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I went to INBOUND15 and all I came back with was this lousy blog post

Take one hangar sized convention centre in Boston, US. Fill it with 14,000 evangelical marketers and sales execs from across the world. Add a heady mix of top notch speakers from different walks of life and a smattering of the coolest marketing tech around.

Welcome to INBOUND15 – HubSpot’s annual shout out for the Inbound Marketing cause.

Last week, I found myself plunged into this veritable lion’s den of marketing fanaticism.

Boundless whooping and gratuitous awesomeness aside, the event was full to the brim with useful insights galore. Here’s what I learnt along the way:

The Inbound Movement is well and truly gathering pace
HubSpot coined the term ‘Inbound marketing’ way back in 2005. A decade on it’s become part and parcel of the savvy marketer’s vocabulary. More than that, it’s a strategy that’s being widely adopted by businesses – big and small - the world over. Fundamentally it’s been driven by the fact that the way people buy has changed. We now need to earn attention not buy it. Create pull rather than push. This is the way of Inbound and the penny has well and truly dropped if the masses gathered in Boston were anything to go by.

The biggest fear of many marketers today is mediocrity
Analyst Ray Wang at Constellation Research said it best: “In marketing, being in the middle is death. It’s no man’s land.” It’s arguably one of the paradoxes of the marketing industry. A few stick their neck out and do something different. Others watch and wait in the wings. They realise it’s safe ground and decide to test the water. Before you know it, everyone is doing the same thing – and greyness prevails. Just look at the whole content marketing bandwagon for a fine example. So follow the pack or stick your neck out? As Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs advised, “The biggest missed opportunity in content is playing it too safe.”

Don’t be afraid to take risks
If the musings of blogger Seth Godin and research prof Brene Brown were anything to go by, the biggest fear we as marketers need to overcome is failure. It seems to be easier to be bland rather than bold. Instead we should positively stick our necks out and not only say ‘we’ll own this’ but ‘we’ll change this’. We need to set expectations within the business that what we do may fail – but if we don’t take risks we may as well pack up and go home. 'Try different things' was essentially the mantra. Joseph Jaffe at Evol8tion for one advised, “Invest 10% of your budget in things that have no precedent.” And don’t be afraid to put the cat amongst the pigeons. The ever entertaining Doug Kessler at Velocity put forward the case for ‘insane honesty’ – actively alienating the people/dumb asses who are least likely to buy from you. What’s not to like? 

Inbound is as much about changing the way we sell
“We need to unsuck the sales industry”, boomed Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot in his keynote address – as he regaled us with stories of his early career selling. Here was a man on a mission – recollecting the fact he hated cold calling so much his boss taped the phone to his hand so he couldn’t escape doing it. Gone is the era of buyer beware, according to author Dan Pink, it’s now about seller beware. Everything a buyer needs to know is out there online. Now it’s about changing the way we sell to reflect the way people buy – ‘being helpful not hostile’ according to Brian. For HubSpot that’s about empowering sales people with the intelligence to have the right conversations at the right time – by bringing together data into a single system of record from different platforms and apps (via HubSpot Connect) and making it actionable.

It’s all about the numbers
Ask me why we at Earnest first deployed HubSpot and it had to be the reporting – and specifically the new levels of insight it gave us into our leads: who they are, where they came from, how they interact with us and what they’re interested in. But importantly, it wasn’t just about being able to see the numbers, it was being able to act on them – to optimise our activity. There was a real desire from the marketers we spoke to at Inbound to not only show their value to the rest of the business – but ensure that their activities continue to outperform their peers. And HubSpot is going all out to help them - as Dharmesh Shah, CTO at HubSpot believes: “Marketers should spend less time reporting the numbers and more time making the numbers.” 

Four days at an event is just about as much as you can take
Four intensive days later of pretty much back-to-back sessions my brain hurt and I’ve got to admit I was starting to go a little stir crazy. Among all the industry big hitters sharing their world view and expert practitioners with their tips and guidance, there’d been a surreal mix of comics, life coaches and media darlings. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or heckle. But my moment of the conference had to be when standing in the line to meet the brilliant Jon Ronson. I got chatting to a chap who was due to speak later in the week. I asked him about his chosen subject to which he answered: ‘From Sex Cult to C-Suite’. Never thought I’d hear those words in the same sentence. But as Ray Wang told us, “You’re not competing with another company, you’re competing with time and attention.” He’d certainly won mine. However, despite all my good intentions, I just didn’t make it to his presentation. Shame. Maybe next year.

Interested in a few more choice take outs? Check out Earnest’s Inbound 15 Crunched: