Takeaways from One of the Largest Marketing Technology Conferences

By Denae DiVincenzo

Incredibly, the end of the year is already upon us. The weather is cooling, the leaves are changing colors, and blog posts are already cropping up with “what to expect in 2018” headlines.

As part of planning for the year to come, Q4 is also a great time to reflect upon the tactics and strategies you’ve already been using and take a close look at what’s working and what’s not. Part of this process can be a review of your company’s own efforts, and another part can be researching what’s happening on an industry-wide scale.

Recently NeigerDesign had an opportunity get some serious insights into the marketing technology industry and reflect on the ways that it’s changing—with a little help from 21,000 of our friends.

 

HubSpot INBOUND marketing technology conference floor 2017

The view of the conference hall floor when you first enter “Club INBOUND.”

INBOUND is a marketing technology conference that brings together thousands of marketers, salespeople and business owners from 104 countries for three days of big-name keynotes (including icons of inspiration like Michelle Obama), spotlights from thought leaders on trending topics, hundreds of educational breakout sessions, and modern networking (which includes chatting up the person in the neighboring swing chair charging their phone alongside yours and, like at any good event, enjoying free-flowing coffee and craft beer).

Attending INBOUND for the first time is a rite of passage for many members of the 34k companies using the industry-leading software platform, and as HubSpot users and agency partners we at NeigerDesign were excited to finally experience the conference ourselves.

Carol and I went to INBOUND with the aim of absorbing as much information as possible to share with clients and improve our digital marketing services. Between the two of us, we attended nearly 28 sessions and keynotes in those three days!

Now that we’ve had some time to wrap our minds around everything we learned, and swap perceptions on the event with other marketers at the Chicago HubSpot User Group meetup, we’ve broken down some of the biggest takeaways from the event that could make a difference in your own marketing strategy for the coming year.

So what are the main things you should aim to do with your marketing strategy moving forward?

Two significant points surfaced for us: more focus, better quality.

While there were some tactics that became recurring themes, of course (spoiler alert: video is big. Very big. More on that in a minute), and many keynotes and spotlight sessions touched on the topics of empathy and trust, I think a lot of what we heard can still be distilled down into those overarching points.

The Changing Times

Before getting into what I mean by “more focus” and “better quality,” let’s step back and consider what brought all these people together to discuss these topics in the first place.

As anyone trying to reach an audience on the internet today knows all too well, the digital landscape is a crowded, chaotic place. A person spends much of their day looking at a screen, but now that time is split between their computer, phone, tablet, and even their watch, and on each of these is a bottomless pit of apps, web content, and communication channels pulling your audience’s attention away from your content.

With so many articles, social media posts, videos, podcasts, and messages available to consume and only so much time available, getting interrupted with an ad is only getting more upsetting for a consumer, especially if it’s not relevant to them. That’s how inbound marketing took root—let interested prospects discover you instead of spamming a large number of potential prospects with ineffective and expensive ads and cold calling tactics.

The inbound approach—creating informative and interesting content, sharing engaging social media posts, and honing search engine optimization—has only expanded as a strategy of choice in the past 10 years, but the battle for attention has gotten worse in the meantime. All in all, there are some serious challenges to succeeding as a brand today and it calls for adaptability of your marketing tactics, both inbound and outbound alike.  

INBOUND is a time to compare experiences and challenges as colleagues instead of competitors and to share insights into trends and the future of the industry.

One of the striking things about the conference as first-timers was having conversations that reinforced that we—and other companies we know and work with—are not alone in the difficulties of marketing today.   

More Focus

As HubSpot co-founder, Brian Halligan, discussed in his keynote, it’s easier (and cheaper) than ever to launch a startup today. However, it’s harder than ever to succeed as a full-scale business.

 

Watch Brian’s “From Startup to Scaleup” keynote presentation (from 9:37 to 42:37 in the recording).

Competition for your potential customer’s (or client’s) attention is not limited to your direct competitors in your industry, as you’re also competing with all the aforementioned digital distractions and content.

With that in mind, how can you stand out?

Differentiation. This came up again and again during the conference. Take a hard look at your company, the brand you’ve built for it (or are aiming to build), and what makes you unique. Use that to position your company in a targeted niche. The more niche, the better.

At NeigerDesign we have a long history of working with passion- and mission-driven organizations, and our experience with nonprofits and associations has fueled lasting relationships that we value as the core of our business. For us, it's our “why,” the foundation of our mission, and it's also shaped our positioning.

Being more focused in your positioning will facilitate being more focused in targeting your audience and in setting your goals. I may be biased as a strategist, but I really cannot stress enough how much impact it can have on your business outcomes if you have more specific, focused goals.   

Working to increase focus can also relate to your content. After honing in on your positioning and niche, take the inbound approach of creating helpful, engaging content but focus it on a small selection of larger topics that are meaningful to your business and audience. 

From those topics, develop subtopics and create content around them. HubSpot calls these topic clusters. Besides providing information to your targeted audience, this approach to content marketing will demonstrate to search engines that you’re focused on those topics, will provide more opportunities to show up in search results. 

Better Quality

This shift in SEO towards rewarding more focused content that provides a lot of value is a great example of one of the ways that better quality is more important than ever. 

As you’ve likely already experienced in your own usage of search engines, the search results page has changed a lot in recent years.

Changes in SEO was a big topic at INBOUND, and one of the clearest overviews of the SERP situation was, quite understandably, included in the presentation by Moz’s Rand Fishkin on cultural conditioning and measuring your marketing. I highly recommend that you watch the session for the whole discussion. (Moz are masters of SEO, if you weren't already aware, and offers many great free SEO tools.) 

 

Rand Fishkin Moz INBOUND ranking on new Google SERP features

A slide from Rand's presentation at INBOUND. 

There’s so much to be said about SEO in 2018, but the gist of it is that Google has gotten smarter and smarter, while continuing to serve its primary aim as a search engine in providing the best results for users. Instead of displaying pages that have stuffed keywords for the sake of ranking, Google is now better able to identify pages that provide on-topic, in-depth information relevant to the search (while factoring in things like the location of the searcher, whether they are on desktop or mobile), etc. 

In short, Google favors the best content—or at least what it can determine to be the best content. A “spray and pray” approach to marketing is just not going to get you the results you’re looking for (and worse, it will likely cost you, too).

A session led by HubSpot product leads/managers reinforced this with “the future of content is less content.” They suggest that the most important factors for attracting prospects are quality, trust, and authenticity.

Dharmesh Shah, also a co-founder of HubSpot, made this the main theme of his keynote.

 

Watch Dharmesh’s “From Startup to Scaleup” keynote presentation (from 44:55 to the end of the recording, or you can skip ahead to the meat of it at 51:35, after he’s described how he came to be having a conversation with Elon Musk).

In my experience, in the hundreds of companies I’ve talked to—including HubSpot—the number one issue most companies have is misalignment.”  —Dharmesh Shah

He continues, “And it’s not just the misalignment of ‘oh the people are not aligned with the company’s goals’ (that happens). There’s an even larger issue where the company’s goal is not aligned around what the customer wants and needs. That’s a much more insidious problem.”  

His main pieces of advice on how to correct for this misalignment are these:

  • How you sell is more important than what you sell.
  • Double-down on content, but on the quality, not quantity.
  • Similarly, double-down on sales conversations, but on quality, not quantity.

Now, I know that “quality” is not in itself a great bit of information to plan your whole 2018 strategy around. To an extent it can be quite subjective, right? And it's not exactly shocking or revolutionary. But when you keep in mind that your aim is to serve your client or customer to the best extent possible, quality means providing the most help in the most efficient, enjoyable manner.  

To really discover what quality means for your specific audience, make sure that you’re measuring your efforts and testing to find opportunities for improvement. If all else fails, just ask them. Surveys can be very effective!

Top Tactics

Given the technology slant to this particular marketing conference, it’s no real surprise that video and AI were prominent topics for the breakout sessions. One stat that has been circulating widely since the conference is that by 2021, it’s expected that 82% of all consumer traffic on the internet will be video. Keep in mind that’s considering the expected rise in traffic, too (apparently up to 3.3 zettabytes annually, and if you’re like me and are now wondering what a zettabyte is, then here's some news for you: it is one sextillion bytes! That is a lot of internet traffic).  

While video may be an inevitability as a way to reach prospects, it can be intimidating to dive headfirst into creating videos. We heard some good tips on how:

  • Make videos that answer your customer’s questions (talk to your customer service and sales teams to find out what those questions are).
  • Distribute videos widely (your site alone won’t cut it—put them on social media!).
  • Make sure that they are primed for mobile viewing.
  • Square videos get 30–35% more views because of mobile watching, and it’s also important to make the video work without sound on.

I also really enjoyed the presentation on marketing ROI by Sam Melnick, Vice President of Marketing at Allocadia, in which he urged to “run marketing like a business.” 

 

Marketers Must Run Marketing Like a Business

Access the slide deck from his presentation on the INBOUND website.

Businesses track expenses and profit without a second thought—all business owners know that these are important to be aware of—yet marketing is often relegated to a “set it and forget it” mindset. Marketers should instead think of marketing as they would a business—make more meaningful investments, strategize using SMART goals, test and then analyze results, look at the actual business impact, etc. 

Parting Thoughts

My top favorite piece of advice from the conference? It just might be, “What you really need to do in 2018 is not waste anyone’s time,” from MK Getler, Inbound Marketing Consultant at HubSpot, in a presentation on customer service and shared by Stephanie Casstevens at the ChiHUG meetup this past month. It really sums up how to win with your prospects and customers, doesn’t it?

Although the approach of a new year is a good opportunity to make time for reviewing your results from the past year and strategize next steps, it's increasingly important to be continually measuring your marketing and looking for opportunities to improve and, importantly, to adapt. The world around us is changing all the time, and it's necessary for marketing to adapt with it. We're communicators, after all. Think of it as needing to speak the same language as our audience. 

 

HubSpot INBOUND John Cena keynote

Don't wait to get started. As John Cena said in his closing keynote, “Inspiration without application is nothing.”

Embrace your niche, find your audience, be a trustworthy, helpful source for them, and deliver quality content (maybe even in a video!). 

Want to hear more about the conference? Send us a message—we're always happy to talk about marketing! 

 

NeigerDesign Facebook messenger code 167143766147 

(Scan with Facebook Messenger to chat with us!)

 

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