It’s long been a running joke in the Digital Marketing world that Hubspot — the inbound marketing platform; has a cult-like following, with customers ‘drinking the Kool Aid’ that the company sells.
And, whilst it’s meant to be an insult, it’s a strategy that has paid off for the company — it is one of the fastest growing SaaS companies in history.
Started in 2006 by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, in 8 short years they grew from zero to $100 million+ in revenue, with an IPO in 2014.
There have been many articles written about Hubspot’s marketing & sales approach, many focusing on the specific tactics that the company uses to grow.
And, whilst that is extremely useful, it doesn’t address what is (in my professional opinion) the underlying framework that has enabled Hubspot to be the second fastest growing SaaS company focused on SMB to ever IPO — namely creating a cult.
This article will give you a glimpse into how Hubspot has used that underlying structure to propel itself from its humble beginnings in 2006 with 3 customers to 41,500+ customers by the end of 2017.
CREATING A CULT
Bran Halligan, Co-Founder of Hubspot, coined the term ‘Inbound Marketing’ in 2006 — arguably off the back of the book “Permission Marketing” written by marketing guru Seth Godin way back in 1999.
Instead of chasing customers via Direct Response marketing, inbound marketing espouses that businesses should focus on creating valuable content to entice customers to approach them.
Hubspot didn’t focus on selling their platform — instead they sold a philosophy.
This is the philosophy that Hubspot used to create a raving cult like following in the comparatively (compared to B2C) dry world of B2B.
Let’s look at how they did so.
1. THEY WRAPPED THIS PHILOSOPHY IN A NARRATIVE
The internet was not a brand new concept in 2006 — companies had been using the internet to sell for many years by that point.
Inbound marketing concepts and tactics had been around for nearly a decade as well — the term “Search Engine Optimisation” had been first used in 1997.
So, how did Hubspot turn that simple concept and one that was not especially new into a cult like following?
They wrapped it in a story
Hubspot told a story about how the world had changed, how traditional direct marketing was so much less effective than ever before. To quote the founders:
As people have increasing power and control over the ‘inputs’ into their lives, it becomes harder and harder to interrupt them with irrelevant, non-useful things. So, the only way to reach them is by pulling them in.
Hubspot created a reason WHY this concept matters by pointing out a change in the world that they could prove and one that their customer’s could see happening with their own eyes.
This is what turns a simple philosophy into a movement
Facts, figures and ROI — whilst necessary at some point to make a business case; don’t create the same level of emotional want & need that a story does.
If you’re not convinced about the power of story — just think about the fact that religion, arguably one of the most powerful force in human history, is based entirely on stories…the Bible, for example, is composed entirely of stories in the form of parables and recounting of the events that took place.
People have sacrificed their lives (for good and evil purposes) in the name of religion — that’s the persuasive power of story.
2. THEY MADE THEIR STORY HYPERBOLIC
Hubspot’s story is, like every good ‘cult creating’ story — hyperbolic.
There’s no shades of grey — it’s very black and white.
Outbound no longer works — inbound is the only way to reach customers these days.
But Is inbound marketing REALLY the ‘only way to reach potential customers?’?
Well it certainly is very effective, but it’s worth noting that Hubspot actually do outbound marketing themselves. To quote Dharmesh Shah, Co-Founder of Hubspot:
HubSpot uses a combination of inbound marketing and outbound marketing.
Whilst Hubspot’s assertion that Inbound is the only viable marketing tool these days is a tad hyperbolic, this ‘black and white’ thinking is exactly what is needed to create a cult like movement with a philosophy.
3. GAVE PEOPLE ALL THE TOOLS THEY NEEDED TO IMPLEMENT THIS PHILOSOPHY
Seth Godin espoused the same idea as Hubspot nearly a decade prior to the creation of the company, but Hubspot has made more money off the back of it than Seth Godin ever has or will.
Now, Seth Godin has a cult following much like Hubspot, but you are reading this article because you want to grow your company and not build a personal brand.
At the end of the day, Seth Godin speaks at conferences whilst Hubspot createsconferences (with 21,000 attendees!).
And this comes down to the fact that Hubspot doesn’t just espouse a philosophy, but they actually provide the tools for people to implement this philosophy within their business.
They get people excited about implementing inbound within their businesses and then they give them exactly what they need to do it.
This generates much more attachment to a brand than simply telling people what they need to do and letting them work out how to do it themselves.
The Hubspot tools are simply a means to an end — that end is implementing their philosophy of inbound marketing.
What’s more, by selling a philosophy instead of a product, Hubspot are able to group together seemingly unrelated products — creating a central hub/platform.
This creates a good ‘moat’ to protect themselves against the competition — it’s much simpler to copy a single product than a series of products.
4. THEIR BRAND IS MASSIVELY SHAREABLE
By selling a philosophy wrapped in a narrative framework they have tapped into the one of the biggest triggers in human psychology — story.
We learn and communicate via stories, in fact our entire lives are stories. Our own personal identity is one big story — the story of me.
By selling a story to their potential customers, they provide them with a perfect for the ‘layperson’ sales pitch that they can repeat to create compelling cases to their colleagues and peers as to why they need Hubspot.
A story is easy to remember, inherently interesting and extremely persuasive — the perfect selling tool for people who aren’t natural born salespeople.
Human beings have communicated via story for most of our evolutionary history — we instinctually share stories because story speaks to us in a way that facts, figures & ROI don’t.
5. THEY CREATE A SENSE OF TRIBAL IDENTITY
Hubspot have tapped into another powerful human driver — the power of tribal identity.
Sports, religion, politics, food, hobbies, music, fashion and more — human beings love to form groups of like-minded people. And with this formation of groups comes the formation of group identities — with insiders and outsiders.
The larger the group and the more we interact with it — the further attached we get to that identity.
Because Hubspot customers are using their platform every day to perform ALL of their inbound marketing, they end up being immersed constantly in everything Hubspot — the company becomes their go-to source of information and tools for everything related to that subject.
This all-in-one platform aspect of Hubspot creates a level of attachment that a stand-alone product cannot do so easily. Because their customers rely so heavily on their platform to do all things inbound, the level of tribal identity is huge.
Note — This is why Apple creates an ecosystem of products that link together.
Selling a philosophy enables companies to group together unrelated products into a cohesive ecosystem — all with the goal of helping their customers implement their philosophy.
THIS STRATEGY MADE HUBSPOT — NOT THE TACTICS
As I said at the beginning of this article, much has been written about the data driven approach that Hubspot uses to create and apply marketing & sales tactics and it’s easy to fall into the trap that it’s these tactics that made Hubspot the success it is today.
Yes, their marketing and sales execution has driven their business and revenue forward, but without the foundational strategy that I’ve talked about in this article — Hubspot’s growth would have been severely hampered.
By selling a philosophy they created a new category for themselves — inbound marketing is forever synonymous with Hubspot; and created a virtually unassailable brand with a cult following: something that many view as only possible in B2C industries.