As one of the best and largest marketing conferences on the planet, HubSpot’s Inbound never fails to deliver. Not only did this year’s event deliver a lot of valuable information, but also a lot to appreciate. As chair and founder of Content Marketing Conference, I understand all the details that must come together to host an event of this magnitude.
Here are a few of my favorite takeaways learned from speakers, keynotes, and conversations in the halls with friends and collogues at Inbound. Apologies for not having direct sources for speakers that sparked the ideas and thoughts below.
Nifty Trend Research Tools
No conference is complete without a peek into the latest tools for content marketing success. Like those found here: https://trends.co/inbound/
The latest data suggests that readers don’t want to click to get the information they need. They want it all there, without the hassle of clicks. All hail long-form content—for web pages, email, and more!
1:1 Messaging and Customer Success
Take a look at what B2C companies like Dior are doing with 1:1 messaging platforms. Also look at Dior’s partnership with the voice calling app Anyone, a prime way to reach tons of new customers. B2B marketers can learn much from what is working on B2C.
Live chat, or at least automated messaging services that filter for live chat opportunities with buyers, are now a standard feature for product-driven web-based businesses.
Customers don’t want to be sold to. They want guidance from knowledge-trained reps that help move them through select stages of the buyer’s journey using Socratic techniques—not sales pitches—as the beacon for success.
Prediction: “Sales” as we know it will soon transform into “Customer Success” support exclusively for product-led growth companies. Think of how cool it will be to say: We have no sales reps at our company—our product and support team are all we need.
Moments that Matter
Wouldn’t it be great if we could perpetually create content that matters, helping to make our lives smarter, better, faster, and wiser all the time? One Inbound session title caught my eye using the phrase Moments that Matter.
How do you make content that matters? In general, the session speaker pointed out we need to:
- Understand our audience
- Find the common elements of what engaged the largest group of our audience
- Go after developing and creating content that matters to that isolated group
What matters to one group might not matter to the other, hence the need for deeper targeting.
I’d add another layer to definition, suggesting that any content that meets the “moments that matters” criterion must make life better, smarter, wiser, and/or more fun. Fun or funny should actually be required for all content, if you ask me.
Here is an example of how to lead your marketing team in creating content that matters for an audience:
- Find a problem worth solving or a trend that’s alarming: RESEARCH
- Dig to find the hidden story that offers surprise and delight or shock: STORY
- Make the lead to the story engaging (tease the hidden value): SNAP
- Craft the story to touch the heart in a real, transparent way (more on transparency below): CRACKLE
- Build in motivation to take action: POP
Perhaps it’s time to sit down with your management team and ask some important questions that matter about your brand and your content:
- Are we producing any moments that matter?
- Is our content dialed into a targeted audience, or more “general” and therefore less likely to showcase what matters?
- How would you rate the research, snap, crackle, and pop of the content we produce? (Asset-by-asset rating would be great to find what’s great, good, and not-so-good)
- Do we have an overall compelling story that offers value and meets the criterion of moments that matter to our audience(s)?
- How do we create content or moments that matter? Do we have A+ players on our team that can produce moments that matter?
You could also ask all your team members to research great campaigns that used stand-out content to create moments that matter, campaigns aimed at making life smarter, smart, better, faster, and wiser.
Web3 is coming at us, backed by billions in funding for concepts and ideas that seem likely to fail. Too many of us avoid diving deeper into the possibilities, as that takes time to research and explore. But the fact is that communities are the nerve center for the metaverse, and communities have existed forever and will never go away.
We need to try to think of the metaverse as a conglomeration of communities that are armed with new, exciting, riveting technology to interact, buy, sell, and communicate in new and mysterious ways.
Sure, Wendy’s burger community in their own metaverse might seem absurd. But in the end, the success or failure will be defined by two things. One is the level of interest, engagement, and value offered to the community members by other community members. The other is the benefit for the brand, which might include customer loyalty and lifetime value of customers.
Sitting idle on the metaverse and Web3 sidelines will be a big mistake for brands. Humans will be human after all, exploring the virtual world like we have explored the moon and beyond—now from the convenience of our smartphones.
Make the World a Better Place, Like Jane
We’ve all heard the legendary tale of Dr. Jane Goodall who ventured into the depths of Africa to study the behavior of chimpanzees. It took a full four months to earn the trust of the chimpanzee clan—just two months before her funding would run out.
Her passion for the wild kingdom began when she read “Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle”—and immediately concluded Tarzan married the wrong Jane. Dr. Doolittle was another influence and inspiration for her destiny.
Jane’s career began as a secretary for a prominent doctor who had just lost his secretary. Her extensive knowledge about wild animals earned her the position on the spot, creating the base camp for her career trajectory.
Forging trust with our four-legged friends, and humans for that matter, is challenging. In the end, Jane offers that being authentic, transparent, and passionate in life is required for success. And that’s the truth at nearly every level, whether it’s fundraising, community building, or career advancement.
Finding ways to do something that can draw upon these lifelong elements of authenticity, transparency, and passion is our goal in life. It’s also essential to improve humanity—the dream we should all share.
Roots and Shoots is a program she started to help families in Tanzania. Fostering respect for fellow humans is part of the program, gathering diverse individuals to come together to learn about local challenges Tanzanians face in their daily lives. Resolving challenges and obstacles in life helps to uncover the element of hope that is essential to the ecosystem.
Animals are sentient, like humans, and they play a big role in our ecosystem. The ecosystem itself is fragile, like a tapestry that falls apart and disintegrates as it ages over time. It’s also an essential factor in our overall wellbeing. “Time in nature” is actually prescribed in Asia, especially for children, offering a connection to the spiritual elements that reside in our souls.
Want more Jane? JaneGoodall.org is a good place to get a closer look at her work, along with hope for a brighter future.
Web3 and Marketing
The future of the web should be all about the user, and Web3 puts the user on center stage with decentralization. Imagine a world where you own all the content you share with your audience. Also imagine giving your audience a choice on what you create and produce, receiving the feedback you need to engage your audience and keep them coming back for more.
Countless examples are rolling out, rapidly boosting my FOMO (fear of missing out):
- Taco Bell offers the ability to get married in their metaverse
- Fashion brands are using customer feedback to design custom products
- NFTs (non-fungible tokens) can now be shared on Instagram, and displayed for promotion
- Hundreds of communities exist out there, all typically focused on owning the same type of asset or sharing the same interest or vision
Marketers can now tap into these communities with marketing offers, deals, and giveaways to help propel those communities forward and fund their vision of the future. This type of support marketing is much different than interruption marketing, and it’s the future of where marketing needs to go in my opinion.
Zero to 100 Million
The best way to learn how to grow a business from scratch to more than $100M? Ask tenured entrepreneurs who have been there, done that. Three were on the panel:
- Yoself Martin, BoxyCharm founder
- Stormy Simon, Mother Ruggers cofounder
- Eric Siu, Single Grain founder
Getting from zero to $100M in revenue takes grit and dirt, acknowledged Mother Ruggers cofounder Stormy Simon. Research is essential for minimizing risk with any startup, looking deeply at the opportunity and obstacles.
Creating a “no-brainer offer” is the key to getting the “uplift” required to scale and grow, notes the Single Grain founder Eric Siu. When people are “excited” about your product or service, then you know you have something special that will drive uplift.
At some point, culture becomes one of the primary elements for success—it’s really all about the people; with the right culture you can conquer the world. Core values need to be of importance to the key people and all people you want to hire. Culture deaths can happen when you get the culture wrong, which can result from bad leadership or losing the vision of what the brand stands for.
The dot-com revolution established a culture in itself. But long gone are the days when ping-pong tables and free beer were enough to stand out.
Setting clear and “known by all employees” boundaries and parameters within culture is important. “If you gossip about someone, you get fired,” was one of the “laws” mentioned by the panel. Another panel member noted, “If it is scary to raise your hand and say something, that is not a good thing.”
Assigning “price per task” is an interesting concept and way to look at all the roles you need, what they will be doing, and who to hire to get the work done. Lower pay, lower skills. Higher pay, higher skills.
One panel member maps out the tasks for all roles, especially the higher-level leadership roles that should be delegating and NOT doing as part of their job.
The goal is to get the right experienced and overqualified people to perpetually meet and exceed the expectations of each role, and in so doing promote and advance them to take on new challenges—and train others in their previous role.
Aligning the main goals for the company with the talent is also crucial.
If you retain the wrong people in your industry for a longer period of time than your competition, you will lose and get crushed. The key is to hire well, but fire even better.
You’ll find a very similar company employee pool size and mix for companies earning $10 to $50 million. But a very different hiring, managing, and execution strategy with staff for those earning $50 million and up. Experienced C-levels are required to make this happen.
Doubling staff to get you from that $1 to $10M is challenging. Don’t get attached to certain people as they will not likely the best for roles that are critical for continued growth. Don’t have the attitude that employees must stay with you as the company needs change.
Hiring people who have been there and done that becomes THE key to getting from $10M to $100M.
Making small changes or finding opportunity to make tweaks in some part of the revenue stream can add up big time as you approach $100M.
Marketing Newest Secret Sauce
Community marketing is the next new thing, and there are a lot of reasons why not many people are tapping into this channel.
Joining select forums that have the audience you’re trying to reach is the starting point for exploration. But beware—no one wants to be “sold to” in any community, so proceed with caution.
One CEO joined an independent community that featured his customers, surprising them all with his membership. He worked hard to answer questions daily and provide support as needed. He then explained in advance that he’d share upcoming announcements once a month—earning trust, big time.
The announcement posts went viral, thanks to community members that went into the forums once or twice a month to announce changes to their audience. Traffic spiked on the company website, with Google trends picking up on announcements by fellow members. (Free organic traffic fueled by the forum.)
Partnering with NFT communities is another GREAT way to tap into the marketing potential, as mentioned above. Think of your customer base as a community, and empower them to participate in your company: Brands that empower their customers outperform 8X. Yes, 8X.
Map Content to Journey Stages
Do you map out your content assets to align with your customer journey? And do you understand the triggers to move customers from one stage to the next?
Each piece of content you publish for a particular stage should have the right info, tone, style, format, and built-in trust elements required to earn customer respect while getting them motivated to move through their journey.
Think of your brand mark as intellectual property, not how much revenue you make or how fast you grow. Trust that as you grow your intellectual property, your revenue will grow.
Audience vs Community
With savvy brands now tapping the power of community, it’s time to really dig into the elements of community and find a way in.
First off, we need to understand the distinction between audience and community:
- Audience: Content is created for an audience by content creators, designers, strategists, and others working on behalf of the business.
- Community: Content is created by community members, reviewed and filtered by community leaders and managers.
Next up, an appropriate allocation of time, energy, and commitment needs to be given to both content and community for their creation, development, management, or even participation.
Finally, turns out GREAT WRITING needs to be a skillset you must have for community success, either as a host or participant. If our writing sucks, we’re destined to fail across the board in marketing—especially with a community that will pounce on your mistakes.
Find the Skills You Want to Hone
HubSpot cofounder Dharmesh Shah views his top skills as:
- Building products
- Writing copy
- Identifying problems
- Finding solutions
- Public speaking
- Building communities
At the same time, he understands what he is NOT good at doing: Managing people. He recognized his weakness early in the HubSpot journey, declaring that he would not under any circumstances have any direct reports, even interim positions.
We all need to pick the skills we want to hone, and then become obsessed with those skills. That obsession, for Dharmesh, is often viewed as extreme by the people around him, both because of what he is able to accomplish and his tenacity displayed in getting there.
Public speaking was a skill that Dharmesh did not want to master, as he is primarily an introvert. But like all challenges that surface with leadership positions, he took on the challenge to master new skills.
Research led to numerous books on the topic as the starting point. Consultants were hired to help with coaching and storytelling. Rehearsals and practicing in front of an audience became part of the mix. Recordings were transcribed, with cues for the 90 slides presented in a typical keynote.
Even better, Dharmesh created an algorithm to analyze the duration of time between laughs, to then adjust content and add in jokes if the gap was to large.
Taking your career, and your business, to the next level requires passion and obsession. Period.
Humanize Your Analytics
Content goals tend to align with the company performance goals, ranging from boosting traffic to lead generation to conversion metrics. But as we try to extract value from the analytics we track for our content marketing goals, we need to pay more attention to the following:
This includes looking at the different stages of the funnel, which may require different people doing different things with different tools.
People: Whose job is it to measure analytics and track success? Are they qualified to understand the data, run the tests and/or experiments, and line up the data with content assets?
Process: How will the process work if the people running it are out or on vacation? How will the content be distributed? What can be learned from the data? How can behavior, action, or adjustments be made from the data?
Are we asking the right questions? Do we understand our content assets and triggers for analytics/conversion/motivation? Can we identify high-performing content and prove value?
Technology: What tools are we using to measure performance and track success? Do we have tools to measure success in each stage of the customer’s journey? Can we understand the drivers for success with different audience segments?
Can we truly use technology to discover insights that will positively impact the business—and then go back to the process people who can make the changes happen?
In the end, we need to understand our audience with data insights, and flex our strategy with maybe 30+ metrics determined to be the drivers for success. And that needs to all center back on the value creation in your content, which is the driver for top performance.
What’s Next: The Power of Creativity in B2B Marketing
Brand is a set of attributes both rational and emotional—so why do we over-index on the rational side?
Turns out any brand can make you feel safe, powerful, invincible, and happy to be alive. But branding typically takes a lot of media spend, and the costs are going up, not coming down. As a result, companies are tending to spend more on demand generation than branding.
Some of the biggest brands, however, are not choosing between brand and demand. They instead brand TO demand, meaning investment in both.
Harvard Business Review confirms that B2B decision-making requires six to eight people involved with the buy process, making a good case to invest in branding.
Here are a few principles for top-notch brand marketing:
- Clear: Will my mom understand this?
- Persuasive: Do I know why this brand/product is better?
- Engaging: Does it give me goosebumps or giggles?
- Actionable: Do I know where I can go from here?
Take a look at the new HubSpot CRM Grow Better TV spots. The 60-second spot entitled “A Smooth CRM for Rough Seas” might just have it all.
A Smooth CRM for Rough Seas
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The CEO pirate sets the smart and funny tone for this clever ad. The message is clear, persuasive, engaging and actionable. The amazing set and exceptional costumes take it over the top.
One more tip?
Make the big bets: Bring humor into the brand. Sure, it’s a big risk for what may be a typically a boring industry. But the stand-out brands are never typical. Stick to it; give branding a chance.
Remember B2B decision-makers are human, not boring pencil pushers. Forge an emotional connection with your branding.
When you see a B2B brand that nails it, recognize great creative by using the hashtag #B2Brilliant to showcase killer campaigns. You can also check out LinkedIn Collective, a community for B2B marketers eager to think outside the box.