20Growth Hubspot CMO Kipp Bodnar on Why the Best Marketers Think Like VCs Why the Best Companies Do Not Start with Product Marketing New Channels; When To Do, How Much To Spend, How To Test, When To Stop

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 Growth," host Harry Stebbings converses with Kip Bodnar, CMO of HubSpot, on the intricacies of scaling a billion-dollar company. Bodnar shares his journey from marketing agencies to HubSpot, emphasizing the importance of learning and adapting quickly in a new domain. They delve into the evolution of marketing, highlighting the shift towards inbound strategies and the pivotal year of 2013-2014 when online marketing matured significantly. The discussion also explores channel selection, the longevity of marketing tactics, and the necessity of aligning marketing with emotional storytelling. Bodnar stresses the significance of understanding distribution constraints and advises on managing up and aligning with company goals. They touch on the challenges of cross-functional collaboration and the loneliness of the CMO role, underscoring the need for broad knowledge and context switching. The conversation concludes with insights into hiring decisions, the potential transition from CMO to CEO, and the impressive marketing strategy of Cash App.

Summary Notes

Introduction to 20 Growth and Kip Bodnar

  • "20 Growth" is a monthly episode featuring a discussion with a leading growth expert.
  • Kip Bodnar, the CMO at HubSpot, is the guest, known for setting HubSpot's global inbound marketing strategy.
  • Kip's previous roles include VP of marketing and building marketing teams in EMEA and APAC regions.
  • He is also an advisor for Simply Measured, InsightSquared, and Guidebook, and an author of "The B2B Social Media Book."
  • Thanks are given to Dharmesh Shah, Kieran Flanagan, and Katie Burke from HubSpot for their input on the discussion.

"Today, we have such a fantastic and natural discussion. I have to admit I got quite animated in this one with the amazing Kip Bodnar, chief marketing officer at HubSpot, where he sets HubSpot's global inbound market strategy which has been so core to their success."

This quote sets the stage for the podcast, emphasizing Kip Bodnar's role at HubSpot and the significance of inbound marketing to the company's success.

Kip Bodnar's Background and Entry into Startups

  • Kip Bodnar did not have a master plan but was driven by curiosity and the desire to learn.
  • His interest in the impact of the internet on marketing led him to read, network, and attend events.
  • Kip ran a blog called "Social Media B2B," focusing on how social media and the web impact traditional B2B companies.
  • Meeting HubSpot's founders resonated with him as they shared similar beliefs about the future of marketing.
  • Kip joined HubSpot when online marketing was still in its nascent stages.

"I saw the Internet happening and I was doing marketing at a bunch of different marketing agencies and I was like, wow, this Internet is going to change how people do marketing."

Kip explains his foresight about the internet's potential to revolutionize marketing, leading to his involvement in the industry.

The Shift in Marketing Realization

  • Around 2013-2014, the effectiveness of Facebook ads and other online ad products became apparent.
  • HubSpot's success in building a large audience for its "boring" B2B software through organic search and inbound marketing strategies was noticed by others.
  • The inbound marketing movement gained traction during this time.

"Basically what happened, Harry, is that Facebook ads especially got real."

This quote highlights the point at which online advertising, particularly on Facebook, became a significant and effective marketing tool.

Channel Selection and Resource Allocation

  • Founders often face the challenge of wanting to be present on every channel and track everything, which is increasingly difficult due to data privacy.
  • Kip suggests focusing on one to two primary advertising channels and organic channels, based on the company's scale and competition.
  • The choice of channels depends on the need for customer volume and the level of competition in the market.
  • For companies needing large audiences and facing significant competition, platforms like YouTube are recommended.
  • For less competition, Google search is suggested due to higher conversion rates and easier content creation.

"You're going to have some primary advertising channel and you're going to need one to two primary organic channels."

This quote advises founders on the necessity of selecting a primary advertising channel and a couple of primary organic channels for growth.

The Longevity Game in Content Creation

  • Persistence is key in content creation, with success often taking years to build a significant audience.
  • Founders should assess whether they are making predictable growth progress on a new channel and if they have learned actionable strategies that drive that growth.
  • It's crucial to think like a creator or have a creator on the team who understands the best content for the platform.

"Are you able to increase your subscribers and your distribution on that channel, even if it's small? But are the growth rates meaningful?"

This quote emphasizes the importance of consistent growth and learning in content creation, which determines whether to persist with a channel.

Building a Personal Brand and Distribution Strategy

  • Companies are either distribution-constrained or product-constrained.
  • Content and personal branding are key to resolving distribution constraints.
  • Founders must solve the challenge of scalable distribution at a low cost, whether through content, viral loops, or other growth strategies.
  • Kip argues that content and personal branding are essential unless there is an alternate distribution strategy in place.

"You have to solve distribution. So what I would say to them is, cool. You don't want to be a creator, you don't care about personal brand. Great. How are we going to get scalable distribution at a low cost?"

Kip Bodnar challenges founders to find a solution to their distribution constraints, emphasizing the importance of scalable distribution.

Channel Diversification and Transition

  • It is rare for channels to work effectively, and when they do, it is advisable to continue leveraging them rather than diversify prematurely.
  • Founders should focus on making a working channel better every day and become top performers in that domain.
  • Most companies fail due to distribution challenges, not product issues.
  • Kip advises against getting bored and switching channels too quickly, advocating for long-term commitment and improvement.

"If you're thinking you're going to run out of Runway in twelve months, you're just kind of an idiot."

This blunt statement by Kip Bodnar underscores the importance of long-term thinking and commitment to successful channels rather than hastily seeking diversification.

Predictable Growth Channels

  • Startups with traction often have one predictable growth channel, usually ads.
  • Startups that scale to higher revenue have two predictable growth channels, such as ads and another like YouTube or Google search.
  • Companies that go public and aim for significant scale typically have three growth channels, not ten.
  • Founders should focus on making one channel work before adding another, rather than expanding to many at once.

"A startup that gets traction and really kicks off, they've got one predictable growth channel. It's often ads. A startup that really scales and flirts with that 5100 million dollar run rate. They have two predictable growth channels. Normally it's ads plus one other thing."

This quote emphasizes the importance of having a focused approach to growth channels, highlighting that successful startups often have a limited number of predictable channels that they optimize.

Resource Allocation and Marketing Strategy

  • Marketing should be approached with a focus, similar to the mindset of a venture capitalist seeking asymmetric returns.
  • Companies often spread resources too thin across multiple channels without identifying the few that could yield the highest returns.
  • The goal is to make one or two channels work exceptionally well rather than having mediocre performance across many channels.

"I'm a fan, Harry, of a more focused approach. I think of marketing as a venture capitalist."

Kip Bodnar compares marketing strategy to venture capital investment, suggesting that a focused approach on a few potential channels can lead to greater returns, akin to seeking out investments with the potential for asymmetric gains.

Experience with Channel Saturation

  • HubSpot's early success with the website Grader tool eventually plateaued, and efforts to revitalize it were less effective than expected.
  • The web's diversification and the rise of social channels changed the landscape, indicating the need to adapt and find new growth channels.

"But man, it had a peak and then really troughed down."

Kip Bodnar shares a past experience where a once-successful growth channel for HubSpot, the website Grader tool, reached a peak and then declined, highlighting the need for companies to recognize when to shift focus and resources to new opportunities.

Product Marketing Critique

  • Founders often struggle to articulate their product's value proposition succinctly.
  • Product marketing frequently becomes more about internal operations rather than external storytelling.
  • Product marketers need to balance understanding the product with staying attuned to customer needs and desires.

"I don't think people can tell stories."

Harry Stebbings expresses frustration with the state of product marketing, pointing out that many founders fail to communicate their product's story effectively, which is a crucial part of marketing and brand development.

Effective Product Marketing

  • Successful product marketing starts with understanding the customer's problems, not the product itself.
  • Companies should lead with the shifts in customer behavior or needs and then introduce their product as a solution.
  • Founders should focus on the problem and how their product uniquely addresses it, rather than just comparing features with competitors.

"We didn't start with, hey, you need software to do better marketing. We said, hey, technologies change the way people shop and buy."

Kip Bodnar illustrates effective product marketing with HubSpot's approach, which began by addressing the broader changes in consumer behavior before introducing their software as a solution, thereby positioning the product within the context of a larger narrative.

Brand Marketing Definition and Strategy

  • Brand marketing is about the emotional benefits of a company and its products.
  • Successful brand marketing conveys why a company exists and what it makes people feel.
  • Early-stage startups can use cost-effective methods like writing a book or blogging to build their brand story.

"When I think about brand Harry, I think it is the emotional benefit of not just your product, your service, but your company."

Kip Bodnar defines brand marketing as creating an emotional connection with customers and explains how HubSpot built its brand by focusing on helping and educating customers, which fostered a strong emotional benefit and community.

Customer Education and Category Creation

  • Educating customers about a new category takes longer and starts with early adopters.
  • Companies need to differentiate and evoke emotion, especially when they offer a better solution in an existing category.
  • Brand marketing is crucial for establishing why customers should care about a brand, beyond its product features.

"You're creating categories. You're a transformative business or you're a better mousetrap business."

Kip Bodnar categorizes businesses into those creating new categories (transformative) and those improving existing solutions (better mousetrap), discussing the different approaches to customer education and brand marketing required for each type.

Brand Marketing Consistency and Evolution

  • Brand marketing should align with the long-term vision and emotional benefits of a company.
  • It should be planned 12-18 months ahead, while product marketing is more immediate.
  • Consistency in brand marketing is key, even as the product offering evolves.

"You want to think about your marketing story as in a timeline."

Kip Bodnar provides a framework for aligning marketing strategies with different time horizons, ensuring that brand marketing sets a consistent, long-term vision that supports more immediate product marketing and demand generation efforts.

Resonance Across a Diverse Customer Base

  • Effective brand stories identify universal truths that resonate with a broad customer base.
  • Even with diverse customers, the core problems they face can be similar, and addressing these can create powerful brand narratives.

"All those people have the same problems all of those people have the same problems."

Kip Bodnar explains that despite the horizontal nature of HubSpot's product, the brand marketing story resonates because it addresses universal problems faced by all customers, emphasizing the importance of finding commonalities in customer needs for brand messaging.

Communicating Budget Needs to the Board and CEO

  • CMOs face the challenge of justifying the need for budget allocations to the board and CEO.
  • Proactivity and setting clear priorities are essential to manage up and secure resources.
  • Aligning marketing strategies with business goals and growth constraints is crucial.
  • Presenting a clear strategy and its costs helps in getting buy-in from upper management.
  • Silence can be a powerful tool when seeking a commitment to a proposed plan.

"How do you advise cmos on managing up in order to get their upward hierarchy to see what they see and what they need?"

This quote emphasizes the difficulty CMOs have in getting upper management to understand and support their vision and requirements.

"You have to be very proactive versus reactive. You have to play offense instead of defense."

The importance of being proactive in strategy planning and communication with upper management is highlighted in this quote.

"What is the constraint for growth of that business? Because a board and a CEO is always thinking about, like, what is the thing that we fixed would drive growth and success for this business?"

This quote underlines the need to align marketing strategies with the company's growth constraints and the priorities of the board and CEO.

"Be happy with the silence."

The strategic use of silence in negotiations to prompt decision-makers to commit to a plan is suggested in this quote.

Accountability and Attribution in Marketing

  • The challenge of marketing attribution has always existed and is expected to worsen.
  • Internal alignment on attribution methods is more important than the specific analytics.
  • Marketers should be accountable to revenue, and simple models can help show contribution.
  • The delineation between sales and marketing is becoming less clear as marketing takes on more of the sales funnel.

"Marketing be held accountable to a number tied directly to revenue?"

This question raises the issue of whether marketing should be directly responsible for generating revenue.

"Measuring something is more of an internal alignment exercise than it is an analytic exercise."

The quote emphasizes that consensus on attribution methods within the company is more critical than the analytics itself.

"Every marketer in the future should be directly accountable to revenue, both inbound and outbound, whatever that may be."

Marketing's direct accountability to revenue is advocated in this quote, suggesting a shift in how marketing success is measured.

The Evolving Relationship Between Sales and Marketing

  • Marketing is increasingly playing a role traditionally occupied by sales, such as educating customers.
  • A seamless content experience from marketing to sales is key to success.
  • The distinction between marketing and sales is fading, with marketing taking on more of the customer journey.

"Marketing is eating sales."

This quote reflects the trend of marketing expanding its role into areas traditionally managed by sales.

"The best teams are going to be aligned on that story and that customer journey from that very high level brand awareness or first search result to the deck that a sales rep showed the demo, the sales rep show."

The importance of alignment between marketing and sales throughout the customer journey is highlighted in this quote.

Learning from Mistakes as a CMO

  • Mistakes in leadership roles are often related to people management rather than strategy.
  • Assessing whether team members are suitable for the current and next stages of company growth is a common challenge.
  • The role of a CMO involves difficult decisions about personnel, similar to a coach or general manager in sports.

"Mistakes always people related. People are much harder than strategy."

This quote acknowledges that people management is one of the most significant challenges in leadership roles.

"The biggest mistakes I have made, not hiring the right person or not knowing that I needed a person with a new level of skill set at that stage and scale of the company."

The quote reflects on personal mistakes made in hiring and skill assessment, emphasizing the importance of having the right team for different stages of growth.

Balancing Stretch Candidates and Seasoned Executives

  • Founders and leaders must consider whether to hire less experienced, eager candidates or seasoned executives.
  • The decision should be based on the existing strengths and knowledge of the CEO or founder.
  • A balanced team with diverse perspectives and skills is more likely to succeed.

"Teams with a balance of perspective and skills win."

This quote underscores the importance of having a diverse team with a range of skills and experiences.

"You can probably get by with a stretch candidate because you know a lot of it."

The quote suggests that a knowledgeable leader can support and guide less experienced hires effectively.

Knowing When to Let Someone Go

  • Leaders must set clear expectations and evaluate whether team members meet them.
  • Progress can often be assessed within a few months, determining whether an individual is on track.
  • Letting someone go is appropriate when they consistently fail to meet agreed-upon expectations.

"You know when to let someone go when you're clear on what you're trying to achieve, set expectations with them about what it takes to get there."

This quote outlines the criteria for deciding when it is time to part ways with an employee based on their performance relative to clear objectives.

The Loneliness of the CMO Role

  • The role of a CMO can be isolating due to the need for constant context switching and broad knowledge.
  • The CMO must balance the close relationship with their team (coach) with the objective evaluation of their performance (general manager).
  • A CMO needs to detach from personal connections to make strategic decisions about the team.

"It's super lonely. Think about it, have a pretty broad sense."

The quote conveys the isolation felt in the CMO role due to the wide-ranging responsibilities and decisions that must be made.

"You have to look at everything from the principle and problem layer."

This quote suggests that CMOs must focus on the core issues and principles, setting aside personal relationships to make strategic decisions.

Understanding Marketing Complexity

  • Marketing roles require a broad skill set due to the diverse aspects of the job.
  • It's important to grasp various marketing elements like distribution channels, design, event experiences, and data analytics.
  • Marketing leaders often focus on fixing specific parts of the marketing process, which can be isolating.

"You need to understand the depths of distribution on Google and Facebook. You got to understand email score deliverability and GDPR and data privacy regulations. But you need to understand what great design looks like and what a perfect event experience looks like."

This quote emphasizes the diverse knowledge required in marketing, from understanding digital distribution platforms and privacy laws to design and event planning.

Cross-Functional Collaboration

  • Effective collaboration with sales, product, and engineering is crucial for marketing success.
  • Aligning goals and incentives is key to overcoming collaboration challenges.
  • Clear communication processes and accountability are foundational for strong interdepartmental relationships.

"Incentives and alignment around goals and incentives fix everything. If you have a problem collaborating, it is because you have competing goals or you have competing incentives against those goals."

Kip Bodnar suggests that misalignment in goals and incentives is the root cause of collaboration issues, and by aligning these, collaboration improves.

Career Advancement for Aspiring CMOs

  • Aspiring CMOs should seek breadth of experience in marketing and develop leadership skills.
  • Willingness to make counterintuitive career moves can lead to broader knowledge and readiness for the CMO role.
  • Scaling leadership involves effective delegation and empowering others.

"If you want to be a CMO, you have to figure out how to get a breadth of knowledge and you have to figure out how to scale your leadership and get things done through others."

Kip Bodnar advises that to become a CMO, one must gain a wide range of marketing knowledge and learn to lead through others rather than just being an individual contributor.

Excellence in Marketing Roles

  • Demonstrating excellence in various marketing roles is more advantageous than excelling in just one.
  • The ideal CMO candidate shows success across multiple marketing disciplines and team-building skills.
  • Career progression involves making strategic moves that may not always be linear or financially driven in the short term.

"Maybe what I'm advocating for is multiple spikes of excellence, which is like, hey, I've got a spike of excellence in marketing automation. And then I went and did 18 months in product marketing and killed it."

Kip Bodnar suggests that a pattern of excellence in different areas of marketing builds a strong case for someone to be considered for the CMO position.

Learning and Skill Development

  • To significantly improve in a career, one must develop skills that are opposite to their natural inclinations.
  • Learning from lesser-known experts can lead to a deeper understanding of a subject.
  • Dedication to learning and pattern matching can lead to proficiency in new areas.

"If you can combine that with really emotional skills, then you are like a diamond in the world. There are very few people who can combine those things together."

Kip Bodnar highlights the importance of balancing logical and emotional skills in marketing to stand out in the field.

Marketing Tactics and Changes

  • Open protocols like email have not changed significantly, while platforms controlled by single companies like Google search have evolved rapidly.
  • Marketing tactics are cyclical and can become dormant rather than dying out completely.

"The more open a tactic, meaning less regulated by one company... it changes a lot less."

This quote explains that marketing tactics governed by open protocols are less likely to undergo drastic changes than those controlled by a single entity.

Inbound Marketing Success

  • The success of inbound marketing is attributed to a clear and valuable story that educates the audience.
  • A powerful narrative can be conveyed effectively in various lengths, adapting to different contexts.

"The inbound marketing story was ten very simple slides... That was the story I could give you the three hour version, or I can give you the three minute version of that story or the three second version of that story."

Kip Bodnar credits the success of inbound marketing to its simplicity and the ability to educate consumers about a new approach needed due to technological changes.

Continuous Improvement as a CMO

  • CMOs face challenges in scaling teams, adapting to international markets, and managing hybrid work environments.
  • Continuous improvement is necessary to address the evolving complexities of marketing leadership.

"Problems of scale. International markets are really hard. Leading a large scaled team of people and helping them succeed in a hybrid work environment when nobody knows what the hell's going on."

Kip Bodnar acknowledges the ongoing challenges he faces as a CMO, highlighting the need for constant learning and adaptation.

Aspirations Beyond CMO

  • Some CMOs aspire to become CEOs, indicating a desire for broader leadership roles.
  • The skills and experiences gained as a CMO can be stepping stones to CEO positions.

"Do you want to be a CEO, Kip? Someday? Yeah."

This quote reveals Kip Bodnar's aspiration to take on a CEO role in the future, suggesting a natural progression from CMO to CEO for some marketing leaders.

Marketing Strategy Admiration

  • Cash App's marketing strategy stands out for successfully targeting a younger demographic with a commodity product.
  • Innovative and platform-centric marketing approaches can lead to significant success even in competitive markets.

"They've taken a product that had no business of being successful candidly and making it very successful through remarkable marketing."

Kip Bodnar expresses admiration for Cash App's marketing strategy, highlighting their ability to differentiate and succeed with a common product through effective marketing.

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