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Interview with Brian Halligan, Co-Author of Inbound Marketing


Podcast interview with Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot.

I interviewed Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot to discuss his new book, Inbound Marketing, Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs, which Brian co-authored with his co-founder and fellow MIT alumnus Dharmesh Shah. First, I asked Brian to briefly describe HubSpot. In full disclosure, Find and Convert is a HubSpot partner.

HubSpot is an inbound marketing software company which is about three years old now. HubSpot helps companies transform their marketing strategy from the ground up through a methodology which is implemented and managed on their web-based software platform. HubSpot software helps marketers run their organic search engine optimization, PPC and social media strategies with analytics and lead intelligence to measure results.

Inbound Marketing – The Book

Brian describes his new book as a cookbook for marketers that provides the transformation from old style marketing to the new inbound marketing. The book describes how marketing has changed over the past 5 years. In his book, Brian and Dharmesh outline the five steps in becoming an inbound marketing centric business.

  1. Create lots of content
  2. Optimize that content for Google and social media
  3. Spread that content
  4. Measure results
  5. Convert website visitors to leads and customers

A New Mindset

If you’ve read my blog before or listened to any of my recent podcasts you’ve heard me say that the new marketing is a mindset. It’s a new way of thinking. It’s all about creating content and building relationships through your content. As Brian points out in his book, marketers need to make the shift away from interruptive marketing to inbound marketing. He says the modern marketer is half a traditional marketer and half a content creator. When a marketer creates “remarkable” content, other content producers will remark about your content. In fact others will link to your content. And, links are the currency of the web which will produce traffic to your website. In fact, Brian says the modern marketer’s content becomes a magnet to their website hub.

Not Your Father’s Marketing

I asked Brian how marketers can embrace inbound marketing? In response he takes us on a trip down memory lane (you may not be old enough to remember his story). He says that marketing hasn’t changed much over the last 50 years. But, during the past 5 years it’s changed a lot and will continue to change in the coming years. In 1965 television ads worked exceptionally well. People had to watch the ads. They had no choice. In fact, they had few choices in their media consumption. Today, consumers can block out ads across most media platforms including television, radio. email and web browsers. In short, consumers can filter out most advertiser’s interruptions.

Are You Worthy?

In years past any company with a healthy budget could advertise and sell products. Even bad products could be marketed and sold with a big budget.  Today, the friction is far less for great ideas with less money required to get the word out. Good products with good positioning and happy customers can sell by spreading the word around the web. Bad products (unworthy) can’t hide anywhere in the current marketing paradigm.

Measuring Results

A common question asked by marketers about inbound marketing is how do you measure results? Not surprisingly, Brian and Dharmesh devoted a chapter to this question. Their advice is to look at campaigns using the funnel metaphor. Study the flow of visitors to your website hub, the conversion to leads, to opportunities and ultimately to customers. Study all the web channels that filled your funnel and see which ones have produced the best results in the funnel. The ones that work best you should  “double down” on and nix or revise the ones that don’t.

What’s Remarkable Content?

I asked Brian how does a widget manufacturer produce remarkable content? One of the case studies in his book is Whole Foods. They are a natural and organic grocery food retailer. As part of their inbound marketing strategy one of their buyers blogs during his trips to France.  He blogs about his meals during his trips, and the cheeses he bought on his trips. He cites another example of a fishing rod manufacturer who creates lots of content about the industry, not about the product. The magic sauce of inbound marketing is not to sell your product through your content. He says marketers should turn their website into a magnet about your industry to attract people. Invite customers, analysts and others interested in industry topics to engage with your content. Allow your content to become a magnet and engage people in ways that can convert into leads. It’s a very common mistake when marketers jump on the web and create content all about their products.  Marketers can be very successful inbound marketers if they talk about industry issues and watch others link to your content.

Watch Your Competition

Marketers can easily watch their competitors in the age of social media and tools like Google Alerts. HubSpot created a series of tools under the Grader brand. Marketers can use Website Grader to measure their own websites, as well as their competitors side by side.  Other Grader tools such as Twitter Grader and Facebook Grader allow marketers to watch their competitors on a frequent basis with a lot of transparency. Marketers can watch the competitive trends. Startups can be very aggressive by watching competitors closely.

Why Now?

In this chapter Brian and Dharmesh stress that marketers should not wait to embrace inbound marketing.  The barriers to entry to beat the top content producers are high. The longer a marketer waits to become an inbound marketer the harder it will be to catch up. All the great content that marketers produce will generate links back to their website hub. The content becomes a permanent asset on the web.

Marketing Crystal Ball

I asked Brian what’s in his marketing crystal ball? To answer this question, he referenced the large old style marketers like P&G who have allocated big money to advertising over the past 50 years. This approach to marketing built Madison Ave. Brian predicts that in the next 50 years inbound marketing will flip Madison Ave on its head. Advertisers have fewer media outlets to turn to because consumers are watching less television and reading less print. Instead consumers are going online using Google, social media and blogs. Brian predicts the next group of companies that will become Google-size success stories are those who engage on the web through remarkable content. The next Coke will not be an interruptive marketer. The next Coke will be content producers with a great product. I partially disagree. I think this will happen in the next 5 or 10 years. It won’t take 50 years. Just look at Zappos.

Two Real World Examples

I asked Brian for two great examples of inbound marketing. But, I required that he describe his own company as one of them. You may think this was a softball. But, the truth is that HubSpot is a poster child for inbound marketing. I asked Brian to describe their success with HubSpot TV. He described the early days of HubSpot before the product launched.  He was actively blogging about inbound marketing several times each week.  He rapidly adopted the mindset of constantly creating content. So, it started even before HubSpot launched version one of their software product. This approach eventually led to the development of their free Grader products (great content) described earlier. One day one of HubSpot’s product developers, Karen Rubin, suggested starting a TV show! Though some people initially laughed, she convinced V.P. Marketing Mike Volpe, himself a prolific content producer. The rest is history. HubSpot TV is more than one year old now with a loyal and sizable audience. It airs live every Friday at 4pm eastern and is syndicated in iTunes ranking #1 for inbound marketing and other related terms. Shameless plug: I was a guest on HubSpot TV in August. I had a blast!

The other success story Brian told is from his book about a company called 37Signals. I learned that this company has long provided inspiration to HubSpot. They are a small software company out of Chicago with really great products. They created a wildly successful blog called Signal Versus Noise. This blog was once a top 100 blog. They also created a book, and their reputation spread very quickly. I pointed out (unknown to Brian) that we are a 37Signals customer. We use their Basecamp product in our client engagements. And, we learned about Basecamp through word of mouth. Proof positive that inbound marketing is for real.

At the end of my interview with Brian he said something which I believe is profound in its simplicity and its reality. Brian said “Inbound Marketing is not rocket science. The sooner you do it the better off you are!”

Brian, I couldn’t agree with you more…I wish you and Dharmesh success with your new book, Inbound Marketing which is available everywhere.


21 thoughts on “Interview with Brian Halligan, Co-Author of Inbound Marketing”

  1. Great podcast giving a valuable overview on inbound marketing. I can relate to how the both of you addressed the difficulty marketers have in adopting a marketing 2.0 mindset when marketing 1.0 has served them well in the past. The fact, feature, benefit and sell sell sell mentality of decades of marketing 1.0 mantra can be difficult to abandon. Creating editorial content that is industry focused rather than company-centric takes effort and a big change in thinking but building better customer relationships and the uptake in lead generation are worth moving the cheese.

  2. Michelle Berdeal

    I loved this podcast! You both did an excellent job on discussing and giving examples on why adopting a new marketing mindset is so important for businesses today and in the future. I am enjoying reading Bernie's book (almost finished with it) and I look forward to reading Brian and Dharmesh's book as well!

  3. You kind of inspired "not your father's marketing" when you referenced Leave it to Beaver during one of our recent chats about how advertising use to work so well decades ago when consumers were a captive audience.

    Go ahead and use it. 🙂

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  5. I recently saw Brian speak at the Inbound Marketing Summit '09 and he talked about the "old marketing model" which was based on interrupting someone to pitch your product. I once read a great quote that said, "marketing to the disinterested is counterproductive", and I couldn't agree more.

    The bottom line is that people are looking for what you do and you have to make sure you can be found. It takes a great deal of effort but it will pay off in the end.

    Thanks for the post!

    – John

  6. John – you hit on a key point. Inbound marketing does take effort. But, if you're going to put effort into marketing (which all brands should) why not work at it in a way that produces engagement and results rather than doing "the same old thing with declining results."

  7. Clearly, magnetic inbound marketing is the ideal.

    I STILL think the product has to be great – like Hubspot – and thus the team that builds it has to be great. Having a whole Cambridge-quality team of classy and educated techno's is certainly a tremendous advantage.

    Like many great books, the application to other enterprises of this inbound concept can be difficult. Almost like armchair quarterbacking – after the fact – by a success story that can not be replicated.

    As a solo entrepreneuer, not having a team with diverse talents is a tremendous impediment to growth marketing. Even with a great product.

    Engaging Content as Key:
    Creating content about industry-specific issues to engage others to talk about your brand is an interesting concept – and sizable task.

    Bernie, where i could I find an expansion of this topic? Brian's Inbound Marketing Book only appears to touch on it briefly. (based on this post that is…as I haven't read it.)

    1. Larry – it's admittedly more challenging when you are a solo entrepreneuer. But, it's very doable. It really requires a mindset shift. Think like a publisher of content. Make it habitual and you'll get the mindset along with the results.

  8. I love the HubSpot graders- quick, easy to use, help zone in on areas to tweek & improve. Inbound marketing does take effort; however like everything, it takes some sweat equity to build a "quality relationship". I definitely prefer for folks to FIND me ;o)

    BTW, Brian Halligan is the featured thought leader presenter at the MIT Enterprise Forum Virtual MasterClass discussing “Marketing Strategies from the Trenches for Entrepreneurial Success” next Fri, 11/20, 12 noon. An opportunity to learn and get your questions answered live by him.

    Details here:

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