Looking Back: The Big Lessons from Inbound16
INBOUND 2016 was over in a blur. Three nights, four days. Countless seminars, keynotes, and information sessions. Plus parties, happy hours, and networking events.
You’d be forgiven if you barely remember a thing.
But thankfully, there were real lessons to be learned. A lot of them. So I talked to some of the brightest marketers at the conference — speakers and attendees — to see what changes they’re making thanks to INBOUND.
Here are the highlights:
- Facebook advertising is now essential.
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning will change marketing and customer service soon.
- If you aren’t video marketing yet, you’d better hurry.
- Content marketing that doesn’t have a clear connection to sales isn’t going to work.
Let’s see what 20 of the biggest names at INBOUND 2016 are working hardest on for 2017.
Run more targeted social advertising
Starting right from the first keynote, one social platform dominated conversations at INBOUND: Facebook.
There are two main reasons for this:
- People live in Facebook. They get their news, entertainment, and social interactions there. As marketers, we need to go where the people are.
- The opportunities for targeting are huge. Facebook has a lot of information about all of us, and much of that is available to advertisers. We can market directly to our target audiences.
Let’s see what the experts have to say.
Gary Vaynerchuck, CEO, VaynerMedia
Expletives enthusiast Gary Vaynerchuck opened the conference talking about change. The marketing world is constantly evolving and we need to adapt.
Gary jump-started his family’s wine business on the back of email marketing and Google AdWords. Now, he says Facebook ads are a must. They’re still affordable, and the level of targeting is unmatched.
[WARNING: Gary uses salty language]
“You have to run Facebook ads, and you have to do it now.” — Gary Vaynerchuk
In the video above, he sets out a clear strategy for closing B2B deals:
- Understand exactly who your target persona is (company decision-makers)
- Use Facebook to target the people underneath them
- Create content that speaks to those people underneath, but talks about your target persona (“Does your CFO know…”).
This way, you know who to target and how to reach them.
And on Facebook, the price is right. Soon, everyone will have caught up, and the cost of advertising will skyrocket. So we’d better make the most of it right now.
Ian Lauth, Marketing Director, Winspire
When Gary spoke, Ian listened:
“We’re definitely going to start doing more Facebook advertising. Up to this point we’ve only pursued organic traffic through content production, but I realize that we can great boost and improve the traffic to our blog and content through small investments in our Facebook posts, so they receive some traffic on their own.”
Winspire aims to promote its content on social to find new audiences, rather than appealing directly to them. This helps to extend the reach of a blog post or whitepaper.
Promoting content with social ads was highlighted by Larry Kim in his session at INBOUND. Find your “unicorns” — the best pieces of content — and use a small social media budget to boost their reach.
If your goal is to increase traffic to your blog or site, these micro-campaigns can be very effective.
And speaking of Larry Kim…
Larry Kim, Founder, WordStream
Larry is one of the best-known PPC marketers around. His plan for social advertising is to make targeting even more precise:
“In 2017 my inbound marketing strategy will be to invest more heavily…into audience insights, trying to really understand my target audience, and figure out what truly are their interests, behaviors, and demographics, so that I can build content that resonates with that audience.”
It’s clear that targeted social advertising will be more important than ever next year. Not only will you learn more about your prospects’ behavior, you’ll be able to speak to them in their natural habitat.
Invest in new marketing technologies
Many INBOUND discussions focused on using new developments — especially in artificial intelligence — to find and nurture buyers.
Dharmesh Shah, Founder & CTO, HubSpot
One thing was clear from the State of Inbound 2016 report, which looked at changes in marketing and communications this year. In short: adblockers are making paid marketing less effective, so we marketers need to find new ways of speaking to buyers.
Like chatbots, such as HubSpot Labs’ GrowthBot.
They let users have conversations with products in natural language. So instead of making a product that’s “intuitive,” the user can simply ask questions and let the chatbot do the work.
Dharmesh demonstrated just how easy this process is:
Chatbots will be the biggest wave we’ve seen in technology in the last two decades.— Dharmesh Shah
It’ll probably take a few years for most companies to jump onboard — but Dharmesh says they’re absolutely coming, and that they’ll change the way we find information and solve problems.
Kyle Lacy, VP Marketing, OpenView
In his INBOUND session, Kyle explained some of the key features of successful startups. In 2017, that’s going to include embracing AI:
“One of the major trends will be chatbots and artificial intelligence. This year, 2016, we’ve seen a few pop up, but they haven’t actually perfected what they do. Next year you’re going to see even more perfection around how they do their job — meaning the chatbots — because of the amount of data they’ve had the ability to collect over the past year.”
OpenView is looking for ways to use these new technologies in their business.
“The number one thing that we’re going to deal with is, how do we implement artificial intelligence into our processes to sell, and to make the experience of our brand as great as possible.”
Christopher S. Penn, VP Marketing Technology, SHIFT Communications
Christopher agrees that you need to be present everywhere the buyer is:
“Marketers — myself included — will need to invest time in true omni-channel marketing. We face so much content shock, so much noise, that we have to do everything in our power just to be heard.”
Omni-channel marketing means being present across different platforms and devices. Your buyers use app stores, social media, search engines, email, and even physical locations. Make yourself easy to find and interact with, and you’ll sales.
And that means embracing these new technologies.
“We’ll be focusing heavily on artificial intelligence and machine learning to assist us in our omni-channel marketing.”
The future is here.
Marcus Sheridan, President, The Sales Lion
Another new technology that we heard a lot about in 2016 is virtual reality. While I didn’t hear a lot about VR at INBOUND, no doubt we’ll see more of it next year.
“2017 will be our first big year embracing a Virtual Reality strategy with our content marketing efforts. This, combined with an extreme focus on more and better video, will help us live our motto: If the consumer doesn’t see it, and can’t experience it, it doesn’t exist.”
Marcus’ “extreme focus” on video was the same for many of the marketers I spoke with.
Invest more in video
During Brian Halligan’s presentation (above), he spoke about the importance of video marketing.
“Back in 2006, your buyers mainly read stuff all day. Today, they mostly watch videos all day.”
In fact, this was one of the biggest themes at the conference. Video marketing is no longer seen as optional. Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram are all prioritizing video content, and marketers will need to keep up.
As the demand for video content keeps growing, we can’t afford to ignore this medium.
Ian Lauth, Winspire
Ian definitely took Brian’s message, and video marketing is on the agenda for Winspire:
“We’re going to pursue some more short form video content to post to social media — e.g. Whiteboard Wednesdays! I’m thinking short 30–60 second lessons for our readers on everything there is to know about event fundraising.”
Short, snackable content is great because it’s the optimal length for social and can be combined with other content throughout the rest of your marketing channels.
Peg Fitzpatrick, Social Media Speaker & Best-Selling Author
For Peg, video provides another opportunity to deliver higher quality material to audiences. With new platforms and formats becoming more popular and replacing written materials, “content shock” and audience overwhelm will only get worse as more content gets created.
And in 2017, only the best content will truly stand out:
“I’m going to focus on creating quality content that is authentic and truly tells a story or helps people. The content glut of too many posts with crummy photos and graphics is overwhelming. You should strive to be the high-quality posts and video in people’s feeds.”
Ross Hudgens, Founder, Siege Media
Ross’ strategy for 2017 is only four words:
“Investing more in video.”
We can talk all day about popular content formats, optimal video length, and distribution. But before you get into the tactical details, you need to make the commitment and investment to succeed at video marketing.
So how can you make the most of video? Here are Brian’s key pieces of advice:
- Host videos on social media. “Video and social are like scallops and bacon — just a delicious combination.”
- Subtitle your videos. “85% of videos online are watched without the sound.”
- Keep them short. “More and more, your prospects like videos that are shorter.”
- Don’t go overboard on production. “More and more, [prospects] like live videos.”
Align marketing and sales
Virtually every inbound marketer we spoke with at INBOUND had a common problem: we can get people to read our content, but selling to them is another story.
Sales and marketing alignment — known as Smarketing — is a chief goal for many businesses.
David Meerman Scott, Marketing and Sales Expert
A speaker at marketing and sales conferences around the world, David thinks a lot about how the two should co-exist. For him, it’s obvious: either they work together, or you’re destined for failure:
“Success will come from aligning buyers with the way that your company does its sales and marketing. Sales and marketing need to be integrated.”
“It’s real simple. Marketing is about reaching many people at once with content. Sales is about reaching one person at a time with content. Those two things need to be integrated, and most organizations don’t integrate that way.”
David’s not the only one who feels this way.
Matt Heinz, President, Heinz Marketing
For Matt, the key is to put more emphasis on what happens after a prospect has read your excellent content. Content on its own won’t generate sustainable sales:
“Successful B2B marketing requires an increasingly diverse marketing mix. Inbound is still highly valuable but typically needs to be aligned with other focus areas — lead management, sales enablement, account-based marketing and more to be successful at driving sustainable, repeatable, and predictable business results.”
Matthew Cook, CEO, SalesHub
Matthew agrees, and urges marketers to think about their true goal: attracting buyers. Content and inbound marketing are sexy and it’s easy to get caught up in creating cool stuff, but don’t forget the end goal.
“The biggest thing for 2017 is to build upon our sales enablement process for our clients, to really help them sell more. It’s not just about inbound marketing, it’s about actually selling more and getting new customers.”
So how can you integrate the two? One strategy is to implement an SLA.
Melissa Miller, Director of Marketing Operations, HubSpot
Melissa spoke about the need for service-level agreements (SLAs) between marketing and sales. These are commitments from the marketing team to provide a certain number of qualified leads to sales each month or quarter.
This gives your marketing team goals that align more closely with the sales team’s. In 2017, HubSpot will continue to hone its internal SLA, and Melissa hopes to see other companies follow suit:
“An SLA between your marketing and sales teams can be a powerful tool to build trust, keep teams aligned, and facilitate constructive conversations. It can be a significant time commitment to get one up and running but I’ve found that it’s a worthwhile one with big benefits in the long term.”
Focus on conversion rates
Some marketers are thinking more about perfecting the content they already have. Whether it’s landing pages, blog posts, or sign-up buttons, optimizing for conversion is their biggest focus for the coming year.
Jason Falls, Founder, Conversion Research Institute
For Jason, improving conversion rates means using new data to understand buyers:
“For many, the biggest change will be adding consumer insights to the inbound war chest. There’s so much more we can know about our customers by performing conversion research and brands are catching on to that rich treasure of information.”
Jeff White, Principal, Kula Partners
Jeff wants to find ways to optimize conversions throughout the entire inbound process. It’s not just about creating the perfect form. You also need to think about user behavior all over your website, as you nurture leads, and at the point of sale.
“The biggest opportunity I see for both Kula’s inbound strategy and that of our clients in 2017 is an increased focus on conversion rate optimization. Inbound marketers owe it to themselves to ensure that they optimize their funnel at every step of the way through A/B testing, split tests and visitor analysis.”
“Making your conversion assets work harder while you develop a better understanding of the browsing habits of your personas is an excellent way to get the highest return on your inbound investment.”
A few other takeaways
Not every piece of feedback fell neatly into one of the categories above. Here are a few more ideas to help you rethink your strategy for next year.
Gini Dietrich, CEO, Spin Sucks
Gini has an excellent SEO that applies to anyone writing guest posts, giving interviews, or sharing content in any way.
“We are typically pretty smart about how inbound marketing drives results for Spin Sucks and are focused on SEO, domain authority, and building our email list (which, in turn, all drive new students for the professional development site). But the one thing that was an ah ha for me at INBOUND was being smart about the anchor text and links we use in interviews.”
An "ah ha" for me was being smart about the anchor text we use in interviews. — @GiniDietrich
“I’ll go into moz, where we keep a list of our priority keywords, and see which ones need some love. Then I’ll use that information to mold the information I give in interviews, podcasts, contributed content, videos, and more. Since we began doing that just a few weeks ago, we’ve seen five of our top 10 priority keywords jump four to five spots in search rankings.”
Chad Capp, President, GymPhone
GymPhone is brand new to inbound marketing, and couldn’t be more excited.
“Our big strategy is simple: INBOUND. We are in a niche where trying to draw leads through inbound marketing didn’t seem necessary and in some ways even possible. Through a slight pivot in our business model, we are now going to start using SEO and SEM to bring some new products to life!”
Sidra Condron, Marketing Manager, SpyFu
As the marketing skillset gets bigger and broader, sometimes it’s nice to look around and see how much talent is around us.
“I’m still in awe of people who ARE their company’s entire marketing department, but they still embrace the idea of creating good content and patiently building value. That’s a solid reminder for all of us.”
Carman Pirie, Co-Founder, Kula Partners
Kula Partners are inbound marketing veterans, and have attended the conference many times. So Carman’s big takeaway was different from the rest:
“Here’s the thing: INBOUND is fantastic, with many sessions delivering serious takeaways that you can use immediately to make your inbound strategy better.
And then they also served up Alec Baldwin.
Fifty-eight years old. A net worth of ~$65 million. Incredibly successful in his field by almost any standard. And if you listen to him, you realize that he’s always hustling. He’s always looking for the next gig. Pitching the next idea. Thinking about the next thing. Some ideas make it. Many don’t. So what does that mean for your inbound strategy? Try new shit. Experiment. Look for your next big hit. Don’t be afraid.”
Try new shit. Experiment. Look for your next big hit. Don’t be afraid. — @pirie
Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs
Our last strategy tip comes from the queen of content:
Try to use more swear words (thanks Doug Kessler!). — @MarketingProfs
Now tell me yours
What’s your biggest strategy change for 2017? Maybe you learned it at a marketing conference too, or it’s something you’ve been putting off for too long.
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