value-Creating Interactions Between Producers and Consumers
First, HubSpot offers an all-in-one service: a set of tools that helps users apply inbound marketing practices at every level of the sales funnel. “Every stage is important within the inbound methodology, and our tools reflect that,” said Vocell.
These tools comprise not only HubSpot’s marketing automation software but also the educational resources they provide on their blog, their large-scale studies, and HubSpot Academy.
On the software side, HubSpot anticipates each step a user needs to attract a lead, convert her, and continue to serve her needs. For example, to create the lead-generating content that’s unique to inbound marketing, HubSpot provides a service for blogging. In turn, the blog seamlessly is connected with email, and so on, to create a feedback loop.
“When someone clicks on a call to action within a blog post or landing page, it may mean they’re interested in a specific offer. Therefore, they need to be sent an email relating to the offer. Our tools enable this instantaneous outreach, so instead of a reader only being a lead, they are nurtured to become a marketing qualified lead, [or a lead that’s more likely to become a customer.]”
— Jeffrey Vocell
On the educational resources side, HubSpot uses its blog, broadly, to answer business users’ questions about marketing.
More narrowly, the blog opens the company’s infrastructure to external participation – to an exchange of ideas – through guest posts.
In the same vein, HubSpot Academy offers a variety of marketing courses and certifications to help users get educated, get connected to each other, and get hired.
2. Facilitates the Exchange of Goods, Services, Social Currency
Second, HubSpot strives to offer tools that are easy to use. “Ease of use is paramount, so our aim at HubSpot is to offer consumer-grade software: something that is simple and intuitive, without requiring intricate knowledge of every button and checkbox,” Vocell said.
The emphasis on ease of use meets the platform requirement of facilitating the exchange of goods, services, or social currency. If only experienced marketers or software specialists could use HubSpot’s software, then it would be excluding the small business owners and inexperienced marketers who need the resources they offer to enhance their business.
3. Creates Value for All Participants
Third, the breadth of resources HubSpot has created and published on its blog and other mediums make the brand, as a whole, a thought leader in the digital marketing space. Roughly speaking, HubSpot’s blog receives millions of monthly visits, and it has a strong presence on multiple social media platforms.
What makes HubSpot stand out on these mediums is that the company emphasizes an exchange of information, instead of solely promoting its brand, products, and services.
“More than just publishing content on them, these mediums serve as a means for connecting with our users – meeting them in the places they identify with, which they signal by reading our content on a specific topic.”
— Jeffrey Vocell
This form of thought leadership not only helps HubSpot rank high in Google for a variety of search terms but also signals their trustworthiness. The brand trust they foster among their customers makes HubSpot approachable, thus solidifying their dominance in the marketing software space.
Overall, if “a platform must … pull, facilitate, and match,” (Platform Revolution, p. 59) then HubSpot attempts to do this in the following ways:
- Pull: Attract customers by creating content that answers pressing business questions.
- Facilitate: Introduce a full suite of easy-to-use tools that make the multifaceted tactics involved in inbound marketing more attainable.
- Match: Advise users on how to use the tools to meet specific needs and offer opportunities to engage with the brand further through guest posts and certification programs.
Benefits of Inbound Marketing Compared to Outbound Marketing
Inbound marketing efforts are effective for two main reasons, both of which share a common characteristic: they aspire not only to attract new leads but also to win their loyalty.
1. Less Costly Way to Generate Leads
First, inbound marketing is a less costly approach to generating leads than outbound marketing, which may entail devoting a significant amount of your marketing budget to advertisements or a significant amount of your time to sales calls and emails.
According to an article published on digital marketing agency Single Grain’s blog, “There are over 198 million people using ad blockers across the globe and about $21.8 billion in revenue is lost as a result. And that’s just in 2015 alone. People want to see stories with real substance, not advertisements. That’s why producing great content matters.”
Instead of dedicating resources to interruptive marketing, inbound marketing uses content to build trust between a brand and its customers. Having a large arsenal of useful resources will draw leads to you as they find answers to their pressing questions on your site.
In fact, HubSpot’s 2016 State of Inbound Report found that 73% of inbound marketers say that the best leads originate from inbound practices. Of the individuals surveyed who primarily use outbound practices, 49% still say more qualified leads come from inbound efforts.
Source: HubSpot's 2016 State of Inbound Report; pp. 44-45
2. Interactions Between Brand and Customer Become a Two-way Street
Second, inbound marketing ensures that a brand’s interactions with its audience go both ways. The logic of outbound marketing becomes flawed when you think of it in terms of pushing products and services on unwilling individuals in the hope of making a sale. Potential customers are more likely to disregard your sales pitch or block you from their inbox if the value your brand provides is not readily apparent.
On the other hand, publishing an eBook that presents original data and recommendations, designing an infographic, or creating an in-depth product review presents an opening for dialogue between a reader and the brand that produced the content.
In fact, our content marketing survey found that these three content formats are most effective for content marketers in the United States.
Customers will seek you out because of the great resource you provided, instead of ignoring your emails and calls or blocking your ads.
For example, Vertical Measures, a content marketing agency that also specializes in SEO, uses this approach to attract customers. The team will create an expansive, deep-dive eBook, like “The Beginner’s Guide to Content Promotion,” and then build out shorter articles to explain the concept further.
Takeaways and Recommendations for Action
If your business goals include increasing brand awareness, generating leads, and showing up higher in search engines, then consider how inbound, or content, marketing fits into your overall marketing strategy.
HubSpot, the company that seemingly embodies inbound marketing, sets an intriguing example for how to do content marketing well. Consider the following three observations about their marketing model. How can you make them your own to enhance your content strategy?
- Take the time to craft a detailed content strategy that considers your overarching goals, your audience personas, and the types of content that work best for you.
- Use content to create value for your customers. This means creating resourceful content that answers a pressing question or concern he/she may have.
- Facilitate two-way dialogue with your customers using content. Allow comments on articles, posit comprehensive answers to frequently asked questions, and reach out to leads based on what topics they express the most interest in.
Contact Sarah Patrick at email@example.com with questions or feedback.
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