I spent last week at Hubspot’s INBOUND17 conference which was an amazing event, with good sessions, compelling speakers, and great people to connect with.
And while we were jazzed about the new features announced for HubSpot's suite of tools, the best part about INBOUND, and any conference, are the personal connections you make. It’s great getting to meet and talk to other partners, and other marketers about their challenges, concerns, and wins.
Those discussions covered a wide range of topics, but the most common general notes of focus were the trends fueling product changes.
In this post, I’ll relate the biggest trends spotted at INBOUND17.
Importance Of Messaging
The importance of messaging was clear at INBOUND17.
The stats are staggering - 1.3 billion users are now active on Facebook Messenger, and they're exchanging more than 2 billion messages per month with businesses. Neil Patel recently published an article in which he detailed how one of his Facebook Messenger campaigns saw 88% open rates, and a 56% CTR. Hubspot and its partners shared similar staggering statistics about the reach of their Messenger campaigns.
Messaging and its impact on inbound marketing was a recurring topic in many of the talks and breakout sessions. We’ve been working with messaging for while, and have been guiding our clients to implement. After digesting the interaction statistics, we’re going to make it a priority for ourselves and our clients.
Let me just state it clearly - you need to be integrating website chat, and messaging channel engagement into your marketing, sales, and customer service plans. And you need to do it now.
The Challenge Of Messaging
As we were digesting all of this information about messaging, the challenge it presented became clear - how can you manage it all?
In the inbound marketing new world order, you'll be getting email, messaging from multiple channels including internal messaging (Slack and any number of product-specific messaging apps like SalesForce Chatter), external messaging (from Messenger, WhatsApp, iMessage), website chat, and social channels like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. People want to communicate anytime and anywhere they want, and those messages will have to be triaged, directed to the right people, and responded to.
As a HubSpot partner, we're looking forward to the release of their new Conversations tool which will be a unified inbox designed to aggregate messages from all of these channels and assign them to the right team. Existing messaging systems like Office 365 may add integrations to become unified message and response hubs.
Similar to HubSpot, other existing social media tools like Sprout Social that already have a unified inbox feature may look to adapt their tools. Undoubtedly, new tools will also arise to respond to this need.
But whatever options become available, one thing's clear - this type of tool will be an essential part of every organization’s marketing, sales, and customer service very soon.
Chatbots Are A Must Have For Service And Marketing
Many experts, including Neil Patel and Kim Garst, have posted about the need for organizations to deploy chatbots to aid with customer service and marketing. These sentiments were echoed at INBOUND17 - in fact, HubSpot is building chatbot creation capability into their Sales Hub leveraging their recent acquisition of Motion AI.
Brands need to figure out how they want to use and deploy chatbots and get them in place sooner rather than later. After reviewing how chatbots can facilitate message-based marketing campaigns, I'm convinced that they'll become an essential tool in modern inbound marketing campaigns, especially for moving leads down the funnel to become customers.
AI Is Here and More Is Coming
Machine learning code (which is a fancy way of saying 'artificial intelligence') is or will be built into several HubSpot tools, including their Content Strategy tool, chatbot functionality, and more.
There are also plenty of services offering AI-powered solutions for marketers right now - these include:
- Atomic Reach using Atomic AI to tell you how to write, what, where, and when to publish, and what to create for best results.
- Phrasee for AI optimized email subject lines.
- Seventh Sense for optimizing email send times.
AI is one of those things that seems like a black box to many, while to others, it’s not worth their time because it’s “not mature yet.” The fact is, there's a good chance that you've been using rudimentary AI for some time - things like email personalization, pulling the first names of contacts into your emails is a first step toward a smart, AI-powered email. Website personalization takes that further, examining a users' history on your website, and providing content that's relevant to their stage in the buyer's journey.
As mentioned above, there are real tools that provide real benefit being built which are powered by AI technologies. Yes, AI is still new, but, within 18 months you'll see many more tools.
Brands need to look at AI solutions for marketing right now and start experimenting. See where AI can help you, and put plans in place to start using AI to assist marketing, sales, and customer support. Early adopters may find AI provides capabilities that save costs, accelerate growth, or just make their organization better.
Brands who embrace AI sooner may gain an advantage over competitors who don’t.
Strong Integrations Make A Strong Platform
The challenges of managing messaging, and the need to bring AI into marketing, sales, and customer service platforms underscores another trend that was clear at INBOUND17 - open and integrated platforms and tools are more flexible, adaptable, and powerful.
Vendors that offer more integrations, and maintain good working relationships with their integration partners, will be able to provide their customers with better tools which will adapt better to the rapidly changing marketing landscape.
An open platform with a number of strong integrations is something that everyone should look for in their marketing tools.
Facebook Is For B2B Marketing Too
Facebook is a great platform for B2C marketing and LinkedIn is still the strongest B2B platform for marketing. However, the changes to LinkedIn’s Group API, and Facebook's 2 billion monthly active users, have made Facebook an increasingly viable B2B marketing channel.
We’ve been using Facebook as a B2B channel for over a year, as have many others, and that approach was reinforced at INBOUND17.
Many sessions provided concrete examples and success stories of Facebook B2B marketing. It’s simple - professionals use Facebook too, and, if you target carefully, you can reach them on that platform.
Using Facebook for B2B marketing requires more art and science as Andrea Vahl explains in her article on how to reach B2B customers on the platform. You have to target the right audiences, and certain types of creatives work much better than others, but Facebook is a legit B2B channel, one that all B2B companies should be engaging on.
Thought Leadership Still Draws A Crowd
I was personally surprised at the number of people I met at INBOUND17 that didn’t use HubSpot. These marketers ranged from people who used competitors like Marketo, to entrepreneurs looking into HubSpot, to small businesses that felt they couldn't afford HubSpot.
Why were they there?
The value of the content provided by the conference. They wanted to learn about trends and discuss fundamentals that apply to all marketers like SEO optimization, and content strategy.
That realization was heartening to me - build good content and they will come. Even in today’s content saturated marketing landscape, this truth remains.
The Complexity Of Inbound Marketing Is Growing
I attended one session where several CEOs of large agencies were giving advice to smaller partners in the room. In between planning the early demise of these agencies, a statement by one of the CEOs struck me. He said that he wouldn’t want to start his agency today because digital marketing is so much more complex today than just a few years ago.
It’s true, marketing now encompasses content creation, social media publishing, email marketing, landing page generation, and marketing automation. AI is already entering the landscape for chat, to help optimize SEO, and define content strategy. In addition, organizations are seeing a clear advantage in closer integrating between marketing and sales activities. Tight integration between those teams and their tools means that marketing can deliver better leads, and sales needs can help define content and other marketing initiatives. But keeping your current customers happy is far less expensive than finding new ones so tools to manage, engage and respond to customers are also an essential part of a brand’s growth stack.
Bear in mind, these changes are driven by customers - both your customers and mine. They choose how they like to interact with brands online. They choose the channels they want to be on, and how they wish to communicate. Brands have to be there with them, or they risk losing them altogether.
All brands, regardless of size and skill with digital marketing, need to take stock of the digital landscape and figure out where the gaps are in their capabilities. They need to prioritize what tools and technologies are required to provide or keep the competitive advantage.
Whether a brand chooses to outsource or staff up to address new needs and challenges is a decision unique to each brand, but I believe every brand should do a digital marketing and growth stack assessment every six months to a year.
With the digital marketing, sales, and service landscape changing so rapidly it’s increasingly difficult to know what’s trending and what new tools are out there. It's even more difficult to know which tools and technologies might be a good fit for your organization, or what opportunities for quick wins they might present.
How brands do this is up to them. Some can do it internally, others may need to outsource it - but the point is, all brands need to take the time to do it regularly.
Encouraging Humanity In The Digital World
For all the keynotes, and breakout sessions at INBOUND17 the one that resonated the most with me was the keynote by Brene Brown.
My wife warned me that Brene had a reputation for laying down the truth in a way that makes you think, and she did just that. She discussed the trends we’ve all seen on social media networks. The echo chamber effect where people surround themselves with like-minded thinkers, which leads to an intolerance towards anyone with a different opinion. We've all seen the aggressive vitriol that can result from simply expressing an opinion on social media in this polarized time. She shared statistics about how people today feel more alone despite how connected we are. Then she dropped the bomb.
Brene and her family live in Houston. They were flooded by Hurricane Harvey. She showed pictures of the Cajun Navy that helped rescue the people in her neighborhood. She showed a picture of her husband making his way through the waist-deep water to get an elderly neighbor and her two dogs out of her house to safety.
Her truth bomb: “No one asked anyone who they voted for, they asked how they could help.” The true connection of the human spirit. Our humanity.
Unfortunately practicing our humanity is not the trend in the digital world. The problems described above are the trend. We have all, every one of us, contributed to it. It’s time we stopped being part of the problem, and in every digital interaction, no matter how small, or how upset we are, seek out our better selves.
It’s there. I have many friends on social media who I ardently disagree with. I also know that if I put out a genuine plea for help, they'll show up.
Our better selves are there - it shouldn't take a disaster for us to show it. We should strive to show it every day, in every online interaction.