The Future of Marketing: My Takeaways from Inbound18.

It has been several weeks since Inbound18, but I have finally completed my summary of key takeaways.

In my role at Qorus Software, I spend a lot of time researching, adjusting, and testing strategies that help us deliver better campaigns at scale. Inbound18 once again confirmed that the pace of change is astonishing. Marketing evolves faster than it ever has before (for one, customers interact with brands differently now; emerging technologies bring us marketers and customers closer together; even the way buyers research and consume products or services has changed) - so, you must always learn, share, and evolve in order to keep up. Agility is also key so that you can change direction, if necessary, to ensure continued improvement and optimum growth. This is why being at Inbound18 was such a valuable experience for me.

The conference provided a whirlwind of information, combined with philanthropy lessons. The sessions provided  data on sales and marketing trends and tactics, tech innovations, tools, and new products, entrepreneurship, and insights from business leaders. It left everyone in attendance with heads over flowing with ideas to take back to work, inspiration for growth, and achievement of goals going forward. 

Here’s my summary of takeaways from Inbound 2018.

1. Human-to-human marketing

One of the central themes that permeated most of the sessions that I attended at Inbound2018 is the idea of humanizing B2B interactions. Sangram Vajre, co-founder and Chief Evangelist, Terminus, talked about this idea in a blog at the beginning of this year.

Terms such as Human to Human (H2H), Business to individual (B2I), Business to Human (B2H), and 1:1 were all used at some point in the many discussions when facilitators talked about attracting, engaging, or delighting customers. That human connection is central to all strategies of the entire customer journey. Contrary to the human-to-human theme is the lack of trust that exists between buyers and sellers. B2B marketing has struggled to embrace personalization for years, but that’s changing. At the heart of this revolution is a drive towards authenticity, and cultivating much-needed trust. The role that stories play in marketing is key to this concept.

Hubspot CEO, Brian Halligan, said during his key note presentation  “Trust in sales and marketing is at an all-time low; it’s about 5% on the trust index…This is a sign of the times. Nobody trusts anyone anymore. Whom do they trust? They trust your customers. That’s the only people they trust these days.”

So what promotional messages engage the most then? Word of mouth -of course!

Proof and validation are central to buying decisions. Buying decisions are based on what others are saying and doing. That is why stories about products, services, or experiences fuel today’s business growth more than any other channel. That is also why review platforms such as G2 Crowd, Capterra, and Trust Radius (and there are more) have grown in popularity. As consumers, we look to Trip Advisor or Yelp before we book a restaurant or take a trip – we are looking for authenticity and validation that we are going to have a good experience.

How to Use Humanization in Your Marketing

It you want to reach your audience and stand out in a crowded market, you must be able to present a brand that embraces these elements. As someone put it, the “greatest businesses have stories”.

So, the focus on the idea of humanzing B2B interactions, authenticity, and trust has spurred additional shifts in modern marketing, including;

  • The demise of the marketing funnel and the shift to the FlyWheel
  • The rise of marketing conversations
  • The increased relevance of SEO
  • The continued importance of content marketing

I foresee that we will be making great strides towards humanizing marketing over the next few years, at least. One thing is for sure, it will greatly influence the way we interact with our audiences.

2. Inbound methodology has completely shifted to the flywheel framework

The funnel is dead; as a result, the inbound methodology has completely shifted to the flywheel framework Forward-thinking marketers have been aware of this for a while. For many years, businesses have used the funnel to attract, engage, and convert prospects into customers. It made a lot of sense to marketers, but the overall customer experience wasn’t as smooth and delightful as it could be.

Why? Because sales, marketing, and service teams within the same organisation often presented different messaging around brands; but synergy within a business is crucial to a delightful customer journey.

HubSpot plans to change the synergy within organisations using the flywheel. By creating an ecosystem where the customer is surrounded by sales, marketing, and service teams, they will experience brands that are all geared towards more aligned - and therefore more fruitful -experiences.

Business must ensure greater collaboration between departments if they want to build trust, develop authentic stories, and capture customer input - one of the driving forces into customer growth. 

“Customers are no longer the output of the funnel, today, they’re the input, the driving force behind your growth” (Brian Halligan, Inbound18, Keynote). 

Word of Mouth = Inbound Marketing.

 1-thenfunnel-nowflywheel

3. You need a MarTech strategy

It’s not hard to see that MarTech is becoming somewhat of a crowded landscape. This presents an especially complex problem for marketers. How do you know what technology you should be using and why?

According to Scott Brinker (VP Platform Ecosystem at Hubspot and Editor in Chief of Martec), HubSpot now has over 200 integrations – including everything from analytics to chat bots -. During his session at Inbound18, it was clear that to make your tech work for your business, you must start with your organization’s goals. Next, focus on the metrics that matter and then find the technology to help you deliver results.

Build an ecosystem and good framework that works for your business. New tools and tech are popping up all the time. Set your strategy, find what works, pivot and change direction if you need to – but don’t become distracted by the shiny new options as it can be overwhelming. In the meantime, here is a great article by Hull.io. [Look out for an update on my favourite tools on the Qorus blog soon] 

4. Embrace conversational marketing - a new promotional message

What is conversational marketing? In short, the concept of conversational marketing revolves around using real-time communication channels such as live chat, bots, or Facebook Messenger to connect with buyers in a friendly - and more importantly - a non-disruptive way.

Conversational marketing focuses on creating personal connections with every individual ready to connect with you. What's more, real-time communications empower customers to reach out to you when they need you, and it provides them with the exact information they require at their current stage of the buying process.

Given the changes to customer behaviour I described above, conversational marketing truly is the future of marketing.

Drift, for example, has been championing this approach for a long time. Intercom, Conversica and others have been doing it quite well, too.

Conversation is the new promotional message (live chat tools, chat bots, and the sales and marketing folks who leverage these tools).

The traditional sales process is getting shorter.

The modern consumer has demanded this change.

Not so long ago, emailing an enquiry and then waiting a day or two to hear back from a company wasn’t unusual or unexpected. But today’s customer wants that information in an instant.

Customers also want to verify whether your solution is for them, fast. They also want to obtain a much clearer impression about you as a vendor. As I’m sure you’ll agree, delivering on those expectations with traditional business communications, such as email, proves almost impossible.

Today’s customers want conversations. They want to evaluate and confirm their decision about buying from you fast, and ideally while they’re on your website. But does switching from email to instant conversation help? I believe it does. 

There’s ample research to support the need to seriously consider conversational marketing as part of your strategy. For example, Drift added 15% more leads just by using their chat bot, and ThriveHive has been able to cut their sales cycle by 63%.

Bots are also able to do what your sales team can’t do, which is work 24/7/365. So, if you’ve been on the fence about chat bot technology and conversational marketing altogether, now’s the time to start digging in and joining the revolution.

Read more from Drift here and also here from the conversations conference 2018 recap.

5. SEO Is All About Relevance Now

I know, I’m focusing on a single channel here. But given two factors - the significance of SEO to business’ growth and changes to the channel – I simply cannot omit it from my Inbound2018 recap.

Because, as it turns out, SEO has undergone a significant shift lately. Gone is the focus on keywords to drive rankings. Today, SEO is all about the relevance of content and topics to the audience’s needs.

Let me explain this further.

As marketers, we’ve always thought of SEO in terms of keywords. We’d try to identify phrases our audience would use to find our products. Then, we’d optimize pages for those key phrases. And providing we did our job well, Google would return our content for relevant search queries.

But the way in which we find information has changed significantly. We use different and unique phrases in Google. Although we both might be looking for the same information, we might describe it differently to the search engine Not to mention that we might have a different intent for our search!

And so, the keyword-driven approach had a major flaw. It didn’t include the most critical factor to search success – the customer.

Google, however, has known it for quite a while, and as a result, it began rewarding relevance to the customer’s intent, rather than keywords.

All of this means that today, to rank, we must focus on delivering content matching topics and intent of our audience, instead of just targeting keywords.

Matt Barby from Hubspot talked about relevance in his amazing talk and he also offered four pillars of today’s SEO.

The first you know already - Increasing topical relevance.  You don’t need to obsess over keywords in SEO.

Companies should focus on creating topic clusters to dominate entire topics, rather than keywords or phrases.

Another pillar is reducing content bloat. Matt advocated focusing on quality rather than quantity and providing the most exhaustive answers to customers’ questions.

The fourth pillar is technical SEO

Optimizing the technology behind your website plays an increasingly important role in search success. Customers want pages to load fast for them, after all. They dread encountering any broken links or missing pages. And they want to be able to find their desired information as quickly as possible.

If they don’t, they’ll just move on to someone else’s site.

To fuel the flywheel and growth, we must move away from limited thinking in terms of keywords and focus on topics and relevance.

In doing so, we can ensure that our content and message ends up along the target customers’ search journey.

6. Closer alignment is a must

Historically, alignment has been an issue for sales and marketing. More recently, service teams have come into the picture with the introduction of the flywheel.

Customer experience is all about seamless and fruitful interactions. To facilitate the process, sales, marketing, and service teams must work closely together to eliminate the gaps that customers are often caught in as they interact with each department.

This shift starts with open communication channels and conversations between departments. Clear dialogue must always be maintained and introducing SLA's between departments is a good idea to identify expectations on all sides.

7. Diversify your content

Content is still king, but content creation and distribution are evolving.  

Google is paying more attention to topic clusters than just keywords, which gives marketers the opportunity to dig deeper into subject matter and to produce relevant, high quality (versus quantity) material with a focus on the customer. 

Content also needs to be diverse; it's not only text-based blog posts that are important, but formats - such as podcasts, vlogs and marketing videos - are increasing in popularity and according to Google's new podcasting strategy they are aiming to double the number of listeners worldwide. 

So, in addition to text-based content, consider video, interviews, webinars, virtual events, documentaries. When developing all these content types you must, solve for the customer, remove friction, educate, add value – otherwise you are wasting time and money. 

I also liked this infographic from vengreso – "84% of B2B decision makers start the buying process with a referral, ties back to the opening comments above".

8. Account-based marketing is B2B marketing

In many ways, B2B marketing has evolved into ABM and that’s a good thing. ABM gives companies the opportunity to narrow their focus and really play to their strengths and customer needs. (ABM is not a new concept though, enterprise organizations have been some form of key account marketing for years).

To do this well though, businesses need to identify the right ABM strategy and shift their focus from the old way of a lead volume-based approach to a new engagement-based model, where marketing and sales work together to produce the very best, most effective content and meaningful interactions with customers.

Images: The Future of Marketing, Sangram Vajre, Inbound18

ABM ABM1

9. Prioritize work–life balance and challenge yourself

Finding balance and navigating change are challenges professionals the world over face every day. These topics were highlighted at Inbound18. Notable sessions and tips came from Deepak Chopra and Beth Comstock.

Each speaker had a unique message. Chopra’s focus on the six pillars of well-being underlined the need to find balance through managing sleep and stressors, incorporating daily movement using mind-body techniques (Chopra recommends 10,000 steps a day, yoga, or tai-chi), keeping a gratitude journal, strengthening the body by choosing natural foods over processed junk, and getting into nature to ground oneself as a method of resetting our biological rhythms.

Beth Comstock shared three lessons. The first highlighted rejection. She said that most of the no’s you’ll receive are not flat no's, but rather ‘not right nows’.

Secondly, Comstock shared the importance of asking those around you for honest answers on topics that would otherwise not be shared. This ‘tell me one thing I don’t want to hear’ approach helped her ‘see around corners’ and become more capable at assessing challenges.

And finally, she touched on her rule for resource allocation - or the 70/20/10 approach, where 70% of your day is spent on executing tasks that must be completed on any given day, 20% is spent on planning for later that year, and 10% is spent on big ideas that could influence the position of your company in 3 years’ time.

10. Culture and the customer code

Dharmesh Shah’s talk titled ‘5 Tips from The Customer Code to Grow Better’ was one that resonated with the audience. It aligned perfectly with the marketing flywheel methodology and why it’s important for businesses to effect change on every level.

‘The Customer Code is a set of principles and beliefs on how to build a company that customers love’, according to HubSpot.

It’s worth noting that building a brand that customers love often involves making the right decisions (which can sometimes be the hard ones), while keeping your eye on the long-term goals of your organization.

This long-term view ensures that your brand begins to develop customer experiences which are built on real customer problems, and that you address them in the best possible way, while you build ideal relationships with life-long customers.

Conclusion

Inbound18 showed that the marketing landscape has evolved. There’s a shift in the way brands are relating to their customers and how they use the technology that powers their marketing. For this shift to really take hold, companies will need to align sales, marketing, and service teams; and as professionals, we’ll need to take better care of ourselves to be able to do our best work. 

Fundamentally though, there isn't a one-size-fits all approach, and the skill of a good marketer is about sifting through all the information that is available to us in order to find what works best for our business and our customers.