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Inbound 2019 has come and gone, and HubSpot certainly knows how to put on a show. For the 26,000 marketers (and simple inbound enthusiasts) who descended on Boston, MA for four days in September, there was a lot to be learned.
If you couldn’t make it, or are simply worried you missed out on some key takeaways, you aren’t alone. With tickets at a premium, and over 250 speakers (many of whom were speaking at the same time), it was impossible to learn everything in real time — even with a Power Pass!
At Gripped, we wanted to make sure nothing went over our heads, so we sent four people, rather than one. Beyond re-confirming that Dharmesh and Brian have the charisma of George Clooney crossed with your best friend, and discovering that Boston has surprisingly good tacos, we got some stellar advice about the future of inbound marketing. Here are our 10 key takeaways from Inbound 2019, starting with the overview, and then diving into tactics. Let’s get started!
Experience is the new product
When Brian and Dharmesh took the stage on day two of the conference this year, we were excited. Last year, out came the flywheel — what did they have for us this time? If you have skimmed the H2s of this blog, you know that the flywheel hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s alive and well — and there might be more of them.
What we got from Brian and Dharmesh this year was broader in scope. We got a dissection of the new economy — a set of businesses that they labelled “experience disruptors”.
It turns out that the two of them had been scratching their heads about the explosion of new internet-based businesses taking over our lives and trying to find commonalities beyond “the internet”. Brian delivered a 5 point analysis of their “DNA”, and Dharmesh the 5 fears we need to overcome when embracing change.
Friction is your enemy – value is your friend
It’s all well and good to prioritise the creation of experiences, but where do you start? An important lesson from experience disruptors isn’t about channel optimisation, or even understanding your audience. It’s simply about removing friction from the buying process!
A great example (that hasn’t yet made it to the UK) is Carvana, the car vending machine. This is a business that delivers the same kind of ecommerce simplicity of buying clothes to the process of buying a car. You select one online, you select a time and day for it to be delivered to your house, you give it a test drive and, if you don’t like it, someone will come and collect it, no questions asked. They do all the paperwork, they do all the insurance updates — they do it all.
Key suggestions: If consumers are making purchasing decisions as big as an automobile online, B2B businesses need to take notice. Atlassian (parent company of Jira, Trello, Bamboo and more) is a leader in this lesson, turning the purchase of complex B2B software into a one or two click process. Remove as many steps from the buying processes as possible and do as much of the administration for consumers as you can, which will allow your customers to access the value of your product hassle free.
Video marketing needs to be taken seriously
Video is becoming the most efficient way for people to consume information online. As marketers, the overhead cost of video creation can scare us (or leadership) away. This has got to end.
Multiple breakout sessions, including talks from Roberto Blake, Allen Martinez, Caren Cioffi and Jeremy Goldman, all brought the same message: video is the easiest and most persuasive form of content to consume. Like so much of Inbound 2019, the message circled around the need to create experiences that your audience wants, making it easy to connect.
Digital asset management stands were out in full force on the trade show floor, advising marketers on the best strategies to utilise when creating video content. And off-hand comments from Marcus Sheridan about using videos to increase landing page conversions all indicate an underlying truth — video is your friend, so learn how to use it and see the rewards. The overheads might be high, but like all content, the long-term returns make that investment worthwhile.
Key suggestions: If your business has an individual who is able to become a ‘brand’, then use them. Put a go-pro on their head and churn out content. If you want to be more tactical, create a handful of high-quality videos focused on your central content areas and promote the hell out of them.
The flywheel is here to stay – and it’s multiplied
We know the flywheel and we love the flywheel — Gripped has been on Team Flywheel since the day we learned about it. And it’s definitely not going anywhere soon. In fact, it’s expanding.
HubSpot announced their move to the flywheel last year at Inbound 2018. The idea is pretty simple: put the customer at the centre of the buyer’s journey. Rather than looking at the customer as a pawn to be shoved through a static sales/marketing funnel, create a responsive cycle that “attracts”, “engages”, and “delights” the customer, adapting to their needs based on each stage of the journey.
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One multiplication of the flywheel that was suggested this year at Inbound was to use a customer-centric feedback loop to better understand very specific things. Rather than looking at the flywheel as a way to understand the entire buyer’s journey, you can look at how customers respond to individual campaigns (or even individual pieces of content) to improve your decisions and actions.
The flywheel is also getting more specific. Standard flywheel thinking suggested creating experiences around personas. Data collection tools are changing the possibility to focus on individuals with far more specificity. Rather than giving you some key suggestions, this deserves a section all on its own…
Hand-drafted personas are losing to data-driven clusters
As marketers, giving up on the idea of the persona will be hard. But creating personalised personas simply by thinking about it may no longer be enough. Some of the most successful ‘experience disruptors’ are already one step ahead.
Netflix, for example, continues to personalise each user’s experience around their data — the more users consume, the more personalised the experience on the platform can be. This approach can be extremely powerful for a company that’s able to create data reports based on usage of the product. Beyond Netflix, businesses like Spotify and Stitch Fix have jumped headlong into this approach.
Key suggestions: Collecting data may not be an option for every business. However, where possible, think about your customers on as individual a level as possible. Collect as much real, granular information as you can and start using that data to better understand your customer base. That starts by improving the experience of being a customer. Then, you can cluster users around commonalities and create data-driven persona categories defined by the individual. This approach improves customer retention and allows you to craft outreach programmes at the same time.
Add context to your Calls-To-Action to alleviate anxiety and increase conversions
Marcus Sheridan shared a secret method he used to increase his form conversion rate by 80%: address your buyers’ obvious fears and reservations right on the landing page. Like so many things Sheridan has to say, it seems obvious, but only once you hear him say it aloud.
Think about it: when someone is about to hand over their personal details, some standard questions will roll through their head — “What will happen next?”, “Will I get spammed?”, “What will happen to my data?” Just answer these questions right away, simply and clearly.
Travis McGinnis addressed the same issue for CTAs. When it comes to free trials, many buyers assume that you want their payment details, putting them in a position to cancel a subscription that will automatically roll into effect. If this isn’t the case, make it clear from the start.
Key suggestions: Though Marcus was using a video format example to address these fears, I believe that a few bullet points or some short copy underneath the form addressing the most obvious reservations should be sufficient. After all, you don’t want the buyer to leave the landing page and postpone form submission. When it comes to your CTAs, it’s as simple as adding “Free trial lasts 14 days. Immediate access. No credit card required.”
Psychological tricks help drive customer actions
Our brains aren’t really that logical. We’re influenced by our emotions, and certain triggers create a sense of trust that can be far more powerful than any dispassionate explanation of the facts. Nancy Harhut delivered a great talk on how we can use modern theories of psychology to help coax the behaviour we want out of buyers online.
Add social proof to your landing pages
We naturally trust solutions that others have already tried. We trust those solutions more if people we know, or simply people “like us” have already had positive experiences. Where possible, show visitors to your site that others have already taken action and had good experiences.
Make buyers feel special or time-pressed
Our brains think that if something is scarce, it must be better. By telling your buyers that “product A” will only be available for 8 days, or that there are only 13 left, you’ll make them more likely to take action — both in terms of immediate action and overall likelihood to covert. Particularly when it comes to promotions, think about adding countdown clocks to grab a buyer’s attention.
Equally, if you make your buyers feel like they’re among the chosen ones to have early access to “product A” or “event B”, they’ll be more likely to sign up or buy — the human brain simply likes the feeling of exclusivity.
Consider your default choices
The way choices are presented influences the decision we make around them. If something is already pre-arranged for us, it takes us more effort to cancel it or somehow get out of the responsibility. This is considered the primary reason for the difference in organ donation rates between otherwise very similar countries — 99.98% in Austria and 12% in Germany, for example.
Good examples are checkboxes and call-to-action buttons — instead of asking your buyer to check a box, have the box ticked and allow them to opt-out. Instead of asking your buyer to choose their appointment date and time, make the default for them to go to the appointment on Wednesday at 3:30 pm. This goes back to the importance of creating a “frictionless” buying experience.
Write for the SERP… not just your target market
A great bit of tactical content marketing advice we got from Dominic Woodman was to think about the SERP as a secondary persona. This was another bit of advice that seemed so obvious after it was said, and will be included in our content marketing strategy from now on. Let me break this down.
Everyone knows that writing content for your persona is key to making a connection with that persona in the first place. However, your persona needs to see that content for you to have any hope of making that connection.
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The reality is that your target market audience will only make up a portion of the people typing in the search terms you’re looking to rank for. If you have any hope of getting on the first page of Google, you need to appeal to those people too. Bounce rate is huge for ranking, and if everyone landing on your article isn’t having a good time, you’ll never connect with that one person who’s going to buy your product.
Key suggestions: Think about your personas when deciding a topic to write about. However, once you hit on a keyword, go beyond simply making sure that content appears on the SERP. Read that content and learn more about the people (other than your persona) that are likely to be making that search as well. You need to make sure that you write to their interests, along with the interests of your target market audience, to rank and make the connections you need.
Pillar pages can do more than increase your ranking
Anyone at Inbound 2018 will remember pillar pages — the new SEO ranking strategy embraced by HubSpot that mimics the internal backlinks that helps Wikipedia rank so well. It turns out that HubSpot is now using the pillar page model to drive conversions and find gaps in their premium content offerings to maximise their generation of leads on every topic.
A crash course on pillar pages
To give a crash course for the uninitiated, a “pillar page” is your definitive piece of content on a topic central to your value proposition. You craft a long-form piece of content that addresses every key question your persona might have on that subject. You then position that piece of content at the centre of related “topic clusters”, each being a subtopic (and keyword) related to that main category. You then provide internal crosslinks between the pillar pages and all of these pieces of supporting content.
With every support topic pointing to your pillar page, Google learns that the pillar page is your definitive asset on that subject. Associating all of your content in related webs increases the ranking of every piece. You also create internal paths that improve click-through rate and keep your bounce rate to a minimum — all adding to your ranking.
How pillar pages can help you optimise conversions
AJ Beltis explained how HubSpot is using the pillar page model to better understand the pieces of gated content they need to write. The great thing about pillar pages is that it forces you to categorise your content. Rather than looking at blogs individually, the topic cluster model allows you to see how entire categories of content perform. This is key to understanding the conversion potential of a topic, not just a single keyword.
The standard approach to assessing the value of a term is to look at volume and relevancy. Premium content is best purposed for topics that indicate an interest to buy and have significant volumes that indicate a substantial interest on behalf of the market. When looking at one keyword at a time, this can be misleading.
What AJ did was focus in on the traffic volumes for entire topic clusters, rather than single blogs. This provided a new perspective on the kinds of topics that were of significant interest to potential HubSpot customers, but had previously been missed by a more superficial examination.
Key suggestions: Categorise your content. You should already be doing this in order to crosslink blogs and create pillar page hubs that will help your ranking. Next, it’s a simple process of assessing volumes based on those topic clusters, rather than looking at blog posts on an individual level. By taking this broader approach to metric review, you’ll be able to find new subjects to drive conversions that you are currently leaving unaddressed.
You don’t need the same goal for every piece of content
Content is important to us at Gripped, so we definitely focused on getting as much content advice as we could. Another great talk was delivered by Nadya Khoja who gave some excellent advice about limiting your expectations on certain pieces of content in order to get better overall results.
Nadya’s thesis started with one assumption — the goal of content is to deliver three different goals: increase domain authority, deliver higher conversion and increase traffic. Her observation was that although a single piece of content might contribute to each of these, the best performing pieces of content in any one area generally do not excel in all three. Her suggestion was to plan for this asymmetry and tailor different pieces of content for each individual goal, and that purpose alone.
Key suggestions: Rather than trying to write pieces of content that can do it all, think about the different goals you need to hit and write pieces designed specifically for that. For example, a title like “5 habits of Fortune 500 CEOs” is far more likely to get picked up by a site like Forbes and reposed or given a backlink. This is the kind of content you need to drive domain authority.
That same article, however, isn’t hitting any organic keywords. An article on the same topic focused on organic traffic might be better titled “How to structure your day like a Fortune 500 CEO”. Tailor the content to a specific goal.
The next step is to set success criteria specific to the goal of each article. If you write a piece targeted at backlinks or conversions, don’t judge its success on organic traffic or keywords it ranks for. By thinking more specifically about what each piece of content needs to do, you’ll improve the performance of your strategy as a whole.
Inbound 2019 was full of inspiration – it’s never too late to change
Every business is a work in progress. If there was a big takeaway from many of the speakers on the centre stage at Inbound 2019, it was that their career had been anything but a straight line. Getting updates on new ways to organise and conduct your marketing strategy and business can seem overwhelming. Starting today and taking change one step at a time is the only way to improve.
Those changes could include small ones like adding context to your CTAs and creating content based on specific goals, or larger changes that impact your business more broadly such as creating a more dynamic workforce. This was a broader theme touched on by Dharmesh, along with big names like the co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian, who spoke about the importance of accommodating your workforce and making it more diverse. As Dharmesh pointed out, if you want to have every available perspective to solving a problem, you need a workforce that doesn’t all think the same. Part of that is bringing onboard more women and accommodating for families, which is critical to making that a reality.
These kinds of big changes can seem even more overwhelming than going through your backlog of content and ascribing topic cluster categories — although, that might not be the best example. But by taking this one step at a time, transformation can occur and transformational outcomes can be delivered. Until Inbound 2020, it’s time to move past planning and act — where else are we going to get the data to improve again?