I went to quite a few conferences this year and listened to a lot of speakers talk about the future. But one of the most interesting sessions I caught was how HubSpot is actually working to “future-proof” its marketing.
So what does “future-proofing” your marketing even mean?
In the session “Adventures in Emerging Channels: What we learned from a year with Medium, Podcasting, and Live Streaming” at Inbound 2017, Meghan Keaney Anderson, HubSpot’s VP of marketing, explained that HubSpot dedicated resources to looking a what changes in the environment could derail its very successful marketing engine. (These notes and slides come from that presentation.)
HubSpot started with a hypothetical article headline “What happened to HubSpot: The decline of a marketing giant.” They looked at what would likely be the key reasons for that fall, and when they came up with those “highlights,” they began working on plans to proof against them.
What if Search and Email Went Away?
Turns out there are some pretty obvious vulnerabilities in HubSpot’s marketing stemming from the company’s highly optimized, and non-diverse, lead nurturing cycle.
According to Anderson, HubSpot gets 90 percent of its web traffic from search. They convince a large portion of those visitors to sign up for some kind of email communication, and then they “send them things” via email.
That search-to-email relationship is primarily how Hubspot nurtures leads into customers, and that whole cycle has become key to HubSpot’s success. So what happens if search were to change dramatically? Or people were to move away from email as a communications channel?
The thing is, neither of those futures was very far-fetched. Google and other companies are sending all kinds of signals that they see search moving away from text and toward voice and image interfaces. In that future, search will still be important, but who knows how much traffic you could count on from it?
Similarly, email has been showing signs of weakness for some time. Anderson said HubSpot has been seeing email rates decline, and usage messaging apps rising. In that future, people would still probably receive email, but they wouldn’t pay as much attention to the channel. So how would HubSpot communicate with them and nurture those relationships without that channel?
These scenarios are not remote possibilities. It’s actually fairly likely one or both of those scenarios will be the reality within a few years.
The Horizons of Innovation
HubSpot has a philosophy — and the resources — to dedicate personnel to these problems. And they do that by focusing on the “Three Horizons of Innovation.”
The idea is to pinpoint and prepare for the inflection points where the current state of your industry is going to be replaced by the next state, and when that will be replaced by yet another state:
- 1st horizon: What’s happening now/next. Gets the biggest team.
- 2nd horizon: What’s coming after that: Gets a smaller team.
- 3rd horizon: What’s coming after the second horizon sunsets: Gets to smallest team.
- The second horizon should be rising as the first is falling. Be ready for those inversion points.