Remember the classic oversimplification of product, price, and promotion – the so-called three Ps?
They are all still very much in play only much differently. The internet has really put that last P (promotion) through the wringer.
Way back when the formula was pretty well established. Agencies, long before Adobe CS6 brought advanced capabilities the masses, held many of the marketing cards. Ad copy and layouts, brochures and the campaigns that used them were largely the domain of the all-powerful Agency. Marketing had advice, but for many companies choosing the right agency and creative was the key to success. Well executed campaigns trumped superior products.
Marketers, back at the office, were concerned specifically with “direct marketing” and generating leads for their sales departments. Here too the formula was pretty well-worn. Participate in trade shows soliciting business cards while there in attendance. Purchase 3rd party lists and create a database. Mail to them. Call them. With a bit of targeting, the right message, and some frequency with mail and calls this was a sure way to produce qualified leads that would lead to sales.
Today this is not the way it works. Agencies don’t swing the same big club they used to as high-quality creative has gone in-house or can be crowdsourced for much less. Plus, there is shrinking evidence that high-concept (read expensive) agency engagements offer measurable ROI. Volatility in the agency space has ensued, and there have been some very odd mergers and acquisitions signaling a potential paradigm shift within that space. It’s still shaking out.
The real product, more than ever before, has come front and center. Competitive differentiations and product limitations can not be glossed over as product details are now discoverable on the internet. Products must perform as advertised or they won’t survive. Bad news travels fast on the web.
Direct marketing too has seen its share of seismic shifts. Snail mail may still have its place, but far more limited that ever. And calling? Well, how many decision makers answer their phones these days? Going out on a limb here…NONE! With caller ID the only chance a sales person has to get through to a decision maker is by using questionable harassment tactics with auto-dialers and calls placed off hours.
For many businesses, the marketing game is shifting from lists acquired through purchase to more “organic” lists built with prospect click-throughs sourced from organic and paid search. Creating these types of lists requires some pretty heavy lifting for a companies infrastructure.
Organic lead gen and capture usually require at least a content management system (CMS), an email service provider (ESP), and some search engine optimization (SEO) for paid and organic search. Each one of these areas is a specialty unto themselves with many vendors, platforms, and approaches. Coordinating these disparate technologies to produce tangible results can be a cultural and IT high wire act. It’s tough. This whole activity now comes under the umbrella called “Inbound Marketing.”
Enter Hubspot. Founded in 2006, Hubspot is the golden child of the tech pre-IPO world. This is because Hubspot has carved a unique niche for themselves providing all this marketing/lead gen infrastructure to their over 8,000 clients in a way that actually works. With intuitive dashboards providing robust analytics, Hubspot’s value proposition is always front and center, and for now, rock solid.
Hubspot also has an unrivaled content marketing machine that produces fantastic Infographics, PowerPoints, and Whitepapers (largely about themselves). Search the web for marketing, leads, email, and similar topics Hubspot comes on the first page with terrific original content that takes you back to their landing page that captures your email address. This is their model. They practice what they preach. They do it brilliantly. Hence the over $100 million in investment capital.
But as rabid as their customers are frustrations are brewing in the nascent inbound marketing space. It is the age-old marketing problem of not producing enough high-quality leads. As good a job as Hubspot does, many of their clients need more leads that the Hubspot tool/method provides. By itself, Inbound marketing simply doesn’t get the job done. More mature marketers will deploy both inbound and outbound strategies to meet their growth goals.
The big question is whether inbound marketing, a relatively new tool for generating leads, offers something sustainable for marketers. One has to concede that much of the success with inbound has been with early adopters. Many have been able to get the upper hand against stodgy market leaders with lame multipurpose websites that add no value to their customer bases. In addition to not being optimized for search, many of these sites don’t even answer the most basic customer questions. Oh, and many of these sites have no landing pages that capture leads.
Content evangelist and author Jay Baer (of website Convince and Convert) speak of a paradigm shift to “helping” from selling. Baer suggests that businesses who give real value through their content will sell more. He references Marcus Sheridan who created a unique website about fiberglass pools. By anticipating and answering almost every question someone buying a pool would ask, Sheridan’s company differentiated themselves and actually grew during the recent recession selling pools! It’s a great story, and Bauer and Sheridan encourage others to learn from their model of serving the customer with relevant content. Sheridan is now a consultant and huge Hubspot advocate.
The dark cloud on the horizon for inbound has precedent with “showrooming” in retail. Showrooming is where a customer gathers information about a product from a brick and mortar retail store he has no intention of buying from. He goes in the store, asks all kinds of product questions, then purchases somewhere else. This practice is partly what killed “Good to Great” company Circuit City. Circuit City educated tens of thousands of customers who then made more informed purchases at Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco where the price was lower. For Americans, where price is king, the helping strategy was not an effective one.
It remains to be seen if “killer content” on the web will do better than great information provided by retailers like Circuit City did. Once everyone is creating their own content, the first mover advantage will be gone.
When that happens, the more ominous fact will emerge. The sheer volume of tweets, posts, discussions, events, whitepapers, articles, presentations and websites that will be generated for the search engines to index and navigate will be staggering. They already are. Pingdom reported that 51 million websites were added to the web in 2012 putting the site total at 634 million. The total number of pages on the internet? It’s likely in the trillions.
Finally, there is the very practical issue of time. Searching, reading, signing up for white papers and attending webinars takes time. A lot of time. Do really B2B buyers and decision makers have an unlimited supply of time to engage with all who will be leveraging Hubspot inbound tactics? This is a rhetorical “no.”
Do B2B sellers need to be found on the internet? Absolutely. Do they need materials that clearly explain what they offer? Yes. Do they need prospect and customer lists to market to? Yes. And finally, do they need salespeople to manage the sales process? Yes. Sounds likes the same things marketers have always needed. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!”
So is Hubspot and inbound marketing the future of commercialization? Partly, yes.
Convince and Convert article retrieved from http://www.convinceandconvert.com/integrated-marketing-and-media/is-youtility-the-future-of-marketing/
Pingdom statistics retrieved from http://royal.pingdom.com/2013/01/16/internet-2012-in-numbers/
TechCrunch article retrieved from http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/05/eyeing-an-ipo-marketing-software-giant-hubspot-raises-35m-for-international-growth-ma-and-more/