27 February 2024

The Power of Storytelling in Marketing: Lessons from Kieran Flanagan of HubSpot

By Ronald Smith

Let me tell you about a remarkable person I recently learned about: Kieran Flanagan, a marketing expert from HubSpot. His story is truly inspiring, and it shines a light on the importance of storytelling in modern marketing strategies.

Now, you might be wondering what makes storytelling so crucial. Well, let me break it down for you.

First off, storytelling has the power to captivate and engage people on a whole new level. When you hear a great story, it grabs your attention and pulls you in. It sparks your imagination and makes you feel connected. That’s exactly what we want to achieve as marketers.

Think about it. How often do you remember the sales pitches and product features you’ve been bombarded with? Probably not too often. But I bet you remember a great story that touched your heart or made you laugh.

Secondly, storytelling helps us establish a genuine connection with our audience. When we share a personal story or highlight the journey of our customers, it shows that we understand their struggles and triumphs. It humanizes our brand and builds trust.

On the other hand, most SaaS (Software as a Service) companies struggle with storytelling. They tend to get caught up in technical jargon and data-driven approaches, forgetting that real people are at the heart of their business. But Kieran Flanagan recognizes the value of storytelling and encourages others to do the same.

So, how can we become better storytellers in our marketing efforts? Here are a few key takeaways from Kieran Flanagan:

  • Understand your audience: To create a compelling story, you need to know who you’re talking to. What are their dreams, fears, and aspirations? Tailor your message to resonate with them.
  • Be authentic: Share personal experiences and let your true voice shine through. Authenticity is what makes your story relatable and memorable.
  • Evoke emotions: Stories that evoke emotions are the ones that stick with us. Whether it’s joy, sadness, or excitement, tap into your audience’s emotions and leave a lasting impression.
  • Keep it simple: Avoid complex jargon and keep your story simple and accessible. Remember, you’re speaking to real people, not robots.

So, the next time you embark on a marketing campaign, remember the power of storytelling. Take a page from Kieran Flanagan’s book and breathe life into your brand through captivating stories. Trust me, your audience will thank you for it.

The Power of Storytelling in Marketing: Lessons from Kieran Flanagan of HubSpot

Inspiration and education are the keys to modern marketing, according to Kieran Flanagan, the Senior Vice President of Marketing for HubSpot. While some businesses excel in providing educational content, many tech and SaaS companies fall short in inspiring their audience. Kieran shared valuable insights with me and my co-host Paul Greenberg on a recent episode of CRM Playaz.

HubSpot has been a pioneer in inbound marketing, and we have been closely observing their journey as they pave the way in content marketing with their HubSpot Podcast Network and the newly launched Creators Program. It was a pleasure to spend some time with Kieran to learn more about how their content strategy has evolved, why he believes that data is detrimental to marketing, why YouTube is about to revolutionize podcasting, why newsletters and blogs continue to play a crucial role in their strategy, and much more.

Below, I’ve got an edited transcript of part of our chat. If you’d like to listen to the whole conversation, just click on the SoundCloud player below. Kieran has some great insights on why HubSpot chose to acquire storytelling talent, and how he thinks it’ll bring some interesting benefits.

Things Are Changing

Kieran Flanagan: You know how marketing follows the latest trends, right? We pay attention to how people use new platforms, consume content, and all that stuff. And when those trends change, it creates opportunities for marketers. They jump on the chance to reach more people.

When I think about the time when content first started becoming really important for B2B companies, it has always been a part of how we sell or market our products and services. But when did it become a central part of our marketing strategy? Well, it was really the rise of the Internet that caused a lot of people to start going online.

And when people started going online, they had a lot of questions and they could easily find the information they needed. People started relying on self-education more when they went online. This gave B2B brands a chance to create a genuine community around their products and services through educational content. We filled the gap, and inbound marketing became the way that consumers wanted to learn about and engage with products.

When it comes to marketing our products and services, education plays a crucial role. People crave educational content. It’s funny how, even after 15 years, many companies still struggle to deliver quality educational content. Sure, some companies get it right, but we haven’t collectively perfected the art just yet. We’re still on the journey of mastering it.

The Soaring Prices of Advertising

Kieran Flanagan: Let me tell you about some interesting things I’ve noticed recently. The cost of paid advertising has skyrocketed in the past year and a half. Can you guess why? Well, there’s more money being invested in the US now than ever before. In fact, over 40% of venture capital goes right back to popular platforms like Google and Facebook. This means there’s a lot more competition for advertisers like you and me. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us had to shift our marketing efforts online because we couldn’t do traditional offline advertising. So, naturally, we turned to finance platforms like Google and Facebook.

In 2021, there were more new startups in the US than ever before. And guess where a lot of these startups went to promote their business? Yep, you guessed it – Facebook and Google. But here’s the thing: because so many companies are flocking to these platforms, the cost of acquiring customers through paid advertising has doubled. And it’s only going to get worse by 2025.

Why Keeping Up with Trends Is Important

Finding Inspiration and Learning

Kieran Flanagan: You know what? I’ve noticed that most SAAS companies and tech companies aren’t very good at inspiring people or telling engaging stories. That’s a shame, and it still holds true today. So, my team and I thought about our options: should we train our employees in this skill or should we find an existing resource to help us? Well, after careful consideration, we decided that the best choice for us was to buy an established platform.

Discovering the Power of Storytelling

Kieran Flanagan: That’s why we acquired The Hustle and brought Sam Parr, the founder, on board. He was a perfect fit for us because we saw eye-to-eye on many things. Let me tell you, that team is absolutely fantastic. When we acquired The Hustle, we used their storytelling skills to launch other amazing media products that set us apart from typical tech companies. These products were created by experts in media. The podcast network alone has gained millions and millions of downloads in such a short time. We also have the Creators Program, but here’s the exciting part – there are many other projects we’re working on behind the scenes. We’re using the expertise of our talented team to really master the art of media. You see, most SAAS brands make the mistake of trying to do everything in-house, including storytelling. But what ends up happening? Well, they become focused on product marketing instead of captivating their audience with compelling narratives.

YouTube: Shaking Up the Podcast World?

Kieran Flanagan: I truly believe that YouTube has the potential to shake up the podcast industry. It seems they’ve recently made a move, and forgive me if my numbers are a little off, but they’ve launched a massive creator fund. This fund aims to financially support podcasters who want to create video shows. You might be wondering, why would they do that? Well, let’s take a closer look at podcasts. The main challenge with podcasts is that they struggle with discovery. Unlike other platforms, there’s no built-in way to easily find podcasts and attract a large audience.

The Magic of Short Videos

Kieran Flanagan: When you check out the numbers on YouTube, you’ll see that a lot of its growth has come from stories. It seems like they’ve taken inspiration from other successful brands in the stories game, like Instagram and TikTok. And when it comes to the younger generation, they don’t want to waste time. They want you to get straight to the point.

There’s an art to creating short videos that grab people’s attention. SAAS brands often try to make long, fancy product ads, but most people don’t want to sit through that. For us, audio is a big deal. Short videos and regular videos are also a big deal.

Blogs Keep Bringing in Lots of Readers

Kieran Flanagan:

Playing a crucial role in our strategy is a definite part. And let me tell you, our blogs have been vital in driving our business forward. It’s amazing to see how our blog team keeps expanding and growing these blogs. It’s like, ‘Wow, how do they do it?’ But guess what? Our blogs actually have more web traffic than some of those huge media brands like TechCrunch. Can you believe it?

Our blogs have played a significant role in our growth. You see, data has had a huge impact on marketing. It’s been both a blessing and a curse. Data was amazing because, in the past, marketers desperately wanted to be taken seriously and be part of the decision-making process related to revenue.

That was awesome for us marketers. We could go in, present our reports, and confidently say, ‘Hey, these are the strategies that really work. Just look at the revenue that can be attributed to marketing. Amazing! Now, give me more budget and resources.’ And I believe this has improved the job for all marketers.

Returning to the Average

Kieran Flanagan: I think that’s been fantastic. The thing is, in marketing, you have two options: you can either do something extreme and out of the ordinary, or you can do what everyone else is doing. However, when you have data, it tends to bring you back to the average because I can only base my decisions on what has worked in the past, right?

So, here’s the thing. Data is super important, no doubt about it. But you gotta believe in something that you think will really matter in the future. And not just believe in it, but also have the determination to keep improving until you can actually measure the success of your business right now.

Now, this might sound like a technical answer, but bear with me. You can actually measure the impact of inspiring content on your business by looking at how much it helps your brand. You know, those fancy ads that make your brand look great? Well, you can calculate how much it would cost you to get the same results on other platforms. And then compare it to what it costs you on our own platforms.

So I’d be receiving a monthly payment, let’s say X amount of dollars, through my own brand advertising to promote our products. When you see the HubSpot podcast network or any of the media assets we create, we have ads specifically designed for those shows and platforms to promote our own products.

But since we’re the ones creating the media product, we can better match the ads to that content. So, think about when podcasting really took off for tech brands. It was when the cereal podcast came out and everyone started advertising on it. We’d much rather have the expertise in-house to produce podcasts and tailor our ads to them, instead of relying on third parties for our advertising needs.

So, I believe that not every bet you make without reason can be measured in the short term. But if you don’t take those risks, how do you avoid doing the same thing as every other company? It’s a problem for marketers like me. We have a monthly media plan, and we focus a lot on data.

The Importance of Reach Metrics

Kieran Flanagan: I think most brands can understand the concept of inspiration, just like we do. For us, our reach metric is the total number of people who see our content across different media channels. Through this metric, we have clear goals for making money directly and indirectly. So, our reach metric includes the number of people who view our blogs, watch our YouTube videos, listen to our podcasts, and read our newsletter each month.

So now it’s a bit more complicated, but basically, that’s how we do it. Then we need to figure out how much money we make if some of those people actually become customers for HubSpot. We can do this by measuring the direct conversion rate, which means we can see how many dollars we earn from our blogs, podcasts, and other things.

The Money Equation

So, here’s the thing: I’m thinking about how much money we actually make from advertising. You know, the advertising dollars that we create and own within our own media network. That’s what we call direct monetization. It’s all about how much revenue we generate for the sales team. Cool, right?

But there’s another thing we’ve got going on called indirect monetization. This is all about the brand dollars we create through our media network. We use these brand dollars to promote our own products and do all that good stuff. It’s pretty awesome, if you ask me.

Now, let me tell you, this is a part of the One-on-One Interview series with some really smart people. I’ve edited the transcript a bit to make it easier to read. If you’d rather listen or watch the interview, just click on the embedded player above or catch it on iTunes or Stitcher. Trust me, it’s worth it!