Hubspot Hit a Wall with Content Marketing. So They Bought The Hustle.
If you’re in content marketing, you must be familiar with Hubspot. They basically defined “inbound marketing” in the 2010s.
They relentlessly beat the drum about awareness, consideration, and decision content.
The playbook was this: the “writer” on the marketing team would go through Hubspot Academy to learn how to write content to address different parts of the funnel. Another marketing manager (or marketing ops) would handle the marketing automation part, learning how to set up workflows, lead scoring, grading, all of that to then “funnel” people into your nurturing campaign, using Hubspot of course, delivering content to the right person at the right time.
I’ll sum up their approach as: “Educate and they will come.”
I’m riffing a bit — I was never Hubspot “certified” and the last Academy class I took was in 2017.
But generally, their approach has worked, at least for companies who may have been brand new to any blogging or editorial content. They’ve left an indelible imprint on content marketing and lead nurturing.
And if it hasn’t worked for the companies they were looking to serve, it’s at least worked for Hubspot. Their stock price has been incredible.
Hubspot went public in 2014 at $25 per share. Last February, their stock price hovered just below $200. But they weathered COVID and it’s now over $400 in February 2021. (I do not currently own any Hubspot stock).
I only bring up the stock price for one reason: it does influence things.
No matter how much you believe in “traditional” content marketing or the buyer awareness funnel.
Hubspot spun out certifications, created a network of inbound marketing agencies, built out marketing automation, and a CRM. Along with Marketo and Pardot, they attacked email, marketing, sales, all of it.
And then there wasn’t much left. They kept educating and educating until all that’s left were shrug emojis.
To be clear, the shrug emoji post is very popular!
Here’s the report from Ahrefs, a leading SEO tool:
86,000 keywords with an estimated traffic value of more than $50,000.
That’s some serious mileage out of an emoji post that probably soared to the top of Google because of domain authority.
Howeever, the shrug emoji post probably isn’t helping your core buyer (marketing leaders who want to improve their sales and marketing workflows).
Next Step? The Respectable Option
So Hubspot could’ve been the LifeHacker of the Internet, offering more tips like the shrug emoji.
Or pivot to a little more respectability. News, business, cutting-edge ideas.
So they bought The Hustle, a business with 1M readers, focused on a daily email newsletter, business podcasts, and trends. (Read their announcement here).
That is a respectable option.
Especially considering sites that could have repeated The Hustle haven’t done it.
- Fast Company — The Hustle of the 90s if you will — has often gone with tips instead of reaching a newer, younger audience.
- Forbes, once of the most respected biz publications, has turned into a place for backlinks from random contributors.
New-Not-Really-New Content Frontier: Thought Leadership
I’ve been thinking about B2B content marketing lately in terms of 3 content genres: brand, thought leadership, and education. Whereas brand/product content drives conversions, education is that mid-funnel conversion piece, and thought leadership serves as that top-funnel attraction.
Where did I get the initial idea for that framework? Kieran Flanagan, SVP of Marketing at Hubspot.
He describes thought leadership as “industry topics” and even though the field is saturated with thought leadership, including in content marketing, sales, SEO, and marketing — thought leadership is something Hubspot has done very little of.
I’m sure there are counterexamples — but if you look at their main blog site you’ll see very little analysis in way of trends, current events, or news of any kind.
It’s all how-to, educational content. The exact thing that Hubspot has taught in its academies for so long.
The Hustle is…the complete opposite of that. Not SEO or search driven, but now-driven. Hubspot is long-tail and The Hustle is immediate tail.
So why couldn’t Hubspot build this on their own? They could…it just wouldn’t be Hubspot and it would take a lot longer.
In other words, the people you hired for Hubspot may or may not have been able to pull this off. We don’t know. Maybe they tried. We don’t know.
Or you import a lot of people that know how to do it, have the audience, and pay them.
What’s In it for Hubspot
- Faster and Cheaper Customer Acquisition. By buying a whole media company (instead of only advertising in one) you’re hoping that by controlling a vertical you’re customer acquisition cost could potentially go down. You have a niche and dedicated audience that can be primed for your product, at no additional costs (other than production, which you were paying for ads and people to create them anyway). This will outweigh any monetary benefits that come from a new advertising channel. But that’s still a reason…
- Monetization. This deal opens up the floodgates for new ways of monetization (advertisers!), brand recognition, and a recurring news hook to (potentially) place the Hubspot logo each and every day.
- Amplification. Hubspot will be able to use The Hustle to amplify their existing media capabilities.
Much like when the NYTimes imported Serial to run their podcasts, Hubspot can now turn to a talented subset of writers and creators versed in journalism and commentary.
Why didn’t Hubspot build it themselves?
This doesn’t seem to be the same as when Business Insider bought Morning Brew. In that case, Business Insider was probably fending off a potential competitor.
The fastest way for Hubspot to do this as a public company and import a built-in audience was to buy. It’s taken The Hustle several years to develop, create their strategy, and most importantly, build brand loyalty.
And that last point is a hard thing to do.
What’s the lesson for content marketers? (If there is one?)
1. Diversify your “content” offerings.
What’s clear is the old playbook of trade shows/conferences followed by a bunch of lead nurturing and sales calls is aging and almost done in by the pandemic (if it wasn’t already on its way out). This is especially true for large, B2B companies.
Think about how you will diversify in video, podcasts, or commentary and how to deliver that. That doesn’t mean you have to buy a media company, but it may mean expanding your marketing staff may look more like a media production company.
Or if you’re already good at those things, and haven’t been following the Hubspot model, maybe it’s time you did and turned to SEO as a potential channel.
2. Create consistently. Build an audience.
This sounds obvious and is humdrum, but not all content builds an audience. Instead, know what you’re building for and set the right expectations. Not all content has the same goal.
Search content isn’t meant to build a consistent audience. It’s meant to answer for a pain point, and then serve more content around that pain point. It’s built for when the user wants to access it, not when the brand delivers it (if that makes sense…that’s why it’s “evergreen.”)
Thought leadership or industryr topics does take a different mindset, and other distribution channels. Its purely based on creating regular audiences who tune in to you. All of your favorite news, sports, or gossip sites are built this way.
All of your favorite news, sports, or gossip sites are built this way.
So perhaps the switch for your company is to layer on more thought leadership along with your search content.
3. Don’t do 1 & 2. Instead, keep doing what you’re doing.
Or maybe it’s not the right time yet for your company to add more content resources, and you need to get better at the type of content that you’re currently executing on, whether that’s for search, video, or social.
Very few of us will max out our content channels like Hubspot.