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HubSpot's INBOUND 2019: Our Favorite Sessions and Takeaways

Boston. It’s known for tea parties, the Sox, and wicked chowda. And for a week in early September, Beantown was also the center of the inbound marketing galaxy as it hosted Hubspot’s 2019 INBOUND conference, a veritable cornucopia of marketing goodness.

Of course, your favorite inbound cave dwellers were there for the entire experience, soaking in bits of knowledge to add to our messaging arsenal. In fact, we thought so much of our time at INBOUND, we thought it best to share some of the insights from our favorite sessions, along with a few of our own thoughts for good measure. We’re just sorry we can’t include a bowl of that chowda for you as well, but there’s always next year.

Paid Media

Too many marketers still look at paid media and content as rivals rather than allies. As we’ve said in the past, paid media is much more of a companion piece for your content, where each fills a role the other cannot. Do you want or need short-term ROI while developing your content strategy? That’s where paid media really shines, and a number of INBOUND sessions shed a new light on paid media for us.


Create Ads that Sell

So do you know what’s awesome? Star Wars. And what, exactly, makes Star Wars so amazing? It’s the story. Well, lightsabers are pretty cool, too, but it’s mostly the story. This session examined the different components of masterful storytelling, explaining how narrative is instrumental in creating ads that sell.

The speaker focused on a well-worn trope used in everything from Greek tragedies to My Little Pony, but only becoming more recognizable to the public with Star Wars – the hero’s journey. Of course, the hero’s journey is just one narrative device out of many that marketing teams can use to drive engagement through their ads.

The most effective ads tell a story that engages and strengthens a brand, boosting short-term sales while also improving long-term sustainability. It’s a similar concept to our approach in pairing paid media with a content strategy, where, as we said, the former provides the ROI that stakeholders want yesterday while the latter creates ever-building momentum for the future.

Advanced LinkedIn Ads for the B2B Marketer

As you might already know, Creative Cave isn’t a stranger to LinkedIn. The platform offers us the unique ability to target the audience with precision that other platforms simply don’t provide. Long story short, we know our way around LinkedIn. But since you never stop learning in this business – at least if you want to be successful – this session provided some new insights that we’re already integrating into our repertoire.

We’ll probably write something more in-depth about those insights in the future, but for now, we still wanted to share some of the main topics discussed:

 

  • The emergence of video ads & uses for different ad formats
  • Preferred content formats for different funnel stages
  • Advanced targeting and retargeting tactics
  • Bidding strategies

Unlocking the Mysteries of Instagram

Did you know that Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform? While this session discussed each of the major platforms, it focused on the importance of Instagram and Instagram Stories. The IG Stories userbase alone has grown from 150 million to over 500 million in just two years, only confirming the power and reach of the platform.

It’s not just the raw numbers that make Instagram so appealing to marketers, but the nature of the posts themselves. While IG certainly isn’t the only platform that uses images and videos, it’s the only one that puts them front and center. Given the inherent power of visual media to engage the audience,  Instagram is especially useful for B2B messaging, where over 200 million IG users visit at least one business profile a day. The session also covered the most effective types of posts to use for different personas and funnel stages, discussing how to leverage the specific strengths of the IG feed, Stories, and IGTV.

Instagram is especially useful for B2B messaging, where over 200 million IG users visit at least one business profile a day.

Content Strategy

Naturally, the central figure of both Hubspot and its INBOUND conference is content. It’s the lifeblood of everything we do at Creative Cave, which isn’t to say that we know everything about it since there’s always something new just around the corner.

Magical Content: 7 Secrets to Content That Generates the Greatest Results, ROI, and Lasting Impact

We’ve spent our fair share of time covering the different components of effective content. For companies willing to invest the time and effort needed to create a potent inbound strategy, patience is rewarded by a library of evergreen content that continues to climb the rankings and drive traffic as time goes by.

Just from our own experience, however, selling a company on an inbound strategy isn’t always easy since it requires that ever-important patience to gain a head of steam. While this session covered many topics we’ve discussed in our own musings, it still provided some new insights and tips into something we do on the daily.

 

  • The market moves fast, as do customer expectations. While you always want to root your strategy in what will work best today, don’t forget that tomorrow could be something very new. Keep your head on a swivel and stay mindful of new trends that will steer customer demand and, thus, your messaging.
  • Trust is of paramount importance in your content. If the customer doesn’t see you as a reliable resource for information, the chances of them progressing down the funnel – at least your funnel – are slim to none. Your content and your intentions must remain transparent at all times. If you’re writing an informational piece for thought leadership, don’t bury any cloak & dagger sales language within it to drive home a subliminal sales message. B2B customers are sophisticated, able to sniff out inauthentic content that says one thing but aims for another.

Sales Cycle

We’ve discussed the B2B buying process and the sales cycle before, emphasizing how important it is to align your message with each stage of the funnel. INBOUND featured several sessions that took a deeper dive into the more granular aspects of the topic.

3 Steps to Frictionless Selling

Efficiencies are at the heart of frictionless selling, where you prioritize your efforts according to the value it provides your customers, all while maximizing your resources. This session discussed a three-step process to minimize friction in your sales process.

 

  1. Identify the sources of friction – essentially, the time and effort required relative to positive results – involved with your team’s daily tasks, and allocate accordingly. Your goal is to streamline workflows to free more time to sell, improve productivity, and reduce tedium.
  2. Research where and how your target audience prefers to engage with your brand. Remember that answers will vary according to different industries and buyer personas, so there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all option. Tearing down as many barriers as possible will make your customer’s buying process more convenient for them, benefiting you as well.
  3. Create a culture centered around learning and improvement. Use feedback to gauge how well your sales coaches perform, identifying and focusing on their strengths while continuing to develop them on their shortcomings.

How to Bend your Funnel into a Flywheel and Grow with your Customers

Building on a topic first introduced during INBOUND 2018, this session further refined the idea of bending your sales funnel around itself to look more like a flywheel than a one-way interstate. Each iteration of that flywheel involves attracting, engaging, and delighting the customer, again using a series of steps to mold your sales process around the expectations of the modern marketplace.

 

  1. Put the customer first: Build your systems with the customers in mind, focusing on their expectations rather than your own. This will help reduce friction throughout their buying process, making everything more convenient for your audience. Also, leverage your CRM to flesh out each customer, giving your sales team as complete a picture as possible.
  2. Eliminate friction: Reduce friction within your operations, consolidating and organizing your knowledge base to make it easily accessible. Likewise, give your customers access to that knowledge through your SEO-based content to satisfy their own research requirements. Doing so will also make your sales team’s life easier.
  3. Delight the customer: Try to engage your customers through their preferred channels. As you grow, never sacrifice quality for quantity in your team as that would only damage the customer experience. Emphasizing teamwork and a learning culture will help you keep a smile on your customers’ faces.
  4. Build word-of-mouth: If you’re bootstrapping your way to growth, there probably isn’t a lot of room in the budget for marketing, if any. Depending on where you are as an organization, word-of-mouth could very well be your de facto marketing, where the customer’s voice is your voice as well. Actively engage through social media and commentary, identify your happiest customers, and rely on them to be your advocates.

Build your systems with the customers in mind, focusing on their expectations rather than your own.

Untangling the Customer Cluster

Your customers’ journey isn’t a straight shot down the turnpike. There’s on-ramps, off-ramps, detours, and several other complications that can make your life a bit difficult. As the digital world gets more complex, things get even crazier for you and your messaging.

Untangling the Customer Cluster focused on those complexities and how they can lead your marketing astray, especially when you’re paying too much attention to the road beneath your feet rather than the destination ahead. Minding three basic lessons will help you concentrate on what’s most important rather than allowing your message to veer off-course.

 

  1. Pick a shared path: Think like your audience, how and what they do, think, and feel across the customer journey. That way, your efforts aren’t misguided and your messaging stays in lock-step with the people you’re trying to engage.
  2. Blind spots and perceptions: To paraphrase greatness, is your audience going to take the red pill or the blue pill? Reality and data might tell you one thing, but if your customers’ perceptions are something different, then you’re going to miss engaging your target. Your message doesn’t exist in a vacuum, always interpreted within context by the audience. Don’t lose sight of that context but, instead, allow it to guide your actions.
  3. Exploration through play: Rare is the time you’ll hit a home run with your very first swing – if it ever happens at all. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always swing and miss, either. Marketing requires exploration, seeing what works and what doesn’t. The trick is identifying where you’re missing the mark and learning from it.

Technology

The most effective inbound marketing is equal parts art and science. A powerful content strategy exists where design & creative converge with data & martech to make your audience sit up straight and pay attention. We’re going to speak in generalities here to avoid stepping on any proprietary toes but, suffice it to say, even a high-level discussion packs an insightful wallop.

Don’t Let Technology Do More Harm Than Good

It’s a big ol’ tech-driven world out there. In fact, there are now so many options to choose from, marketers can quickly make their lives more difficult by using ill-fitting stacks that add complexity rather than efficiency. Before unleashing an avalanche of tech for a campaign, identify what technology will add value for customers rather than just muddle the message.

Customize Your Stack for a Customer’s Needs

Building on that previous point, custom integrations allow a marketer to provide a more personalized experience for each B2B customer as long as marketers know which tech to use. Do your homework and pair a customer’s needs and goals with technology that helps you get them to that ideal future state.

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Yes, there were plenty more sessions and insights at INBOUND 2019 that piqued our interest, but these were the ones that stood out most. Needless to say, we’re already looking forward to another trip to Boston in 2020 – for both education and that wicked chowda – and promise to give a full report on those sessions as well. And if you’re looking for some guidance on integrating these tools and techniques into your own messaging, Creative Cave is always ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

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