How to Future-Proof Your Marketing

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 was actually working to “future-proof” its marketing.

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.”

HubSpot's 3 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.

Political Polarization? The Medium Is the Message

I was upset to learn that a good friend of mine is no longer speaking with his sister because of an argument over President Trump. He could no longer abide that she, like many members of the president’s “base,” continued to defend the President. How did we get to the place where families are being torn apart over politics? Look no further than where people get their news.

Facebook unfriending
Source: Clay Jones, ClayToonz.com
Facebook unfriending – the struggle is real

[Editor’s note: While this opinion piece is not explicitly about marketing this time, it’s important for marketers to note what’s happening with consumers and the context in which they’re seeing ads. Content marketers have had to keep an eye on this; most recently in April, concerning hate speech sites housing YouTube ads. Chuck McLeester doesn’t mention hate speech sites below.]

I was upset to learn that a good friend of mine is no longer speaking with his sister because of an argument over President Trump. He could no longer abide that she, like many members of the president’s “base,” continued to defend the President. How did we get to the place where families are being torn apart over politics? Look no further than where people get their news.

In the Washington Post column, The Fix, Aaron Blake writes on Aug. 22, “We increasingly live in two Americas. And those two Americas have very separate sources of news.”

Blake cites an extensive study by Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society that examined 4.5 million tweets and looked at those who retweeted either Trump or Clinton. It then looked at the URLs that the users shared.

Not surprisingly, Trump and Clinton supporters relied on very different sources for their news. The tables below show the top 50 media sources shared by Trump and Clinton supporters. It’s interesting to note that Trump supporters sometimes cited “left of center” media, while Clinton supporters never cited “right of center” media. Eleven of the sources cited by Trump supporters were from “Left” or “Center Left” sources, perhaps refuting left-leaning mainstream media outlets like the The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.

This polarization of people by the media they consume makes me think of the work of Marshall McLuhan from the mid-1960s. McLuhan contended that the content in a medium was less important than the change that was brought about by that medium.

As noted in the Wikipedia page on McLuhan, “… the message of a newscast about a heinous crime may be less about the individual news story itself — the content — and more about the change in public attitude towards crime that the newscast engenders by the fact that such crimes are, in effect, being brought into the home to watch over dinner. Hence in “Understanding Media,” McLuhan describes the “content” of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. This means that people tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time.”

Anyone who has Facebook friends on opposite sides of the political spectrum is bound to witness this phenomenon. In fact, Facebook itself is the complicit medium, creating structural changes in the civility of political discourse among friends and family members.

So while it may be easy to blame Donald Trump or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton for pitting brother against sister, shouldn’t we be taking a closer look at the media they’re consuming and the media they’re using for political discourse as the culprit?

Here are the tables that the Harvard study derived from the Twitter and URL data, Trump’s first, Clinton’s second.

In the charts below:

“Partisan Scores” are based upon how often a source was shared by Trump and Clinton supporters. Scores range from -1 for sources shared mostly by Clinton supporters to 1 for sources shared mostly by Trump supporters.

 

Trump backers share these media sources on Twitter, Harvard finds
Trump backers cite these sources, according to “Partisanship, Propaganda, & Disinformation: Online Media & the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” DASH terms of use. | Credit: Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University by Robert Faris, et al
Cinton backers cited these sources on Twitter, Harvard finds
Clinton backers cite these sources on Twitter, according to “Partisanship, Propaganda, & Disinformation: Online Media & the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” DASH terms of use. | Credit: Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University by Robert Faris, et al