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To break through in business-to-business marketing, a message has to look beyond improving the performance of a business to impressing and exciting the people behind it.
Customer data platform Hubspot, for example, just acquired third-party B2B data provider Clearbit in early November. While HubSpot’s offered Clearbit to its App Marketplace customers since 2019, it can now use its new subsidiary to track website visits, monitor company news announcements over roughly 20 million companies to indicate who’s buying what and when.
This is genuinely exciting stuff at the highest levels of B2B, but HubSpot’s spent much of 2023 attempting to make big steps like that sound far less wonky.
For example, HubSpot announced in October that it’s linking up with TikTok to help B2B brands use the short-form video platform to track down sales leads and drive growth. Even TikTok can sound bland if you throw a heavy blanket of customer-relationship-management speak over it, but if you stick to video and point out that half of TikTok users find brands there—with nearly 60% buying something if they see an ad on TikTok—you’re suddenly hitting a nerve.
At HubSpot’s Inbound event in Boston in September, it unveiled its HubSpot AI generative AI tools for marketing, sales and service teams as well as small businesses. It also debuted its reworked Sales Hub platform for sales reps with streamlined AI-enabled features and connection to LinkedIn’s tools.
It couched all of this in talks by Reese Witherspoon, Derek Jeter and Andrew Huberman—as well as an announced partnership with Angel City Football Club of the National Women’s Soccer League. Afterward, HubSpot launched a national campaign across YouTube’s NFL Sunday Ticket, television, DraftKings and TikTok touting its revamped Sales Hub.
Adweek spoke with HubSpot CMO Kipp Bodnar about how the company is using big-picture marketing to break through the B2B clamor and call attention to its biggest plans and products.
Adweek: What was HubSpot’s marketing strategy for 2023 and how has it worked so far?
Bodnar: We have always been obsessed with education and creating content, creating media, doing everything we can to basically build trust and credibility with our audience. That’s how we’ve grown the business over the years.
This year, we took that and then leveled it up with the best brand marketing and product marketing work we’ve ever done. Part of it was relaunching the Sales Hub product … That’s a big, huge audience [that’s] very different from our historical marketing audience. At the same time, our product had grown up a lot, so we’re repositioning. You’ve got to get everybody from your internal teams to your customers aligned on that story.
Is that a sound strategy when you have a customer base that’s familiar with your existing product, but not with the incarnation that you’re introducing?
Even if you’re deeply familiar, you might not use a part of the product that you should be thinking about using. It’s more and more important to have clarity of message and clarity of story. Otherwise people will just get lost in feature land, and that’s not what we want to have happen.
There’s often a hesitancy among B2B marketers to go with a big-picture message and a preference for cramming as much information and data into a campaign as possible. What were some of the challenges that reintroducing the Sales Hub brand presented, and how did a broader strategy pay off?
We’ve spent the last couple years really focused on telling the platform story of HubSpot: That we’re not just marketing or sales or customer service. That we were a full front-office CRM.
That was an important story to tell, but with the reimagining of Sales Hub, the challenge that we faced was the sales audience is a little different, a little more skeptical, a little harder to reach than your marketers.
We [also] found an alignment between the audience and the campaign where the audience both deeply cares about Q4 and they’re high consumers of sports and live entertainment. It allowed us to get a really clear message across at scale and allowed us to do custom partnerships with DraftKings, some sponsorships with the [Dallas] Cowboys and [New York] Jets … allowed us to really get deep into the world of marketing and sports marketing.
When HubSpot gets the data back from spots on DraftKings or NFL Sunday Ticket on YouTube, is it creating awareness among businesses an adequate result, or is HubSpot looking to convert potential partners?
You’re always going to get some conversions, but every media is designed to convert or increase consideration. This campaign was designed to increase awareness and consideration … [there are] no key metrics we’re looking at here.
Change is really what we’re looking at.
You relaunched Sales Hub and introduced HubSpot AI at Inbound in Boston amid a host of celebrity speakers. How does an event and supporting cast like that help a product’s debut?
It is one of the best investments we’ve ever made. All the key measures in terms of [net promoter score] exceeded our expectations.
It’s worked out really well, for a couple of reasons: One, we were deeply aligned as a company, our product team, our marketing team, our sales teams. Then, we really aligned well with the community …. it’s not just Reese, and Derek and Andrew Huberman and these great thought leaders. We had it down to product leaders, giving 50-person sessions on the latest and greatest of AI content generation.
Did some of those customers, partners and clients help influence the TikTok CRM platform, and has there been increased demand for more robust social data overall?
There’s a huge demand from the market for better social tools than we have.
We want to continue to build the case for understanding exactly the value of [TikTok engagement] and how much you should invest relative to your other channels. That’s what any marketer is trying to do: Figure out where to focus their time and their money. The partnership with TikTok is going to be an important step in helping everyone do that.
How has HubSpot approached social media reporting in the past, and where does the TikTok CRM fit into the equation?
Reporting is the core: Anybody who runs a marketing or sales team wants to know what’s working, what’s not working.
Reporting is only as good as the data you have. We’re fortunate to have great partnerships with folks like LinkedIn, Twitter [now X] and other folks for that data. We’re obviously great partners with Google and the like, so the more we can bring TikTok, YouTube, LinkedIn, all of that social data in, we have what’s called our attribution reporting, where you can assign different attribution models with a first touch or multi touch.
Historically, social has gotten shortchanged in those models. Now with the data that we have in the CRM, we’re able to help people better articulate the impact social is having on the overall sales and marketing process.