We’ve changed our stance on ads. Here’s why.

By Nicholas L. Holland, VP of Product at HubSpot

At HubSpot, we’ve always held the torch for putting the customer experience first. For years, this meant no advertising.

The early days of digital advertising were awful. Apart from being annoying and intrusive, the tools available to a marketer to reach their target audience were extremely limited. As a result, audiences were broad, targeting was poor, and marketers were left creating eye-popping banner ads, hoping they hijacked the attention of their intended audience.

Ads were the spammy, interrupting, and outdated marketing strategy being replaced by educational, helpful, and targeted inbound marketing.

Things have changed.

Today, there is more information available to your customers than there ever has been. It seems like just about everyone has adopted the fundamentals of inbound marketing. We’re all creating blogs, emails, and social content to inform prospects about what we’re selling. Ads have become essential in cutting through the noise of a crowded information marketplace.

Along with this shift toward information abundance, we’ve seen advertising tools improve dramatically, becoming targeted, educational, often humorous, and (dare I say it?) even helpful. Well-done advertising today has fewer of the qualities associated with aggressive outbound marketing, and more of the helpful qualities of inbound marketing.

If you’re not using ads in your marketing mix today, you’re likely not doing everything you can to provide customers with helpful, relevant content at every stage of the buyer’s journey.

The merging of ads and inbound

Now, our stance on ads didn’t change overnight.

We first began to notice the shift back in 2015 when we saw that more than half of our customers were using ads to augment their inbound strategy. Not only were they using ads, they were finding success with them! Our customers were using ads to:

  • reach new prospects
  • engage with existing leads
  • cross-sell current customers

At the same time, we were experimenting with ads ourselves, and also finding success. What was changing? Attention on the internet had begun to consolidate.

Over the past three or so years, we have seen Amazon, Google, and Facebook rise to dominate the internet. When you need to get in touch with someone, you go to Facebook; when you need to get an answer fast, you Google it; when you need to buy anything under the sun, Amazon will have it in stock.

And as people began to give the lion’s share of their time spent on the internet to the big three, the big three began to charge businesses for access to that attention. Gone are the days when an inbound marketer could build an audience on Facebook and reach them via organic updates. Today, organic reach for businesses on social is reported to be as low as 2%.

Search has also changed.

Gone are the days where organic results were separated out from paid results, and organic results reached the top of any given search. Today, paid search results almost mimic organic results, and it’s nearly impossible to conduct a search without seeing ads first. And if you’re on mobile, forget about it — you’ll need to scroll a few times before you begin to see organic results.

Attention has consolidated.

The big three are now charging for it.

And businesses are more than willing to pay.

In 2017, Facebook reported $39 Billion in ad revenue. We all pay up because we know our audience will be there. Regardless of whether we’re targeting college students, business professionals in the greater Boston area, or potential customers for our niche ecommerce product — we know we’ll find them on the big three networks.

My colleague Meghan Keaney Anderson writes, “It’s not that quality content isn’t an effective magnet for prospective customers. It’s that companies like Facebook and Google are less likely to surface that content today without some budget behind it.”

And that’s the thing that makes advertising so uniquely suited for inbound marketers — to be successful with ads today, you still need smart, targeted, quality content.

Imagine if Facebook started serving up non-targeted ads to us, or if the ads at the top of every Google search we made were unrelated to the questions we had. We might use a different platform to connect with our friends, or a different search engine to find answers to our questions. In this way, providing a delightful user experience is tied to the revenue these networks make off of ads.

The networks are incentivized to maintain ad quality, and so they incentivize businesses to create relevant ads by charging more for ads that fail to deliver a delightful experience.

Yep. If you’re still doing advertising in an irrelevant, outbound way, it will actually cost you more money.

If you’re doing advertising in an inbound way that puts the needs of your audience first, it will become more cost-effective.

For example, instead of creating a social post for your entire social following–which includes prospects, leads, and current customers alike–you can create several different ads and tailor your message and overall narrative to meet the unique needs of each group. On search, ads that use audiences see a conversion rate that is two to three times higher than a search ad that is only targeted at a keyword.

In addition, ads are now a quick, cost effective way for marketers to figure out what is actually working, and resonating with their audience. I’ve talked to a number of HubSpot’s partners who use ads to develop their client’s personas and create a content strategy around them.

A sample of HubSpot ads on Facebook and Google

Using ads right inside the HubSpot Marketing Hub

There is no doubt about it — done right, ads are a complimentary component of any inbound marketing strategy. To help our customers align their ads with the rest of their inbound marketing, we launched the ads add-on at INBOUND in 2015. If you wanted to incorporate ads into your inbound marketing strategy, HubSpot had your back.

Starting today, we’re taking this a step further. Our ads tools are now a standard feature within Marketing Hub to all HubSpot customers at the Professional and Enterprise tiers, available at no additional expense. It has never been easier for HubSpot customers to view the impact of a campaign across inbound and paid channels.

As a VP of Product at HubSpot, it’s my job to make sure that we build products that help our customers navigate this ever-changing landscape — and ads are a part of this new landscape.

Ads are now available to all within HubSpot’s core Marketing Hub. You can learn more about our ads tools here.