The 4 keys to inbound marketing success

Takeaways from Inbound 2015

Inbound, HubSpot’s epic marketing conference, was bigger, bolder and braver than ever before. 14,000 delegates from around the world swarmed into Boston, filling every hotel room, Airbnb and couch.

One HubSpotter told me that the city reached capacity this year — HubSpot and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center could easily handle more, but Boston simply wouldn’t be able to host any more visitors!

There were more than 240 sessions on a range of topics, by a spectrum of fantastic speakers, across the three full days of the conference. I was there with my colleague Anadi representing Kayako.

Club Inbound, where marketers mingle

I was lucky enough to be able to attend 15 sessions during the week. I noticed four key themes running through all of the sessions and keynotes I saw, which is what I identified as the keys to inbound marketing success:

Be brave in all you do

Seth Godin’s keynote set the tone for the rest of the week and several other speakers referred back to his talk throughout Inbound. Seth spoke about taking risks, and explained that if you don’t take risks, you can’t succeed.

He said we must understand that with every idea comes the equal possibility of success and failure. In order to be brave we have to believe that both can happen.

In her keynote, Brené Brown spoke about the concept of bravery too. She reiterated Seth’s point that to be truly brave, you have to be willing to fail. And, she stated, in order to innovate you have to be brave.

This message was echoed throughout the talks at Inbound. Corey Eridon, Managing Editor of the HubSpot blogs, asserted the importance of taking risks with content. Don’t be scared, she said, or your content will fail.

Ann Handley, speaker, author and Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs boldly stated that “the biggest missed opportunity in content marketing is playing it safe.”

Stephen Voltz, co-founder of Eepybird Studios, reiterated this point in his talk about creating viral videos (like those that Eepybird makes), saying that if you’re scared to be different you’ll never innovate.

Fear is something that Brené Brown spoke about too — specifically fear of being shamed. She described the fact that our current economy thrives on shaming people (a point starkly illustrated in Jon Ronson’s talk about public shaming on social media), and that we need to harness the feeling of shame and capitalise on the resulting vulnerability.

Brené, a research professor studying vulnerability, spoke about the benefits of being vulnerable — indeed the fact that sharing and showing vulnerability is key to building deep human relationships.

Comedian and podcaster Marc Maron reiterated this in talk, where he explained the success of his podcast as based on being honest, vulnerable and true to himself.

Doug Kessler’s talk on insane honesty

Doug Kessler, co-founder of Velocity Partners, has created a whole marketing philosophy based on vulnerability which he calls insane honesty. By spotlighting your weakest points, Doug says, people will be inclined to believe you when you point out your strengths. By showing your vulnerability, you build relationships of trust with your audience.

Offer true value and get long-lasting results

The dramatic opening ceremony of Inbound boldly announced that “This is not a conference. This is a movement!” It encapsulated the reason why HubSpot have grown to be so successful. Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah didn’t just build and sell a platform; they created a whole philosophy.

This value-add on their platform has meant that HubSpot has firmly wedged itself into the core of contemporary marketing and this has paid off massively for the company.

This message of providing true value threaded through many other talks at Inbound. Kieran Flanagan, Marketing Director (EMEA) at HubSpot explained how important it is to identify your core value proposition early on and build all your activities around that. This helps you to reach your audience with content that is truly valuable for them, he explained.

Kieran’s colleague Corey Eridon backed this up with some stats, citing 76% of traffic to the HubSpot blogs comes from old posts, and 92% of blog-sourced leads comes from old posts! She reminded us to focus on creating quality, evergreen content over quick win, newsjacking pieces.

Sonia Simone, Chief Content Officer at Copyblogger asserted that marketers must make sure their content is great. There is no point creating weak content, she said — it will simply drown in a sea of quality content.

This was echoed by Ann Handley, who said that we must focus on creating deeply educational content to give deep value to customers.

Don’t tell the same stories as everyone else, Ann reminded us. Steven Voltz agreed, advising that great content takes something simple and everyday and gives it a twist.

HubSpot’s Agency Blog editor Jami Oetting showed how this extended to PR as well, explaining that editors and journalists will always pick up pitches for content that is surprising, unique, educational and highly valuable over the same-y pitches they see 100 times a day.

Reach the right people, not the many

Seth Godin told us to realise the importance of niches in marketing. What’s interesting to one person is not interesting to many others, he said, so don’t try to talk to everyone.

Seth Godin’s keynote

Christopher S Penn, VP of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications, pointed out that you have to tailor your content so that it is perfect for the persona you’re targeting. It’s no longer about trying to compete with your direct competitors for attention, Christopher explained. Now you’re competing against everything — the news, social media, Netflix — for your audience’s attention.

The only way to stand out is by honing your niche.

Comedian Aziz Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg even touched on this in their talk about their book on modern romance and online dating — when people have too many choices they become overwhelmed. People look to narrow down their choices by setting criteria for people they are prepared to date — people do the same thing when deciding on what to engage with.

Ann Handley agreed, stating that in order to reach the right audience, you have to market your business in the context of what the people you want to reach care about — and use your story to convert people to your “squad”.

Sonia Simone spoke about the importance of social media for content promotion, and using it to reach the right people. “It doesn’t matter if most people share without reading,” said Sonia, “as long as it reaches the one person who reads and converts.”

In order to reach this one person, content may need to be shared by many — and optimising content for sharing is something that both Sonia and Kieran Flanagan both strongly recommended.

Constantly measure, evaluate and iterate

Setting goals and measuring against them is one of the core principles of marketing. It still plays a hugely important role in inbound marketing, and came up in several talks at Inbound.

Kieran Flanagan reiterated the importance of setting goals, but he advised against setting too many. By focussing on a handful of key goals at a time it is possible to spend more time measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of your activities towards achieving the goals and tweak activity accordingly.

Christopher Penn advised that you only measure and set goals based on the metrics you have control over — in his example, reach, engagement and actions. Corey Eridon narrowed this even further, arguing that you only need to focus on your lowest performing channels, always tweaking, rethinking and optimising.

Ann Handley extended this to personas too: “Constantly challenge your perceptions of your target audience,” she said. “Do periodic research and gather data to refine them.”


The takeaways

All the talks I attended shared a common theme — do what you’re doing, but do it better than everyone else. Make your marketing bigger, bolder and braver (to steal Ann Handley’s phrase).

This message shows a clear move away from spray and pray marketing, or even pay and pray marketing — it reinforces the idea of marketers as educators, storytellers and relationship builders.

These ideas are core to the inbound philosophy, and what better place to get embedded in this philosophy than at Inbound!