The top 10 things we learned at INBOUND 2017

Over 21,000 marketing and sales pros. From 104 countries. In Boston. With Michelle Obama. What are we talking about? INBOUND 2017…

With a mission to inspire, educate and connect businesses, HubSpot’s annual marketing and sales conference is packed with inspiring keynotes and in-depth lessons designed to help your business grow through inbound marketing. And this year, Fifth Ring was lucky enough to attend!

Steph, from our Aberdeen office, and Laura, from our Houston office, travelled to Boston to attend INBOUND 2017 for the first time, and they have shared their top insights and most actionable tips from across the conference.

1. Don’t be mediocre, be a leader

It’s a given that we need to be creating consistent content for our businesses to attract, nurture and convert leads. But too often people are falling into the quantity over quality trap, with a tendency to simply regurgitate content they find across multiple online sources, thus becoming mediocre.

This isn’t enough. We need to be differentiated, thought-leading experts.

Garrett Moon, CEO and Co-Founder of CoSchedule, said in his session: “Regular content marketing doesn’t always work. You need to learn how to stand out.

He also advised creating competition-free content – if you can create differentiated nuggets of content, you will reap the rewards for years to come. CoSchedule did this with its free headline analyser tool – the company provides actionable and helpful tips to marketers for improving their blog headings by using the masses of data they have. It’s incredibly useful for their target audience, they are now the go-to leaders for this and it drives a huge amount of traffic and leads.

2. Engage the sales team in your marketing

If you’re starting with inbound or content marketing, buy-in from the sales team is essential or it simply won’t work.

One of your goals should also be to make your sales team look like geniuses. Turn them into stars, and make them teachers for your audience. Why? The obvious reason is it will help you create super targeted and effective content that your customers are actually looking for, as the sales team are the front-line people speaking to and understanding the people you are trying to target.

In his breakout session, Marcus Sheridan, Founder and President of The Sales Lion, said: “Unless we help create it, we don’t value it as much.” And this is true of your sales team. If they are actively involved in the content marketing process, they’ll be more likely to share the content in their own networks, and cleverly embed this content in their sales process.

3. The customer experience is everything

Naturally, you will believe that the product or service you sell is fantastic, and everyone should be using it. But a common theme across INBOUND 2017 was that the customer experience trumps what you actually sell.

We know we need to understand our buyer personas to be able to engage with them, but make your focus even wider – how can you create an incredible experience from start to finish?

Donny Makower, President of RED Interactive Agency, gave three tips in his session: don’t simply assume you see the world through the customers’ eyes, do the work to get there; give in a personal and unexpected way; and be surprisingly authentic, unusually transparent and relentlessly fair.

4. Become awesome at video

Video was definitely one of the hottest topics throughout the week, with one consistent message: start now. One of the speakers actually said that the best investment they made in their business in the past year was hiring a full-time videographer.

Matthew Pierce, Video Ambassador at TechSmith Corporation, shared 47 tips for creating the best videos, which we will condense and share with you soon. But a few of the key takeaways from his session were to know your goal (what are you actually trying to achieve with a video?), use a variety of angles (things don’t always have to be in the centre), keep clips short and keep things moving to engage people and avoid being boring, and ensure everything has a purpose.

5. Don’t give up if something isn’t instantly ROI-positive

As marketers, we’ve been trained to always monitor our tactics to ensure they’re actually working – and stop wasting time on what isn’t driving results. But Rand Fishkin, the legend that is the founder of Moz, took a different approach in his spotlight session at INBOUND 2017.

He shared a story about Moz’s Whiteboard Friday. This weekly video series was consistently the worst performing content they published, for the first couple of years. But they stuck at it, and kept investing in it, because they could see it was improving, and now it’s the top performing content they put out each week, driving the highest number of free trial sign-ups.

He said: “If you focus on the trajectory, and you measure your progress against an estimated growth curve, and you see how you’re doing – over the long-term you find that those investments, where the trajectory is high but the ROI initially is low, are less competitive because nobody else is playing in those spaces. And once you get good at them, your cost to acquire a customer in those channels is super low, and your lifetime value from those channels is crazy high.”

The lesson? If your content or marketing channels are improving, but aren’t instantly ROI-positive, don’t give up as you could miss a major opportunity for your business.

6. Change how you think about search

The way companies appear in search results is changing. According to Moz, the recognised SEO leader, only 54.7% of Google search result pages display only PPC ads or the top 10 links– so almost half have other features. And 11% of all clicks actually go to these other features

So what are they? Knowledge panels. Related questions. Local packs. Images. Top stories. Sitelinks. Featured snippets. Top stories. Videos. Tweets. Take advantage of these opportunities.

7. Your message is missing something

We’re hardwired to make sense of information that’s presented to us, even when there is missing information – it’s called the make sense mandate. In her breakout session, Tamsen Webster, Executive Producer of TEDxCambridge, did a deep dive into the world of messaging, and explained that marketing should undergo a few critical steps to ensure we are connecting all the dots for our audience.

You should define the goal, define the problem, identify the idea, describe the necessary change, list the actions needed to get to that change. This will make your message complete and impactful.

8. Plan ahead

This may sound obvious, but it can be easy to fall into the trap of being reactive and not proactive. Planning ahead, and continually taking a holistic view of your marketing is critical to ensure you’re on the path to success.

You may think that most people already do this, but a recent survey from CoSchedule found that under a half of marketers actually have a documented strategy. Yet their research shows that marketers who do create a documented strategy are 538% more likely to report success!

Our tip? Make time in your busy schedule to properly plan and create a solid strategy, otherwise, what are you striving to achieve?

9. Be authentic

The word ‘authenticity’ was said a lot at INBOUND 2017. People are not stupid – they can tell when someone isn’t being genuine and it turns them off. Businesses must be authentic not only in their interactions with their targets, but in all of the content they create. Authenticity allows you to truly connect with your audience.

10. Practice forward-thinking decision making

Marketers in every role are faced with making mega-decisions every day about the path ahead. Forward-thinking decision-making is the practice of identifying the problem and then identifying solutions (versus justifying your preconceived solution).

But what are the steps to doing this? Identify the problem, consider all the solutions, gather real-time information, and consider alternatives. This allows you to remove the emotional and personal investment from the situation, and decisions can be based on facts.