Two grad-school friends, one brilliant idea, and overflowing showers of success. Who doesn’t love an inspirational startup story of two underdogs succeeding?
Image via Flickr
For me, HubSpot’s story has always hit close to home, since Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah grew their business out of my (and WordStream’s) close neighbor, Cambridge, MA. Meeting at MIT and identifying that marketing tactics are no longer working since the world has changed, they developed HubSpot, which is now a publically traded company (they IPO’d in October of 2014). HubSpot built itself off of the notion that instead of having sales people harass their prospects and shove their brands in peoples’ faces, marketers instead need to focus on “sharing relevant information, creating useful content, and generally being helpful.” This notion is known as “Inbound Marketing,” which HubSpot has spurred a revolution around.
“The inbound experience is about attracting, not interrupting; it’s about helping not harassing. It’s an empathetic approach to growing a business because at the end of the day it’s not just the potential purchaser on the other end, it’s an actual person,” says HubSpot co-founder, Dharmesh Shah.
In Dharmesh’s MIT days he started a blog called OnStartups, which gained a massive readership. Dharmesh and Halligan were both stumped of how a tiny blog written by a young college kid could gain so much ground. With no budget behind the blog both were in awe, but this spurred them to think about marketing in a whole new way.
Alright, enough about this heart-wrenching startup story, let’s talk about HubSpot’s current blog, which has roughly 2 million monthly readers.
Recently I was able to connect with Joe Chernov, the Vice President of Content at HubSpot, who shed some light on the content strategies used to grow HubSpot’s blog following and become viewed as a thought-leader in the industry. From Joe’s insight, I’ve come up with three guiding principles that you can apply to your content strategy to grow your readership and produce higher quality content.
Be Honest & Transparent
Joe explained that transparency is critical in gaining a quality reader base on HubSpot’s blog. “We are honest about who we are and what we do,” says Joe. “We don’t pretend we aren’t a software company. I believe honestly enhances our credibility.”
But software is not sexy. Aren’t content marketers supposed to make their brand appear attractive and intriguing to their followers? Well, yes, but if you are not clear about who you are then prospects are going to stay prospects and you could risk bringing the wrong audience to your content. “Content marketers are prone to say, ‘Help, don’t sell,’” says Joe. “Though correct, the axiom shouldn’t preclude you from acknowledging, sometimes in the content you produce, what you do or what you sell. We’re comfortable toeing that line.”
Image via Flickr
Clearly, there needs to be a balance between creating content that is informative and educational and creating content that is self-promotional, but if you can do both at the same time then you have the best of both worlds. For example, let’s say you sell spiritual retreats; create a blog post that speaks to your target audience. What do they struggle with? What problems do they face? Perhaps you create a post on “10 Ways to Beat Stress and Improve Your Well-Being.” In this post provide useful information, but also bake in a subtle call-to-action to learn more about embarking on a spiritual retreat that has the potential to transform your well-being. This is a fictional example, but a strategy that several bloggers do well, and which I encourage you to implement in your own content strategy.
Organize Your Content to Cater to Each Audience
Do you offer multiple products? Or one product that serves multiple audiences? Here at WordStream, we have a clear distinction between advertisers (as in businesses that are advertising their own business on AdWords and Bing) and marketing agencies (agencies which help their clients advertise). We market, sell, and service these two audiences in different ways. Why? Because they have different needs and goals and respond to different content. For example an advertising agency is typically more concerned with workflow and time-savings since they’re managing multiple client accounts, as opposed to an advertiser who is focused solely on growing their own business.
HubSpot has split up their blog to speak to their various audiences. “We serve three separate audiences – marketing, sales and agency professionals,” says Joe. “Each has unique interests, so rather than a single blog that co-mingles disparate topics, we separate them by persona to maximize the signal and minimize the noise.”
This strategy has proven successful for HubSpot since they’ve really grasped and tested the content that works best for each audience, but I’m not necessarily suggesting you segment your blog by channel. First build your audience, figure out if different content resonates with different personas and then re-fine from there.
Create a “Culture of Content”
I won’t name names, but I can vividly remember a college internship I completed that had a company culture that was a bit, well…depressing. The office was infused with headache inducing florescent lighting, the employees all trumped 50+ (nothing against the older generation, but for a 20-something college student the lack of youth can be discouraging at times), and having a colleague ask you what LinkedIn or Facebook was, was not out-of the norm.
Going forward, a vibrant and youthful culture was a must-have on the checklist of future employment options. HubSpot has always been huge on company culture and for good reason! Establishing a lively, fun, and transparent environment should be a priority for every business. I know WordStream has been beyond successful with this, but what exactly is meant by a culture of content? Similar to what I’m sure you are imagining, it’s the idea of engaging employees to participate in the content production of your company.
WordStream employees enjoying our company culture on Halloween
“There’s absolutely a ‘culture of content’ at HubSpot,” says Joe. “We enjoy contributions from HubSpotters in all departments and at all levels. We also have the luxury of great partners, who also contribute fresh, original content to our blog.”
But not everyone wants to or has time to blog. So what can you do to create a “culture of content?” Start by…
- Creating an Engaging Company Culture: First make sure your employees are truly happy! They won’t want to contribute to creating content if they are generally unhappy in the culture of your office environment. Plan happy hours, group events, provide snacks and drinks in your office, and let you employees know how much you appreciate all they do on a regular basis. HubSpot provides endless snacks, happy hours, team outings, and company events to keep their employees smiling.
- Publicize Call-To-Actions to get Employees Involved in Content Production: Make it clear that you want your employees to get involved! Whether that be through regular company emails highlighting the benefits of contributing (i.e. build your personal brand, establish credibility to your prospects and leads, etc.) or attending various department meetings and presenting the goal of more content from employees.
- Help Ease the Pain of Creating Content: An engineer or sales person likely does not have the advanced content creating ability that someone in marketing does. Help them! Create blog post templates that can assist them in outlining and crafting a post, conduct writing workshops to help improve employees skill sets, and have brainstorming sessions to help employees come up with content ideas.
- Provide Incentive: Who doesn’t love a steak from Capital Grill? Or a vegetarian feast from a local eatery? Create a rewards program for the top contributors to encourage their participation. At WordStream we offer a $100 gift card to the employee (outside of marketing) whose blog post performs the best during the month. For employees that contribute three posts per quarter we plan a team outing; for example, we recently attended a Bruins Game at TD Garden. Adding a “fun” element to creating content is an easy way to get valuable insight from employees in every department.
Have you used any of HubSpot’s superbly successful content strategies in your marketing efforts?
If so, have you seen them to be successful?
About the Author:
Margot is a Content Marketing Specialist at WordStream with a background in PPC, SEM, content and digital marketing. She enjoys running and eating ice cream during her free time (not simultaneous although that would be impressive). Follow her on:
Google+: +Margot da Cunha