Guide to building an inbound engine with Kieran Flanagan, SVP Marketing at HubSpot

This episode of the FINITE Podcast talks you through a step by step guide to building an inbound media engine.

By utilising content, you can reach and influence your target audience by having a clear purpose, choosing the right channels, and by having a promotion playbook.

Listen to the episode to hear from a world-class content marketer Kieran Flanagan, who is currently Senior Vice President of Marketing at HubSpot. Kieran created this step by step guide to help you build a media engine for your B2B tech company.

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Full Transcript

Alex (00:07):

Hello, and welcome back to another FINITE Podcast episode. I’m very lucky to be welcoming Kieran Flanagan onto the show today. Kieran is Senior Vice President of Marketing at HubSpot, and we’re talking about how software companies can build media and content engines to drive their growth. 

Something that’s fair to say HubSpot are famous for doing extremely well. In this episode, Kieran breaks down his eight steps to building a winning content formula in a really nice and easy to follow framework. 

Kieran’s also written a blog post on the same subject, which I’ll link to below as well as having his own podcast and a great blog on lots of other subjects relating to marketing and growth. So head over to to check that out. But in the meantime, enjoy this episode.

FINITE (00:46):

The FINITE community and podcasts are kindly supported by 93x, the digital marketing agency working exclusively with ambitious fast-growth B2B technology companies. Visit to find out how they partner with marketing teams in B2B technology companies to drive growth.

Alex (01:07):

Hey Kieran, thanks for joining me today.

Kieran (01:09):

Yeah, thanks for having me on Alex.

Alex (01:11):

I’m looking forward to talking. We’ve got a subject which I think will resonate with lots of our listeners in terms of building a content marketing media engine. And I think all of our listeners will be very aware of how much you do of that HubSpot. 

And I’m sure looking forward to your insights there, but before we dive into that, I will let you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do, and some of your background and experience and where you focus your time and energy at the moment.

About Kieran’s role at HubSpot

Kieran (01:35):

Yeah, so I work at HubSpot. Previous to that I worked at Marketo and Salesforce, so a lot of jumping around SaaS companies. I’ve been at HubSpot for quite a while, just over seven years. I’m a Senior Vice President of Marketing in HubSpot.

And the different groups that I manage are our customer acquisition groups, where we try to generate all of the demand that our sales team need to be successful. And our product led model needs to be successful around the globe. Content and community, which is something really important to HubSpot and then partnerships marketing, and just how we create all of the websites we create. And so my focus is spread across those things.

Alex (02:13):

Awesome. And what’s the kind of team size structure? Do you structure things centrally or regionally or how does it look?

Kieran (02:19):

It’s probably 120+. I could be more than that. I should know that number off hand. Where it’s structured, I have people based predominantly based in the US across our office and some all remote. Some people based in Europe, one person based in Singapore. So it’s spread at different places, but the majority of people are somewhat based in the US.

Alex (02:50):

Awesome. Should we dive into the subject? So I’ve been really looking forward to talking about this, cause I think it’s pretty hard to go into a content marketing conversation without HubSpot coming up in some form or another. I think your blog is famous for just how much traffic it brings in. 

I think it’s pretty hard to Google anything to do with marketing without HubSpot being in the top few. Do you have any number? I don’t know whether it’s even public, are you able to share it, but do you have any numbers around how much traffic that blog gets?

Kieran (03:16):

The best thing to do is just go look at similar webs and Ahrefs. Cause I don’t know what I’m allowed to say or not say, but it’s considerable, from working at previous B2B companies, there’s very few B2B companies that would have as much traffic as we get through the content we create.

Alex (03:32):

Yeah, definitely. And so I guess let’s start by setting the scene. I think you wrote a blog post and recorded a podcast on your own podcast, which we’ll link to, relating to this in terms of building a winning content formula. 

I think you mentioned at the start, you kind of set the scene with a quote from, I think it was Dharmesh one of the HubSpot co-founders, around this idea of media companies having software companies, software companies now having media companies. Do you want to tell us a bit more about what that means to lay the foundations?

Software companies owning media companies 

Kieran (04:05):

I think about this a lot. So what Dharmesh was saying was traditionally media companies fed small software companies in there, whether they’re building ad tech, whatever they’re doing to help run those media companies. And in the future, next generation software companies will actually have media companies as part of their go to market. And that’s what HubSpot has. 

We have what we call an inbound media engine, where we think about how we create content across reach and influence. And we can get into that. And if you think about, why did this occur or what happened to propel software companies to be more focused on media? I think there’s a couple of things. 

I think B2B companies traditionally had always created content for the decision maker for their product. And I think that group of people are more niche. So it’s hard to get real traction when you’re building for a niche audience, right? Publishing models generally try to build for a broad enough audience to get traction. 

And I think what happened was B2B companies were like, we should just create content for both the functional practitioner of our software and the decision makers. So then we have more people we can acquire through content. We can create more channels we can go after. And then I just think that trying to run your business by advertising on everyone else’s properties is not an efficient way to run that business. 

And so why can’t you have a similar publishing model specifically for your audience and tailored for your audience, where you can own the channels for yourself, then you can manage your own kind of advertorials in every way you want to manage those across your own properties. Now when most software companies are creating some content across reach and influence, whether that’s both or one, they’re specifically targeting and building into one of those areas.

Alex (05:51):

Makes sense. You really concisely lay out eight steps that you think need to go into this approach. One question that just came to mind a bit, and based on some discussion I’ve had recently is do you have any thoughts on building out content brands that are almost standalone from your own eyes? 

Because I think most of your content is on just like, right? Whereas some tech companies will build out their own media brand owned community that’s separate. And obviously there’s pros and cons in terms of authority and independence. But also then is it harder to attribute and tie back to driving results. But any perspectives on that?

Start with a problem statement to find your content’s purpose 

Kieran (06:27):

It starts with the problem you’re trying to solve. I think you need to have a really great problem statement. And then when you’ve nailed your problem statement, then you can create content that solves that problem. So if you think about it, let’s use an example of a company that builds off site and somewhat of a publishing media arm that’s built for different reasons than a lot of other companies. 

So like Stripe is really interesting in my mind when you look at Stripe, they bought Indie Hackers, which was a community for small and solo preneurs. And it’s a really great community with a great site, has a lot of great information. 

They actually bought Indie Hackers when they were only a year old. They were generating $5000 in revenue. They also have a media brand called Increment. And if you go to Increment, you would never know that’s by Stripe. So then you think, okay, well what problem are they trying to solve? 

And if you actually listened to the founders of Stripe, the problem they’re trying to solve with those media properties is they just want to help small businesses be successful on the internet. Because they believe the more businesses that are successful on the internet, more of those companies will need payments and they’ll be the predominant payment option. 

So they’re not trying to create a traditional marketing funnel where they funnel all of this traffic into qualified leads or into their product. They really just want to try to make more of those businesses successful in what they do. 

Then if your problem statement is I need to create media properties where I can really own the traffic and be able to convert it into things around my product, I always think creating media brands on third-party properties is a really bad way to do that. It just does not build up domain authority. 

Like one of the ways you would go to market through, if you’re building a reach playbook is predominantly through search. And if you’re distributing these brands through different properties, you’re not acquiring all of this demand authority onto your own domain. It disconnects it from the brand. 

It’s just harder for the consumer of that content to make the mental jump and leap from where they are to where you are. And so I’ve seen companies do that a lot, and I always wonder what problem they’re trying to solve because some of them, like Stripe, make sense when they actually articulate it. I think a lot of them are probably marketers making bad choices.

Alex (08:40):

Yep. Makes sense. I guess the starting point in this approach that you laid out is basically breaking down content into three pretty simple categories, which I think is an overlooked point sometimes, but I think you break this down quite nice and simply. 

And I really what we’re going to talk through is a framework that people can take and apply, which is really nice to have something tangible. But do you want to just explain how you divide those categories up into three main buckets?

The three main categories of content publishing 

Kieran (09:05):

Yeah. I think if you think about what is publishing? Publishing is storytelling right? At it’s very heart it’s just storytelling. And then there’s like, how can software companies tell stories? And I think there’s three categories of stories you can tell. And it’s pretty interesting to think about these. 

Cause one of them is you’re telling stories and pushing them into the market. And two of the others are telling stories and extracting demand from the market. So you’re telling stories about your company and your brand, and you want to push those stories into the market. You want to change the way people perceive a problem and how they actually think about your company and how you solve that problem. 

And I think that is one of the ones that you have to create that demand within the market because that perception doesn’t always already exist, so you’re trying to attach your name to that. The other two are industry topics. So I want to create stories around what my audience is talking about. 

So I’m taking demand out of the market because my audience is interested in certain topics. They’re passionate about those topics. I’m going to create thought leadership content. I want to create this kind of content that actually aligns to that and brings them into my properties. 

And then the third one is educational content, which is really a search driven play, where you’re creating the things that your audience wants to learn about. And again, you’re taking demand from the market because your audience are in the market searching for those things. 

The one that is not on here, that a lot of media companies build their brands off is news. And I think news for software companies, for the most part, it doesn’t make sense. There are creative ways you could do things on news, but I think these are the three fundamental stories that most software companies actually tell.

Alex (10:37):

So you’ve got these three kind of main categories of content. I guess it’s then looking at the different channels that they go out on. And I think, again, this is a big challenge as a lot of businesses put every bit of content across every channel. Some put some into, only particular channels. 

On your blog post you broke down a bit of a two by two grid of where you think content channels can be plotted. Tell us a bit more about that. 

Choosing the right channels for content 

Kieran (11:00):

Yeah. I have a better grid than this now because I’ve been working on this a little bit over the last couple of weeks, but let’s think about like, how do we create content? And when I think about how you create content, the questions that I would go through is, how do you discover that content? What does the media asset? What is that person going to engage with when they’re on that content? How do you turn them into whatever is demand for you? 

It doesn’t need to be a lead. It can be watching a video or interacting with your brand. And then how do you continue to engage with them? And so you have this linear flow, cause people don’t think about how you discover the content, right? They just produce content. They’re not thinking about actually, how does the person discover this? 

Because if the person discovers it with Google and you don’t think through that, then you’re not optimising for that platform. And then you really have inbound media properties that either live on reach or influence. Reach are properties where you can get lots of scale through the content. There’s a ready made platform or distribution channel. And the content actually matters more than the author of that piece. 

And so you think about creating reach content. Educational stories fit really nicely into reach content because they have a ready-made distribution platform through Google. There’s all of this search traffic. And for the most part, you’re not thinking, oh wow Kieran created this great piece of content on how do I create a media strategy or a content strategy. 

You search that thing, and you have great content, you recognise the HubSpot brand and you consume that content. And then you leave, you skim that content, you don’t interact with a lot of other things. Then influence is media properties like a podcast is a really good example of an inbound media property that lives in influence because influence you have a lot more engagement with the person if they stay tuned. And I think it matters much more who the host is, who the guest is, who’s saying these things and who the individual content publisher is. 

So when I think about media, I think about from discovery to continuing to have an ongoing relationship with that person and then how I bucket my media properties into their either reached properties or influenced properties. 

Some straddle both, but you probably primarily lean towards one or the other because it’s hard to do both through a single channel. And so that’s the kind of framework that I use to kind of categorise and have a single way to think about an inbound media engine.

Alex (13:13):

I guess, as you mentioned, a lot of qualitative research applies to all content and being customer centric and understanding people’s problems and really listening to the audience’s key across everything. But then you also map out some unique inputs for each of these categories. 

So across educational content, thought leadership content, branded content, there’s different as you described them unique inputs that drive those and allow you to define an editorial calendar and start to break out the content, you’re going to produce educational content. And you talked about it being pretty search driven, driven by keyword research data. What about the other two in terms of thought leadership and branded content? 

Unique inputs for each category of content 

Kieran (13:51):

Branded content is a result of your company’s mission. It’s the only one that the input comes from internal. Like the input for educational thought leadership or really external input for branded content and internal because you have a core mission and a core way you want people to perceive your brand, your product. And that’s how you decide on the content you create around the brand. 

The thought leadership is not too dissimilar from educational content, where you have core inputs. We are looking to see what’s trending within your audience. And I think part of that is actually talking to people. Like marketers tend to want to just use platforms and not actually speak to anyone. 

And I think they should probably hang around with people in product a little bit more to see how a product actually gets to the root of what their audience cares about and what their customers care about. And similar to like content, good content creators should do that as well. 

And so in thought leadership and trending topics, you can use tools like I’m sure there are people listening who have better processes than I’m going to go through, but you can use tools like BuzzSumo, Quora, different social platforms to actually dig in, to see what your audience are engaging with to see what kind of conversations are happening. 

It would be really great if you’re a part of communities that your audience hang out in, or if you’re building a community yourself, it’s a great way to find these thought leadership topics and trending topics. So that has an external input educational, as you say, it has an external input cause it’s search and then branded has an internal input.

Alex (15:02):

Cool. And I think actually that just made me think about, cause we had Rand Fishkin on the podcast recently and, I don’t know whether you’ve seen his new product SparkToro but quite an interesting market research platform. I guess not quite trending topics, but it gives you a bit of insight around what people are looking at and reading and that kind of thing, which is interesting. It’s definitely worth checking out, it’s pretty cool. 

A big challenge I think for a lot of our listeners will be thinking, okay this all sounds great in principle, but actually we’re a marketing team of like three. A VP marketing, a generalist and another generalist or maybe like one content person. But that’s just about it. 

Can you tell us a little bit about the depths of knowledge and expertise across different channels needed for content and growth? Because obviously, I know that SEO is a full-time job for many people just in itself. Whereas some marketers are tasked with this as just a job spec item alongside 50 other things. 

How do you balance out? Or I guess any advice you have for smaller businesses and our listeners span everything from enterprise tech down to a 10 person startup and everything in between, but any tips for approaching this with more limited resources? 

Creating an inbound engine with a small team 

Kieran (16:13):

So first of all, I think some honesty, because I think you tend to have people come on podcasts and say, you can compete, you just need to do these things better. I think the reality is if you’re in a certain space and you have two people and another, and most of the competitors in that space are bigger, more mature, have more funding and have like 20 people trying to solve the same problem. 

Then you’re at a unique disadvantage and it’s going to be very hard for you to do anything within that space within that channel. And so I just think there are certain spaces where there’s real saturation and what happens is people will invest in content. 

There’s two difficult things with content, which is one, we’ve got to the point now where people understand the benefits of doing this and building these media engines. And so there’s a lot of spaces where it’s saturated, not saturated, but very competitive. And so you have new companies come in smaller teams and they try this for a little bit and they’re like, it doesn’t work for me. And what’s happening is you just can’t compete. 

Or the second part is I think when you think about a startup or a smaller company, for me content marketing is like your retirement fund. You’re building towards this long fund that you can grow from over time. And what startups need is really just that quick hit from paid marketing. So they think content is going to solve the problems in three to six months, and it’s really a long term investment. And they just give up. 

I think some things you can think about is if I’m going in and I want to create like this media, I really believe that an inbound media engine is a way for me to grow. And there’s just a plethora of different things that I could do across different channels. 

First of all, understand do I need reach or influence because in some B2B brands, your core market, especially in enterprise, they’re not searching for things and are not looking for education stories. You really just want to influence them. And you want to create things that they engage with. And so you may need way fewer people engaged with your content, but just a higher caliber person, like just a decision maker or more of a niche audience. 

And you can build from there if you’re competing within the reach space. And you’re trying to go for as much broad acquisition as you can get, you just need a lot of demand coming through your content. Instead of trying to, let’s say I’m in a category where there’s 10 different topics that I could create content around and within each topic, there’s hundreds of posts. 

What you want to do is probably pick one topic that your competitors are under delivering on or under or there’s certain formats they’re missing. They’re not doing enough imagery or videos. They just don’t cover it in a way that you could cover it for your audience. And you try to find some competitive advantages. 

And then you build that content around that single topic and compete on that single topic and go from there. What you’ll find most startups do is they just try to scattergun content all over the place. And so they’re not really competing in any one place. And I think you could try to prioritise your efforts against a smaller number which will be more successful.

Alex (19:03):

Do you think that’s driven by lack of data and insights and research to really shape that kind of content that scattergun approach?

Kieran (19:09):

It’s driven a little bit by, you have to take on more risk if you actually prioritise a smaller number of things. Like the scattergun approach in general for all of us is usually because we’re not sure of ourselves. We’re like we’ll have a lot of things going so hopefully something will work out. 

Where we’re not actually making the real hard decision, which is no, I need to actually spend the next six to eight months to 10 months just investing in these core things that I think are the right things to do for the business. And maybe you’ve built some data, you’ve run some experiments, you have some data to say, this is the correct path, but for me, it’s not just in content, it’s in leadership. 

Like the true test of a leader, I think is being able to say no to things. And the reason it’s hard to say no to things is because you actually have to say yes to a smaller number of things and be right more often than you’re wrong.

Alex (20:04):

Yeah. That definitely sounds like it’s a topic familiar to a lot of our listeners I’m sure. I guess this leads on to the next stage of things in terms of how deep you go within these topics. And as you mentioned, I think in your posts that a lot of lessons we’ve gotten familiar with, HubSpot’s topic cluster model of pillar content and cluster content and how effective that can be. And I suggest anyone listening to check that out if they’re not. 

But I was just looking at some of our recent, because we’ve just done a big kind of end of year FINITE community piece of research looking at marketing challenges over the last year, which some of which are pretty obvious, but looking into next year, how people are looking. 

And one of the questions we asked was what are your biggest challenges going into 2021? I think the biggest challenge that came up was balancing quality and quantity, which got nearly half of the votes and that wasn’t a content marketing specific quality and quantity, but it was just broadly across marketing. But I think when we talk about this point, it’s within content that people find the hardest. 

How much do you invest in a 10,000 word white paper with 12 contributors from across your company externally? Versus turning out blog posts that Google really loves back to your readers it’s just like, this is junk ,it’s just written for search and obviously everything in between. How do you view that in terms of what I think you described as topic depth versus peanut buttering?

Balancing quantity of content with quality 

Kieran (21:22):

So the content quality versus quantity has probably been the number one thing that people struggle with for the last decade. I think I’ve seen that all the time as the top challenge that people have. It’s somewhat hard to answer because I think it definitely is unique per company. Like what is the right thing to do? 

I think your content should be doing something meaningful for you and you should know what that is, right? So if you’re churning out quantities of content, there shouldn’t be a choice between quality and quantity because quantity assumes that there’s no quality. 

Quantity assumes that you’re churning out content and it’s doing nothing meaningful for you because there’s a certain quality bar that you have to reach for it to have a meaningful impact on whatever you want to have a meaningful impact on. So to your question, the kind of example you said is, if they’re turning out a ton of blog posts for Google and your users think that they suck, it should be pretty easy to see that because you have traffic that bounces at a pretty high rate and they take no meaningful action after that. 

So that conversation really is just like, what is the right quality bar for each of the channels that I’m invested in? And then how do I resource that in a way that allows me to compete at that quality bar? Right? So if you were like, when I look across the blogs that my audience waits for the content that I want to create, this is where they are, and this is where I need to be to compete on that. And then do I have the resources to do that? 

So it’s really just a quality versus resources issue versus a quality/quantity. I don’t think they’re really an option with each other. And so I think you just need to understand how you’re going to differentiate yourself. What is available to your content consumers and your audience currently, and how are you going to compete with what is there? 

Because ultimately you’re in a competition with not just your competitors, if you’re creating content that they’re getting from user-generated places or wherever they’re consuming that content, they’re all your competitors. And so you have to understand the landscape and then you have to understand what quality you have to reach to be able to compete against that. And then what can you do now with the resource you have, and then how do you staff and resource that over time to continue growing?

Alex (23:30):

That definitely resonates. I think we recorded an episode a little while ago on specifically quality versus quantity in content. I think the conclusion we reached was to decide whether or not we’re meeting our quality standards. We have to define what quality means to begin with. Otherwise we’re just on the grey, subjective, sliding scale, where it just comes down to opinion and it’s not easy to do necessarily. 

But I think, unless you can say this is what defines a quality piece of content, does it meet our tone of voice? Does it solve a user need or problem in a certain way? You’re always going to be in this slightly vague debate about which one you’re leaning towards more.

Kieran (24:06):

People take meaningful action after consuming that content. Like there’s just ways that you can actually determine is it serving your purpose and do they find it interesting? Is it helping them?

Alex (24:16):

Yeah, makes sense. I’m pretty sure one of the guys from Ahrefs, someone did a talk and I think they made reference to a blog post on the HubSpot site which was something like ‘the keyboard shortcut to do a particular emoji’ or something being, I don’t know whether this has come back your way, being the most popular blog post on the HubSpot website. 

Which I don’t know whether you can, probably not true anymore, given how much content you guys are producing, and it was a couple of years ago, but I think they’d figured out that that was one of the most popular blog posts on the whole site. 

And obviously given the nature of it, we might expect that you’re probably not driving tons of pipeline and leads through that type of post, but you’re getting lots of traffic and who knows what it leads to. I guess, is it fair to say that at the HubSpot side of things, you’re going for a certain quantity, right? In terms of demand and volume of traffic to the site?

Kieran (25:07):

I would say that we are in a constant… We have like guardrails in terms of the content we create around certain topics. And sometimes we step out of those guardrails and there’s certain content that we create that we actually then prune and redirect into other content. So we have goals, we have goals for our blog, but we goal all of our media properties on the meaningful action versus the traffic they create. 

So for us, it’s like we have very specific offers or courses or things you can get as part of reading that blog post, that you will be made aware of. And the way that we look to see where our blogs have been successful is if people are doing those things and they have to like fill out a form or create an account. So there’s a meaningful action they have to take. And we’re definitely not in the traffic for the sake of traffic. 

We have a chart that shows us the correlation between traffic and meaningful actions. And if they go off kilter, we’ll look into it and we’ll say, we’ve kind of overstepped the guardrails we have in place in terms of what content is relevant for the audience we’re going after. 

And we’ve certainly done that many times and I’m sure Ahrefs probably found posts where we’ve stepped over the guardrails and that they went back and looked at those posts have disappeared. Because traffic is not that valuable to us. It’s the meaningful actions that the traffic generates that’s actually valuable to us. And so we don’t want to be out there showing off our traffic at conferences. That’s not actually what’s valuable to us.

Alex (26:29):

This kind of relates to the next point around actually promoting content, getting it out. Obviously we’ve talked quite a lot about organic search and how key that is particularly for certain types of content. But you make reference to something which I’d love to get a bit more detail from you on, what that means and what that looks like tangibly possibly is this kind of idea that each channel has its own promotion playbook. Any more information you can share on how you approach that?

Creating a promotion playbook 

Kieran (26:53):

So creating content is one part of the puzzle. I know you get again the generic Twitter people saying every piece of content you create, spend eight hours promoting it or whatever’s the new kind of post phrase that we’re using. Some content, if you think about blogs, how you need to promote blogs changes based upon where you are on your journey. 

Like at the start of creating a blog you’re probably promoting that content quite a lot. You’re trying to drive links to it cause you have no domain authority. You just have very little equity build up within that property. And then over time as you build domain authority and you have good insight and internal optimisation, so it’s just less promotion you need to do. 

And you can just invest more and more in the quality of the content you’re putting out. There’s certain content that you want to treat like a product launch, right? I think people tend not to do that, but if I’m creating a guide or an ebook or a template or a course, we would create many product launches for those things, and it’s looks and feels the same way you would think of by a product launch. 

And I think that is where people get into the kind of conversations. You have your creative piece of content, you need to take X number of hours. And I don’t know what actually the right ratio is, but I do think that if you’re putting 10 hours into something to create and it gets very few visitors and you’ve just wasted a bunch of time, you need to actually be real with yourself and ask yourself in terms of how much time and effort it’s going to take me to create this and how much ongoing promotion I’m actually going to do for that. 

And so I think you would look across, how do I promote things across my blog? And then you have the early part of the promotion, late stage of promotion, whether you’re investing in YouTube, podcasts is a particularly tricky medium to promote. And so it would need its own playbook and own ways to promote episodes and interests and things you can do for podcasts. 

And so I just think you need to be honest with yourself, what it takes to actually compete. And it’s not as easy as just like creating the content. Certain channels you need to have really good distribution plans. And when you think about properties, some are easier for audience growth, but get less content consumption. And some are really great for content consumption, but are really hard for audience growth. 

And you give the examples that I give, which is blog and podcast. Blog is somewhat easy for audience growth because it has a built in distribution channel through Google and people skim blogs. I can’t skim, I was reading one blog post and the reason people do that is because they come in through a certain search and they just want to fill that need. Whereas podcasts are really great for audience engagement. 

People generally really listen to a podcast if they like it, it is really hard for audience growth, doesn’t have a ready-made distribution channel, you have iTunes and Spotify, but they’re not great platforms. There’s just a very defined way you get your podcasts into the trending podcast and that’s fully all you can kind of do and get reviews. So yeah, you just have to be honest with what it really takes to be successful in the different media properties you have.

Alex (29:53):

One of the other big challenges that came out of our research was I think the quality/quantity one that you said as people who heard many years from now come up again, digital fatigue actually came up second. This idea that to stand out in the digital world is kind of harder than ever with everything that’s been happening. And then third on the list was measuring the right things. 

And I guess probably similar to the quality vs quantity, measuring the right KPIs, particularly in B2B with longer sales journeys and different attribution models that exist is not easy. You talk a little bit about the key metrics for content marketing across a few different buckets. Talk us through how you break that down because I think that’s a big challenge for people.

Measuring the right KPIs for content performance 

Kieran (30:29):

Yeah. It comes back to reach and influence, right? So reach is like direct monetisation, I think, but it’s not too dissimilar from when you think about paid marketing. And there’s three buckets you have for paid marketing. You can spend on direct response and you can measure every return you get on every dollar. 

So I spend a dollar, I get back $3. I have some money, either I can go on a correlation like influenced dollars. So I spend on paid and I don’t see a direct return on someone coming through my paid ad but I see return on people coming through other channels because they’re more aware of me because of that page. 

And then in brand, I spend money on brand engagement and this is where it’s just difficult to measure. You can measure certain engagement metrics, how people are engaging with that advertising, but it’s really hard to correlate that to return on ad spend. I can create content through these reach playbooks and I can directly monetise that content into some sort of meaningful actions for my company. 

For the most part in B2B or SaaS companies that’s leads or free product sign-offs. You have kind of influenced content where your content is in that bucket where it correlates to money being created. So people consume this content during the first step to the last step of when they convert with you so sometime during that journey they’ve consumed this content and that influences that sale. 

And then you have content you create in the influence portion of your inbound media engine, which is really focused on influence and brand. And it’s not as measurable. So I can have a podcast with a company that gets a hundred thousand monthly downloads, and I can probably have some sort of brand advertising on that around my company. And I can measure that. I could say, well it would have cost me X dollars to buy that on an external podcast. And I could get the CPM for that. 

So you can have some sort of metrics, but for the most part, the content you create and influence is to influence someone’s point of view, shift their point of view, to be part of that conversation. And you can’t really measure that in the same way. 

And I think companies and marketers get really hung up on trying to create all of these different ways to measure branded content and branded spend. And you have to just be okay with the fact that it’s not that measurable in the way that you’d want it to be, but it’s usually the right thing to do.

Alex (32:34):

Are there things that you measure? Cause I guess for a lot of smaller businesses or those that are startups, scale ups, measuring brand related stuff is just not the heart of the priority list. But I think there’s a certain size and shape that certain companies get to, and actually I’m doing an episode soon with a brand amplification leader at IBM, which is going to be really interesting. 

But are there things you do at HubSpot now in terms of looking at the share of voice and other things that you measure more widely around HubSpot now that you’re kind of at the scale that you’re at?

Kieran (33:01):

Yeah, we do. We do a shared voice and surveys and we have a ton of ways to see if our brand is influencing the things that we care about in each market. And so when you get to a certain size, there are things that tell you that this spend is influencing your audience, but you can’t directly translate it into a return on the spend that you have either, whether that’s an advertisement. 

On branded content, you can measure engagement through the platforms. And so how many people are consuming your content on the podcast, how many people are consuming your videos on YouTube? How many people are engaging with your content on Facebook or Instagram or whatever your influence channels are? 

And so you can kind of say like, we have this amount of reach through our branded content and you can, again if you wanted to put a cost on that, by saying this would cost us X number of dollars to get if we had to spend that. But nothing’s perfect but you can get indicators. 

I think the things you want in a brand or indicators to show that this is having some impact on your audience, but generally where you see it net out is, what your brand is is how people recommend you to their colleagues. And I think over time you can see this as being influential, by the way people talk about you.

Alex (34:16):

One of the final bits that you wrap up with in this post is around cross-pollination. And I think maybe this is one of the benefits of being a smaller team when you’re only two or three people, is that you don’t have as many silos and everyone’s talking and everyone’s side by side.

 But marketing teams running into hundreds of people can be pretty tricky. And you kind of acknowledged the need for people to come together across teams and across channels to make sure that everything is aligned. You’ve been at HubSpot for a while now, as you mentioned at the start, has that got more challenging as things have grown? And how do you approach that now?

Aligning content generation within a large organisation 

Kieran (34:50):

Yeah, I see this in all companies. The thing I was talking about is more the bundling and unbundling of ideas. So ideas have somewhat been unbundled in that you create content for blogs, create content for your podcast, create content for YouTube, create content for Facebook. 

And the thing that I think we can get better at is how we bundle the best ideas across those channels. And so how do you ensure that whatever is performing really well in the blog gets turned into, maybe a podcast series, gets turned into a YouTube video. It gets turned into a Facebook. 

It’s really what people call the content repurposing. But I think you can get into the cadence of how do I define ideas that are trending across my properties and how do I cross-pollinate those ideas into the other properties? So I create a cohesive experience across those things. 

So I think whether you’re a big team or you’re a small team, we tend to create content on a challenge by challenge basis, which is the right thing to. Because you’re optimising for those platforms. But then we forget that there’s ways that we can create more cohesion. Cross-pollinate the best ideas across those properties. And yeah, I’m a big believer in that, how you can bundle up the best ideas and to be cross channel content bundles.

Alex (35:58):

It makes sense. That resonates with me too. I know that I feel we’re often guilty of producing something great, publishing it once across a few channels, and then we just kind of forget about it. And actually particularly with a lot of evergreen content, which can last longer, I think this is super relevant. So no, that makes sense. 

Well, that’s awesome. I think there’s a really nice clean framework there for people to follow. I will make sure we drop a link to your post in the episode you recorded on your own podcast around this. Cause I can see that you’ve tagged and categorised it as a swipe file, which I assume means people can swipe it from you, which lots of people do. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s been great talking through it and really nice to have something that people can take away and look at implementing. So yeah, a big thank you for sharing. Thanks for joining us on the podcast.

Kieran (36:40):

Yeah, thanks for having me.

FINITE (36:42):

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