The Internet may have created a new digital palette for the art of connecting with customers, but it's social and mobile media that will ultimately repaint the modern marketing landscape.
At least, that's what HubSpot, which builds inbound marketing software for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), is banking on. CEO and co-founder Brian Halligan said he helped start the company four years ago to address what he saw as increasingly ineffective marketing channels -- such as email blasts, cold calling, networking events, and traditional advertising -- for smaller businesses. HubSpot recently announced updates to its Web-based platform, essentially upping its bets on social and mobile marketing in the process.
"It strikes me that society is sick and tired of being marketed to, and the playbook that SMBs have been using for the last 20 years is just busted," Halligan said. "The way people live and shop and learn has really dramatically changed in the last couple of years."
HubSpot sits squarely on the inbound side of the push-pull marketing paradigm: Its software is designed to act somewhat like a tractor beam -- sans Death Star -- aimed at capturing qualified consumer interest online. The company places a particular emphasis on search, social media, and blogosphere visibility.
"Most small businesses, they have a Web site and it's sort of like a billboard in the desert: It looks very nice, their mother's very proud, but no one ever drives by it," Halligan said."Our idea is: How do we take that Web site and turn it into a living, breathing vacuum cleaner for leads and customers on the Internet?"
Once prospects have been sucked into a company's orbit, HubSpot tries to improve conversion with targeted landing pages, lead tracking, analytics, and other tactics that Halligan puts under the header of "drip marketing," aimed at building long-term relationships with potential and existing customers.
Though Halligan said that social media has been a critical part of his company's strategy from day one, mobile is a relatively new addition. HubSpot has added mobile-ready templates to its content management system (CMS) and updated its email templates to make them mobile-friendly. It has also integrated the increasingly ubiquitous "follow me" social media links in all of its email templates. The new features are currently being rolled out to select customers, with plans for widespread availability later in the year.
On the analytics side, HubSpot's Competitors report -- which allows clients to gauge their marketing performance against selected competitors -- will add yardsticks for measuring Facebook and Twitter reach, as well new online conversion benchmarks.
HubSpot's 4,000 current customers have between 1 and 200 employees apiece, according to Halligan. About half employ between 1 and 25 people, while the other half are in the 25-200 range. Halligan said HubSpot has two client profiles: "Ollie Owner" -- the SMB owner who handles marketing on the side -- and "Mary Marketer," a manager at a smaller firm charged with growing the business online with little or no staff. HubSpot itself has a staff of around 200 people.
Recent reports have shown that social sites, Facebook and Twitter chief among them, are increasingly influential in consumer buying decisions. Likewise, studies have found that the future will be an increasingly mobile one, with usage and sophistication of devices poised for rampant growth. Halligan said too many SMB Web sites are not optimized for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and other on-the-go gadgets.
"If you look at most small business Web sites, they look great in a browser but they look awful on these mobile devices," he said. Though Halligan said that HubSpot has internal debates over whether to stick with its SMB focus long-term, he likes smaller businesses for two primary reasons. First, the Web has made it easier for vendors like HubSoft to reach SMB customers. Second, the digital world has likewise made it easier for smaller companies to resemble large ones: The gap between the two has changed dramatically in terms of online presence, and any business with a compelling story -- and the content that tells that story -- can suddenly become a star player thanks to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and their brethren.
"You can turn yourself into a magnet in your industry even if you're a little tiny company, whereas that used to be very difficult to do," Halligan said. "The world is flatter."