HubSpot is as well known for its inbound marketing content as they are for the platform they’ve built for companies to execute marketing strategies. But recently they’ve created a new online site focused more on content for C-Level executives at Fortune 1000 organizations.
Sam Mallikarjunan, Principal Marketing Strategist at HubSpot (NYSE:HUBS) and editor of ThinkGrowth.org (formally known as ReadThink.com), discusses how the site differs from the content HubSpot is best known for, why they built the site on Medium and how it’s helping them compete with established management brands like Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan, the role “skimmable” content and audio podcasts is playing in reaching execs, and how even in today’s digital marketing world most marketers still aren’t measuring the impact of their activities on ROI.
Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To see the full conversation click on the embedded video below or the SoundCloud audio player.
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Small Business Trends: Tell us about ThinkGrowth.
Sam Mallikarjunan: We launched a publication that’s different than what we normally do. You’re used to HubSpot doing tips and tricks and advice specific; how you learn the discipline of good sales and marketing, good growth. ThinkGrowth is aimed at a broader work strategy. An executive mindset. Not trying to get a lot of people to read it because there’s only a thousand Fortune 1,000 CEO’s. But Ev Williams, the founder of Medium, highlighted a bunch of our stuff. Some Salesforce VP’s highlighted a bunch of our stuff. Creating content for the really sophisticated executives who want to push thinking forward in their company. That’s what I’ve been working on for the last year.
Small Business Trends: You told me a little earlier you’re looking to compete with the MIT magazines, Harvard Business magazines. You’re starting an online magazine aimed at those kind of institutions. How daunting is that?
Sam Mallikarjunan: We have a little bit of a different strategy. HBR is a phenomenal magazine that I read every month, that has 300 years of brand presence behind it and brand power.
Getting people to turn us into a monthly reading habit may not be the winning strategy, but the beautiful thing … We publish on Medium. Medium’s an awesome content platform combined with a social network. It has those network effects. The beautiful thing about that is you get a lot of people discovering your content who never would have found you before.
Creating content that gets discovered by people who weren’t actively looking for it. How do you sell cars in a country with no roads, for example? You have to build those roads first. You have to convince people that mobility is an issue. We’re solving some of those discovery things.
Then also focusing on creating content that gets passed around within an organization. One of my biggest wins was Joel from Buffer, the CEO of Buffer, sent one of our articles around to his entire executive team. That’s our win. The CMO at Buffer may not be actively Googling, “How do I optimize my sales and marketing acquisition funnel?” and then click a CTA (call to action) and then download an ebook; and then talk to one of our sales reps. But to get him to believe in the methodology that powers Inbound, that powers HubSpot. We want to get that content to go further in a different way.
We’re not trying to sell magazine subscriptions. We’re not trying to directly competing with them (HBR/MIT Sloan Review), but we do want some of that same audience.
Small Business Trends: I know you’re doing an online publication, but where does video fit in in the strategy of reaching that top level executive? Are they starting to take in video content more?
Sam Mallikarjunan: We haven’t done as much with video. The two things that have worked well for us, one, Medium is very skimmable. It actually hurts me as a writer because you write these one sentence paragraphs and you’re writing specifically for a mobile screen. You just break all the rules of English to do it, which begs a different question … do the rules of English need to change.
That, combined with audio. We have a really popular podcast called The Growth Show. Maybe not necessarily video, but audio. I don’t know about you but more of my reading’s actually done by Audible now. Audible Channels is amazing.
The combination of skimmable mobile content, Medium, and audio content the team does with The Growth Show, that’s what’s worked for us so far.
Small Business Trends: What are the hot content areas for the forward learning executive right now?
Sam Mallikarjunan: A lot of the topics that we’re working on are, how do you structure a company to survive the future? How do you do, for example, internal disruption, internal innovation? I’ll just use us as an example because I know us well, but we rolled out a free version of the HubSpot. It was doable. Somebody was going to make a free sales and marketing software anyway. You don’t want innovation to happen to you. You want it to happen within you.
Our labs team put out the free version of that stuff to focus on self-disruption. We don’t want to wake up one morning and find some MIT kid has just crushed our business model. We want to figure it out before the MIT kid crushes our business model. Selling that concept of internal innovation and then also selling the concepts of aligned growth. Sixty percent of marketers still don’t measure their marketing in any way.
Small Business Trends: In any way?
Sam Mallikarjunan: In any way. They don’t measure it at all. You can go to stateofinbound.com. You can read the full report we had. It was really depressing. I remember when I did the state of eCommerce marketing survey. I wanted to talk about advanced attribution and all these other things … Abandoned cart nurturing. It was more than 50 percent of people don’t measure the abandoned cart rate, much less actually do abandoned cart nurturing. I’m trying to avoid … Are you familiar Butler syndrome?
I call it sprocket syndrome … We have to fight the temptation that everybody in the world is as sophisticated as the people who come to the Inbound event. Most people still do marketing the same way it was done 10 or 15 years ago. I want to avoid us having this echo chamber of, “Okay, everybody’s doing amazing work already,” and ignoring the part of the market that still has to be educated.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.