A Good Book for Your Boss

My latest post over at HBR.org is about MIT’s use of student bloggers on its admissions website. This kind of unfiltered presentation to the wide world of an organization’s internal voices was pretty novel when the Institute launched the blogs four years ago, but it’s become more common.

It’s still far from universal, though. I’d bet that the majority of organizations still have ‘brochureware’ websites —  simple, largely static descriptions of what the company is and does, written in standard Press Release English (have all the people that write those taken the same correspondence course or something?). These websites get periodic facelifts and redesigns to keep them from getting stale, but their core content remains largely the same.

In their new book Inbound Marketing, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah do a great job of explaining to busy, pragmatic, non-technical businesspeople the shortcomings of this approach to the Web. They write:

“The reality is that most web sites look perfectly fine. The colors are fine, the menus are fine, the logo is fine, the pictures are fine, and so on. You personally do not like the look of your web site because you look at it so often. Your visitors, on the other hand, think your web site looks just fine and are not particularly interested in your site’s colors or the type of menus used. Your visitors are looking for something interesting they can read and learn about…

Save the thousands of dollars and countless hours you were goign to spend on the redesign of your web site and do three things. First, add something collaborative to your site like a blog (which is easy to update on a regular basis). Second, start creating compelling content people will want to consume (see following chapters on how to do this). Third, start focusing where the real action is: Google, industry blogs, and social media sites.”

Halligan and Shah are cofounders of Hubspot, a startup that helps organizations make their websites places that people will want to visit (Halligan is a friend of mine, but I have no financial ties to Hubspot[1]). They call this inbound marketing, and contrast it to traditional outbound or “interruption-based” marketing, where companies try to interrupt, via emails, phone calls, and mass media advertising, what their customers are trying to do (get their work done, for example, or watch TV).

I’m not convinced that mass media advertising is on its last legs; early this month, for example, there was an article in the New York Times about how digital video recorders, originally considered tech Kryptonite by broadcasters and advertisers because they let viewers skip past ads, have recently been embraced by the TV industry because they help shows become hits. But after reading Inbound Marketing I am convinced that brochureware Websites are rapidly being eclipsed by more dynamic and social destinations.

When I was signing my book at last week’s Enterprise 2.0 conference in San Francisco, more than a few people asked me to sign to a name different than the one on their badge. When I raised my eyebrow at this they explained that they were taking the book to their boss, who “really needs to get the message.” I was greatly flattered by this, and relieved. It indicated that I’d succeeded in not talking past my intended audience.

Halligan and Shah certainly don’t. They address themselves directly to business decision makers and pull off the tough job of presuming no technical literacy on the part of their target readers, yet not condescending to them. Inbound Marketing makes the worlds of Web marketing, Search Engine Optimization, and Social Media easy to understand. It leaves readers confident in their new knowledge, and prepared to take action.

I’m sure the authors hope that more than a few readers will take action by signing up with Hubspot, but Inbound Marketing isn’t a naked advertisement for the company. Instead, it’s a great primer about an important topic. If you’re feeling underinformed about how to spread the word about your company on today’s Web, or if you work with or for people who are making underinformed decisions, get your hands on a copy of Inbound Marketing. It’ll make a difference.

[1] I should point out, though, that Brian has offered me his amazing Red Sox tickets a few times, and I fervently hope that this post leads to more evenings at Fenway with him.