#INBOUND17 Insights: The Future of Inbound Marketing

Andrea Miller

Written by Andrea Miller on Fri, Oct 06, 2017

Attending a conference with 21,400+ fellow marketers is always inspiring. At HubSpot's #INBOUND17, you can always count on getting a preview of the newest products in inbound marketing automation and the latest developments in SEO, even how to have a more productive inbound marketing agency. There are so many takeways to apply to the nuts and bolts of your job that I still haven't sifted through my actionable to-do list yet. But there's also a lot more than the tactical knowledge to get your creative wheels turning at this conference.

For me, that inspiration came from the keynote speakers that kicked off the first few days of the conference this year, who are all powerful, successful, influential and inspiring women.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama has been described as one of the greatest political communicators of our time, despite never running for elected office herself. She's currently working on a book about her time in the White House and shared her process during a Q&A with best-selling author Roxane Gay. She discussed raising two young girls and the transition in and out of the Oval Office. It was one of the few times she spoke publicly and very candidly about the election. 

michelle obama

Piera Gelardi, Executive Creative Director and co-founder of award-winning digital media company Refinery29is recognized as one of the most creative people in the world of media and content. She shared lessons on creativity that I hope to be able to apply to my own work and life.

I first heard Dr. Brené Brown speak at INBOUND in 2015 and loved her talk. Apparently, I wasn't the only one, as HubSpot says they still get emails raving about her session. This year, Brené spoke about a topic she covers in her new book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, that true belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are – it requires us to be who we are.

So, what did I take away from the three keynotes? It was a theme I continued to hear throughout the conference: be yourself and be civil to others. A simple lesson that couldn't come at a better time in today's world.

I asked the rest of my team to share their takeaways from the conference in this comprehensive recap: 

Dechay Watts, Chief Strategy Officer, SPROUT Content inbound marketing agency

The Age of Artificial Intelligence

Dechay Watts, Chief Strategy Officer

HubSpot is officially entering the age of Artificial Intelligence. As it should, based on Gartner’s prediction that people will have more conversations with their bot than with their spouse by 2020.


The AI landscape is still young and being defined, but inbound marketers that use HubSpot can dip their toe into integrating AI into their inbound marketing practice with two new tools.

The new Keyword Cluster Tool (listed as Content Strategy in your HubSpot portal, under Content) uses AI to recommend “topic clusters.” By learning what topics resonate with search engines and looking for gaps in current on site content, it helps inbound strategists plan content around specific topics of interest rather than keywords. This new tool is intended to help SEO strategist better respond to Google’s algorithm changes.

Seeing that 80 percent of businesses will want chatbots by 2020, it’s not surprising that HubSpot recently acquired Motion AI. According to #INBOUND17, consumers will start to search for bots similarly to how they currently search for apps. HubSpot has already seen great results by directing people from an online ad to a chatbot rather than a landing page when promoting an event. This idea could go a long way for inbound marketing promoting events, webinars or specials as people get use to interacting with bots and continue craving immediate responses.

Focus on Simple Quick-Wins for Faster Inbound Results 

Debbie Williams, Chief Content Officer, SPROUT Content inbound marketing agency

Debbie Williams, Chief Content Officer

Every year, one my favorite INBOUND Speakers is Paul Roetzer of PR/2020.  His clear, consice and to-the-point way of presenting ideas is always effective and engaging. This year he offered more than two dozen "Proven B2B Lead Generation Campaigns and Quick Wins" titled "Hacking Inbound." While many were good reminders, I left inspired to start implementing these simple and effective ideas for us and our clients. 


Here are a few ways you can start out your inbound marketing strategy fast and strong: 

  • Add a subscribe checkbox to to every form on your site. This one should be a no-brainer but I know it's an often forgotten opportunity to generate blog or email sign-ups from those already opting-in to learn more from your company. 
  • Focus on CRO (Conversion Rate Optimizatoin). Audit the top entry and exit points and analyze overall opportunities to better convert traffic on your site. 
  • Paid traffic matters. Even though you're doing inbound, paid traffic is necessary upfront. Creating helpful content is essential, but if not enough people are seeing it, it's pointless. Paul advised if you're spending 5K creating new content, spend just as much promoting it. This might be my favorite quote of INBOUND. "You're not going to move the needle just creating content with 500 visitors coming to your site." YES!
  • Write the book on it. If you want credibilty in a technical industry, quite literally write the book on it. Develop and promote a go-to guide in your industry with examples, case studies, stats and product updates. 
  • Create content beyond your site. I preach about this every day. Per the example above, if you only have 500 people coming to your site, it's doubtful even half of those people are seeing all of the great content you create. Look for opportunities in industry publications, blogs and journals to create by-lined articles for much larger audience and become and influencer in your own right. 
  • Nuture the leads you lost. Just because at one point a lead wasn't a good fit or chose a competitor, it doesn't mean they should be off of your lead nurturing radar. Quite the opposite. Keep these lost leads in a specific low-touch email nurtuting program to always stay top-of-mind when the time comes for them to look at alternative options. Sometimes what you loved a few months ago, now just doesn't fit the same anymore. 

One of the best reminders from the presentation was that, while we know that content and inbound marketing is a marthon not a sprint, there are things you can do right away to drive results quickly while working on essential strategy and foundational elements. Like a good workout or agile marketing process, a quick sprint out of the gate can still take you to the finish line. See Paul's entire presentation here. 

Actively Listen First

Sara Quigley, Inbound Marketing Manager

Sara Quigley, Inbound Marketing Manager, SPROUT Content inbound marketing agency

With all of the innovations and technological advancements available to marketers today, a big takeaway from #INBOUND17 was that one of the most important tools in our toolbox is simply our ability to listen. As Kit Pang, Founder of BostonSpeaks, told the crowd during one of the final sessions of the conference, listening is often undervalued and overlooked. After all, you never hear about a keynote listener, do you? There is a distinct difference between listening and hearing; hearing is involuntary, whereas listening requires an active involvement. When we really listen to our audiences — whether that’s a client, a lead, a buyer persona, or just a friend — we learn how to respond and engage in a more meaningful way. In the case of marketers and content creators, we can listen more acutely in order to craft messages that resonate best with the audience’s needs, to get the results we desire.

The theme of prioritizing the act of listening was evident in a number of sessions throughout INBOUND. A lot of our best pieces of content can be tied back to first listening, and then providing an answer your audience is actively looking for. It’s that simple.

Here are three takeaways for actively listening to create the content your audience is looking for:

  1. Listen to your audience by visiting forums like Reddit and learning what people are discussing, what they find entertaining, and what types of pieces become top content.
  2. Consider adding a live chat to your site, or using your current chat better. People are asking questions about given topics because they can’t find the info they’re looking for on your site. Write more content around these questions!
  3. Deliver the type of content your audience likes to consume. If your audience is eating up your videos but not touching your blog posts, listen and create more videos. But remember, it all comes back to storytelling. What story are you telling, and how can you best package it into the type of content your audience wants?

So, the next time you sit down for a content brainstorm, remember that preparation is key. As Pang says, “If you’re not prepared, you’re prepared for failure.” 

Flipping the Editorial Calendar 

Katie Frontino, Inbound Marketing Manager

Katie Frontino, Inbound Marketing Manager, SPROUT Content inbound marketing agencyAt #INBOUND17, there was one piece of advice that was emphasized throughout the week: focus on quality of content over quantity. Larry Kim, founder of Wordstream and Mobile Monkey’s presentation dug deep into the importance of quality. He presented on the topic: “Unicorn Marketing: Getting unusually great results across every marketing channel.” Kim outlined the top content: The Unicorns. And the the low performing content: The Donkeys. Below are 4 main points I took away from Kim’s presentation that are valuable for all content marketers to keep in mind: 

  • Since Google and Facebook algorithms have dramatically changed how traffic is distributed, 98 percent of your marketing efforts go nowhere. The future of content marketing, including social media, is increasingly becoming winner-takes-all. Now is the time to realign your definition of quality content and focus on your blogs with the highest click-through rates: The Unicorns.
Larry Kim Graphic
  • The best way to build your content is to research the top 3 percent and build off of these topics. The top 3 percent of your content does better in SEO, social media and conversion rate optimization. The best approach for 2017 and beyond is to take your top pieces of content that are doing well and create a follow-up story to explore the content more in-depth. Yes, this means that planning ahead with editorial calendars is now a thing of the past. 
  • After you find that your content is doing well, boost with social media ads, price-per-click advertising and add infographics or videos. Continually updating and adding more in-depth content to those winning blogs is important. 
  • Don’t be afraid to create content outside of your niche to connect to customers earlier. Find the biggest overlapping topic and work off this. When you create and promote your brand and memorable content to a niche target market, people see your content and harvest your brand. Later when the need arises, you will be top of mind. Kim emphasized to spend 20 percent of your time marketing to people outside of target audience (personas). 

In a time where many companies seem to be in a race to get the most content out there, this is sound advice that content marketers can follow in order to create higher-quality content, and to get more out of it. As Kim concluded, “Kill your donkeys and milk your unicorns. Stop wasting time pushing donkeys and let them die.” Quality over quantity is more important now than ever.

Focus on Potential Rather than ROI

Waverly Loza, Inbound Marketing Manager

Waverly Loza, Inbound Marketing Manager, SPROUT Content inbound marketing agency

One of the best takeaways I got from #INBOUND17 was from Rand Fishkin’s (MOZ.com) spotlight presentation. Rand stressed that too often successful campaigns are cut short because they do not initially prove ROI, when in fact campaigns should be measured off of their potential and growth trajectory.


Rand used his popular Whiteboard Fridays as a prime example. When Whiteboard Fridays first rolled out in 2008 it was the worst-performing blog post each week, it didn’t prove ROI within the first 6 months but the growth of viewers month over month showed that it was a strong campaign to keep investing in. Rand charted the growth and kept investing in Whiteboard Friday’s and it is now the top performing piece of content every week and generates the most free trial leads.

Rand states, “If you focus on the trajectory and you measure your progress against an estimated growth curve, and you see how you are doing over the long term you find that those investments where the trajectory is high but the ROI initially is low are less competitive because no one else is playing in those spaces and your cost to acquire a customer in those channels is super low and your lifetime value from those channels is crazy high.”

Rand illustrated that it is important to take a leap of faith and chart your growth month over month, and to not give up on a campaign if it doesn’t initially prove ROI. Give it time and keep investing in it if the growth is there. 

Shared Vision Creates Cohesiveness

Casey Hudson, Inbound Marketing Strategist

Casey Hudson, Inbound Marketing Strategist, SPROUT Content inbound marketing agencyCohesion has always been an area of interest for me. What does it take for a group of individuals to effectively, consistently, and passionately lend their special skills to one goal? #INBOUND17 had a few sessions related to coaching, teamwork, and employee retention that related to this idea. One prevalent theme was shared vision.

Shared vision is sometimes difficult to establish. But the sessions I attended boiled it down to 5 steps:

  1. Make a plan - Think about where the team should be in 3-5 years. This is not something that should be done just at the senior level of an organization, team, or campaign; involve the entire team in this brainstorm. Getting team input is key to getting team buy-in.
  2. Be specific - Whether your goals are financial or relational, it’s important to be as specific as possible. Working towards and measuring the success of a team’s efforts towards “increasing revenue” is less focused than working towards “increase revenue by 5 percent within the next fiscal year.” Focus lends to success.
  3. Write it down - Words have power. Documenting those words lends credence. Writing down the vision once it is created allows people to reference it intellectually and take it to heart.
  4. Share it widely and repeatedly - Once the vision is created, tell everyone. Tell your organization. Tell your team, Tell your mom. Remind people of the vision--again and again. This makes it real and holds everyone accountable to the vision.
  5. Follow the plan - A plan isn’t a plan if you never follow it. Don’t create a vision, then put it on a shelf. Display it. Reference it. Share progress with everyone. Discuss the steps to follow to be successful.

Conceptually, these are all simple steps, but the execution is what matters. You can follow all of these steps, and still not create cohesiveness. Coaches and leaders must genuinely take the lead. They must believe in the vision and model it every step of the way. Whether you’re interested in cohesion to have a successful marketing campaign or you want to retain employees, the shared vision theme at #INBOUND17 was noted as being a pillar to team success. 


Use the Power of Story to Influence Action 

Tara McMeekin, Content Specialist

Tara McMeekin, Content Specialist, SPROUT Content inbound marketing agency

As writers in the marketing industry, we challenge ourselves to tell stories that resonate with customers. That’s why one of the biggest takeaways from #INBOUND17 for me came from Lisa Gerber’s session on using the power of story to influence action. As a writer for clients in “unglamorous” industries, I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes struggle to find the story that will draw the customer in.

Gerber reminded INBOUND attendees that, in order to influence action, we must not just understand the customer’s persona, but also be able to get into their mindset in order to appeal to them in a way that will incite them to make a purchase. It comes down to remembering that “there are real people, with real problems at the other end of our content,” she said, and that we can make emotional connections with customers when we solve problems. That’s the sweet spot where stories translate into real revenue.

The greatest marketing stories begin with an emotional appeal to the reader. As writers we must think of problem-based, rather than product-based search. In Gerber’s case, she cited an example of a surgery she invested in for her dog, who had been suffering from pain and unable to lie down comfortably.  She reminded the audience that she didn’t go searching the Web for “dog surgeries,” but instead for solutions to put an end to her beloved dog’s pain.

For this problem-based approach to be effective, we must be clear about the conflict in the stories we tell, she said, and we must ultimately give the customer the happy ending they seek. “No one has time for ‘click this’ and you’ll be amazed,” Gerber said. She reminded the audience that “people don’t really want to buy a Weber grill, they want to make a better steak.”

By approaching our storytelling with more focus on the problem than the product, that’s where we’ll ultimately find the story that connects with customers, no matter the industry for which we’re creating content.

We hope this recap from our team gets you up to speed if you weren't able to join us at #INBOUND17 this year. And if you were there, we hope it provides a nice refresher.  

Did you like something you heard from our team? Attending conferences is just way we stay up to date on all things in the world of digital marketing. Let's talk to see if SPROUT Content is a good match for your company's inbound marketing needs.

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