HubSpot’s Huge Shift and What It Means for the Future of Inbound “Marketing”

by Marcus Sheridan


There have been times when I’ve been accused of being a “HubSpot Homer,” but the truth is, if anyone actually reads this site, they know such a statement is one derived from ignorance—read here and here if you’d like to see what honesty means when discussing the pros and cons of this company and its marketing platform.

That being said, HubSpot’s Inbound 2013 conference blew me away.

Really, it did, and here are 3 reasons why:

1. I didn’t expect over 5,000 people. I’ve been to every Inbound conference since its creation, but good grief, it felt like every HubSpotter in the world hopped on a plane and went to Boston for a few days—clearly an impressive showing of HubSpot customer loyalty.

2. Although I knew HS was coming out with some new tools, they’ve exceeded my expectations. So much so, that I’m going to need to do a review post on it to give it a fair shake and help the readers here that are interested to get my typical honest take on things.

3. HubSpot is changing as a company, a move most don’t yet realize (because they haven’t come out and stated what they’re doing) but it may be their biggest move to date, which is why I decided to discuss the subject in today’s post.

A “Small” Change that Could be a Really, Really BIG Deal

There was one part of the “Inbound” conference that many attendees likely didn’t even pick up on, and it was this:

HubSpot is changing their tune (brand messaging) to one that focuses on “Inbound Marketing” to simply “Inbound.”

This change has been shown in some of their verbage and marketing copy, but it was extremely prevalent in the conference itself. In fact, many of the presentations at Inbound were not about “marketing” at all.

Other than Halligan and Shah, the only other keynote that really spoke much about marketing was Godin. Furthermore, the "Bold" talks, which were a huge part of the conference, were dominated by non-marketing speak.

Other than Halligan and Shah, the only other keynote that really spoke much about marketing was Godin. Furthermore, the “Bold” talks, which were a huge part of the conference, were dominated by non-marketing speak.

You may be saying to yourself, “Well that means nothing Marcus,” but I’d beg to differ.

In fact, I feel it marks a monumental change in the future direction of HubSpot.

The Apple Comparison

But before we dive into this further, take Apple as an example. What is Apple? What is the mission of the company? Are they a music company? A computer company?  Maybe a digital company?

My guess is your answer to each of this is a resounding “NO.”

Apple, although they “do” certain things, that’s not what they “are.”

See the difference?

The late Steve Jobs made a powerful statement about Apple in the 1980s that I feel puts it perfectly into perspective:

“To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

And that mentality is exactly why so many people are fanatical about Apple and it’s also the core to their success in truly changing the world as we know it over the last 20 years.

“Inbound”—A Way of Doing Business

Getting back to the Inbound discussion, think about this for a second though—what makes more sense, tying your brand to a single verb (Inbound Marketing) or tying it to a philosophical way of doing business (Inbound)?

For the past year, I’ve kept thinking more and more about how all this marketing “stuff” we talk about is really just a few core principles of success (repackaged with modern names) that have been around since the beginning of time:

  • Listen
  • Teach
  • Communicate
  • Be Honest
  • Be Transparent

Those things, for me, are the core of everything we all read about online, and certainly representative of the “Inbound” way of thinking, at least according to HubSpot’s founders, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, both of which I know are huge Steve Jobs fans and have always seen HubSpot as more than just a “set of tools.”

This also likely explains why the two have not bitten on offers to sell HubSpot up to this point, allowing it to be swallowed up in another company that likely doesn’t share their same vision of truly changing the way business is done in all of its forms—be it marketing, sales, company culture, etc.

I Might Be An Idiot

Keep in mind, the things I’m saying here are purely my thoughts and speculations, as Halligan and Shah have not come out and addressed this shift head on. Heck, they may even be mad at me for discussing it prematurely ;-)

But if this change does come to pass, I think it’s potentially huge. Sure, it won’t happen overnight, but it has to start somewhere. Furthermore, such “missions” can’t be defined from the beginning, as time generally teaches each one of us in business where we truly want to take our companies and where our core passions lie.

In the future, I see HubSpot moving from a company that simply develops marketing software to one that has their roots in education, teaching the world how to embrace an “Inbound” mentality in all facets of their business—sales, marketing, customer service, etc.

Sure, the tools will always be there, just as the iPod and iPad are to Apple, but those will not mark who they truly are and represent.

Then again, I could be dead wrong about everything I just said. ;-)

Time will tell my friends, time will tell.


Update*** I sent Dharmesh Shah an email giving him the thoughts of this post and within his response, he described HubSpot’s vision/mission as follows:

“HubSpot’s mission is to transform how organizations attract, engage and delight…”

Your Turn

For those of you interested, I’d love to hear your take on this. Am I way off with my assumptions and thoughts or do you see a HubSpot shift as well? Is it a good or bad move? Jump in, your opinions matter.


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