The Top 10 Key Takeaways from INBOUND 2018

We're back from another annual INBOUND conference hosted by our partners at HubSpot! And our team members in attendance have been eager to share their insights with our clients, fellow PMG marketers and, of course, our readers and subscribers.

While it's impossible to distill all of the information we absorbed in a single blog post (hence, we'll be publishing a number of more in-depth articles over the coming weeks), we put our heads together and came up with what we felt were the 10 most important takeaways from this year's lineup of keynotes and breakout sessions. Here's an overview of the top tips, trends and updates presented during INBOUND 2018...

1. Conversational marketing is essential – and expected.

Much like last year, Artificial Intelligence was a buzzword ringing in everyone's ears throughout the week at INBOUND. While the concept of AI may make both marketers and sales professionals feel a little uneasy, there are so many practical tools and use cases emerging that will make their jobs that much easier. (And no, no one is going to be unemployed as a result).

Facebook Messenger is among these AI-powered applications, and we're going to be seeing it playing a greater role in marketing automation as time goes on. Messenger's popularity as an alternative communication platform has been growing – you might have heard of HubSpot's Growth Bot, for example. But a number of new apps and integrations are being created and launched to more effectively leverage this prime piece of social media real estate.

However, this new marketing trend isn't all AI-driven bots and machine learning algorithms. On the contrary, conversational marketing is all about having one-on-one personal conversations across multiple channels and providing instant responses to prospect and customer inquiries. Therein lies the opportunity to accelerate your sales pipeline. By implementing chat functionality on high purchase intent website pages, and using a combination of automation and timely human interaction, both B2B and B2C businesses can facilitate a personalized user experience that provides immediate gratification to the person on the other end.

2. Optimize content for search intent.

We've been hearing it over and over again in the marketing community: the keyword is dead. However, this year's INBOUND conference highlighted many ways in which the keyword itself isn't dead, but how we traditionally thought about using keywords is. Once upon a time, you could rank in Google's search results if you did a little keyword research and then inserted that keyword into the five primary on-page optimization areas of your website content. Now, Google is much smarter than that. While keyword research is still valuable, as it helps you understand what your customers are searching for, it's important to focus more on the intent of that search as opposed to the exact term or phrase.

In a nutshell, Google's job is to serve people with the type of content that will best answer their questions. But a lengthy, well-optimized, 10,000-word blog post isn't always the right response. Did you know that YouTube is the #2 search engine platform? Incorporating videos, especially for how-to's, reviews, case studies, and product or service highlights is critical to serving up content relevant to search intent. In fact, 90% of buyers say video helps them make a purchasing decision! In light of this, it's time to start supporting your written collateral with compelling visual content.

3. PR is doable with a small budget – and a sprinkling of personality.

Public relations is notorious being relatively expensive. Many of our clients have chosen to use their budget on marketing and they struggle to incorporate PR. The good news is public relations can be done on a shoestring budget, so long as you have someone willing to be the "face" of your company. And Twitter is just the channel to conduct your PR prospecting.

Start by taking 15 minutes per day to interact with local journalists on Twitter – you can even pitch ideas to them using Twitter's Direct Messages (DMs)! Moreover, keep an eye on media inquiry websites like Pitchrate, Response Source, and ProfNet. Remember, good PR is an intersection between your professional expertise and personal interests. While a pitch may not always be successful for your marketing plan, it can still help you grow your professional network.

4. Native video is a key communication tool.

It's become very clear that video is an essential medium for marketing products / services and educating your audience. At this point, there is no debate about that. But while adding videos to your website or linking to a YouTube channel is important, native outstream is quickly becoming a necessary part of any successful video marketing campaign. Today, the emphasis is placed on finding out exactly how people are interacting with your video on mobile and what makes them thumb stop, watch, and engage. Consequently, in order to produce effective in-feed video campaigns, you need a firm grasp on mobile-first content creation concepts.

The announcement that HubSpot would be hosting videos natively within the platform sent waves of excitement throughout the audience. With this new feature, Professional and Enterprise customers can upload and record videos right from HubSpot. The best part is: you'll be able to add HubSpot CTAs directly to the video and track how people engage with them. Now, it's easier than ever before to send someone to your demo page or to provide supplemental written content directly from the video feed.

And that's not all. From the Sales Hub, your salespeople can easily and quickly record videos to send to prospects and customers. Whether you want to relay a simple introduction or provide a screencast to answer a technical question, you can do so with just a few clicks from the Contact Record. Note: This native integration is possible due to HubSpot's partnership with Vidyard. To get access to these features, you'll need to create a Vidyard account and sync it with HubSpot. 

5. GDPR compliance can be a differentiator, but don't overthink it.

One of our team members sat in on a session specifically dedicated to GDPR – and what's actually changed since it went into effect back in May. The speaker polled the audience a few times during his presentation (using a cool app called Glisser), and interestingly, only 51% of attendees said their companies were actually compliant with GDPR.

While it's primarily large companies that are in the line of fire, there are a few best practices you can follow to ensure you aren't dinged while you are trying to get your website, contact lists, etc. up to speed. Most importantly, you should be able to demonstrate evidence that your organization has assessed the situation and is actively working on implementing better privacy and data protection practices. This might look like a spreadsheet that shows all types of data collection processes in which your company participates accompanied by the reasoning why this data is being stored. Moreover, it's a best practice to establish how long "legitimate interest" applies to your contacts. In most cases, a simple logical reason will be enough to avoid penalties.

Obviously, cleaning up your database and purging out-of-date, disengaged contacts is a good idea, but there are a few creative ways to differentiate your business with respect to your contacts' privacy. 85% of people think less of a company when they reach out without permission, so getting that explicit consent and doing so in a fun way (think clever copy) can make people more enthusiastic about receiving your communications. If you are worried about GDPR implications, you might want to consider creating a LinkedIn or Facebook Group to communicate. This way, you aren't actually storing data yourself, but you're still able to get your message out to interested prospects.

Disclaimer: this is not legal advice, nor was the content in the presentation. And GDPR doesn't just pertain to marketing. If you are concerned about your data protection practices, we definitely recommend consulting a lawyer or specialist.

6. Account-based marketing isn't just for big companies.

While account-based marketing (ABM) has been a popular technique among large corporations with big budgets for years, it can most certainly be executed without breaking the bank. With a solid strategy, SMBs are able to target multiple decision-makers at fairly sizeable, complex organizations and effectively market niche products or services.

"Account-based marketing is not about technology. ABM is about strategy. It's about understanding and nurturing your most valuable customers and prospects." – Sharon Gillenwater, Founder, Boardroom Insiders, Inc.

Account research is quite possibly the most important step. What is the company's mission? What is their business growth strategy? Who are the key players? If you can answer these questions, you can tie how your solution will help into the messaging. Success often hinges on creating a great hook that aligns with a business goal, so do you homework and zero in on something that's really relevant. Sometimes, the best places to look are company reports and earnings calls!

7. Take a break on writing new blog posts.

Back in the day, "the more the merrier!" aptly described a successful content creation strategy. With a greater number of blog posts casting a wider net, you had a better chance of attracting and capturing new leads. But times have changed. It's no longer necessary to blog once a day (or even once a week) to generate a good amount of quality traffic. And, without a creative and consistent content promotion plan, you're basically hanging your happy young posts out to dry.

Instead of focusing on creating net new content, many SEO-savvy businesses are choosing to optimize legacy content instead. Your old blog post from 2014 could be contributing more leads than the research-based post you spent 10 hours writing last week. Don't ignore that data! To get more bang for your content buck, spend some time refreshing your site's older posts with new data, better images, optimized meta descriptions, updated ALT text, new Calls-to-Action, and more. This takes significantly less time than writing a new blog article from scratch and has been shown to boost traffic by up to 432% in some cases. No, that's not a typo!

8. Drive results by creating sales enablement content.

Sales enablement content is content produced by Marketing that helps Sales educate prospects, overcome objections, and prime potential buyers for a more in-depth conversation. The content's primary purpose is to provide valuable information that assists reps with building credibility with their audience.

This type of collateral can take many forms—an explainer video, a blog post, premium gated content, case studies, infographics—really the sky is the limit. The key is to ask the sales team about questions they consistently receive, what leads find most confusing during the sales process, and why someone might opt out of a deal. Then, with this information in hand, Marketing is able to create pieces that Sales can use to answer these questions and keep prospects engaged. 

If your company is a HubSpot Sales customer, your team should be making use of HubSpot Snippets and incorporating links to published sales enablement content. Snippets are short, reusable text blocks (for example, a canned response to a very common question) that can be used to leave notes on contact, company, and deal records; in email templates; and in chat conversations. All you have to do to call up a snippet is to input a simple "#" command – very convenient!

9. Lighten up the customer experience!

So many of the tools and trends we saw highlighted at INBOUND were focused on creating lighter, easier, faster experiences for both our customers and our own teams. How can we reduce friction and frustration in our internal workflows, in client interactions with our businesses and in our own day-to-day? Dharmesh summed it up well when he said our customers want us to solve for their success, not our systems – and that we should not let our processes become our customers' problem. 

A number of this year's sessions focused on customer marketing and forging a strong customer experience strategy. One logical first step would be to outline and examine all the touchpoints your business has with a customer. Are these interactions remarkable? How are your customers feeling about each part? What do they expect – and how can you exceed those expectations? It's a lot of little things that add up to create an exceptional experience. It just takes time to sit down and think about how each component can be improved.

10. Face time matters.

While we know we're a great example of a company that has successfully committed to a remote workplace and we're so proud of our culture and the fact that we have clients and colleagues around the globe, INBOUND certainly represents the power of being physically present with others. Spending time with our team at the hotel and during meals, with some of our awesome clients at our PMG cocktail party, and with our buddies from other HubSpot Partner Agencies always leaves us feeling reinvigorated.

Plus, there was nothing quite like the energy of 20,000+ people in one room or the electric atmosphere created by speakers like Shonda Rhimes and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when they walked on stage. Yes, a remote workplace will always offer some pretty stellar advantages, but we love our face time too! INBOUND was the perfect reminder of the importance of human connection – and we should all strive to incorporate more H2H into our B2B marketing. 

One day at a time...

It's easy to feel overwhelmed after a 4-day content-heavy conference like INBOUND. With so many new things to learn, try and do and so many fellow marketers sharing their successes, it's tempting to focus on how far behind you feel in certain areas or to worry that you'll never find the time to implement the new ideas you have.

We loved when keynote Beth Comstock shared her suggestion of spending 70% of your time on the now, 20% on what's next and 10% on what's new. We would add that it's just as important to recognize how far you've come and to celebrate all that you are doing well. Combine these strategies with staying fully present and doing one thing at a time in any given moment and you will make the progress you dream of!

If you have any questions about the content in this article—or about the INBOUND conference—please feel free to reach out or simply leave a comment below. Again, we'll continue to post more about what we learned on our blog, so keep checking back in (or sign up for email updates.) Until next time, marketers!

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Oren Smith | Marketing Manager
About the Author
Oren Smith, Marketing Manager

Oren Smith—our resident Marketing Manager and data geek... *ahem* expert—has been heading up PMG's marketing for 5+ years. Between stretches of content writing and inbound strategy, you might find him planning his next adventure abroad or enjoying a good, old-fashioned lobster roll.