5 big messages from Hubspot’s INBOUND 2018

Inbound 2018 HubSpot
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HubSpot’s annual marketing conference wrapped up on Friday.  With over 23,000 attendees, 300 sessions and half a dozen keynote and spotlight addresses (from Deepak Chopra to Alex Rodriguez), this year’s INBOUND 2018 event was bigger than ever. 

While Hubspot doesn’t name an official theme for each year’s event, it becomes clear over the course of the week that key topics have emerged and become the main points of conversation. 

Here are the five key themes that my colleagues and I took from this year’s INBOUND 2018. 

Customer Experience is More Important than Sales or Marketing

It’s a bold thing for a marketing software company to proclaim that customer experience is more important than marketing.  Granted, HubSpot does more than marketing these days, but the focus and prioritization of customer experience was clear.  Brian Halligan, HubSpot’s CEO, has always talked about the importance of ‘customer delight’, and this year he took it up a notch. HubSpot restructured (or rather, killed) their funnel earlier this year and replaced it with a flywheel.  And the most important part of the flywheel isn’t lead generation, trials or new deals.  It’s delighted customers.  As Halligan puts it, “The buying process these days works more like a flywheel than a funnel. And what ultimately spins that flywheel is a seamless delightful customer experience. The more customers you have, the more delighted they are, the faster that flywheel turns. And it feeds on itself.”

Many of the speakers throughout the week talked about the growing importance of customer experience, and of the need for companies to make their buying process friction-less, and to do everything they can to make sure their customers are delighted.  It’s the only way to ensure success in the coming era – no amount of sales and marketing will solve a crummy customer experience. 

SEO is changing – again, faster, more

There were many sessions this year focused on SEO.  SEO is continuously changing.  Now Google serves up the most relevant content and relies heavily on website authority and content relevancy to rank your website and not just keywords.  While it used to be all about ranking highest to get the most clicks, now it’s all about featured snippets that aren’t even always clicked.

Why do snippets matter so much? Because by 2020, 50% of searches will be voice searches and Alexa will only recite the featured snippet.  So the company that ‘wins’ the snippet contest will be the only content a searcher gets to hear.  Marketers tend to focus on the click, but according to Gartner, by 2020 about 30% of all searches will be done without a screen.  So, if you aren’t working on appearing as a featured snippet, you need to rethink your SEO.

Less is more

The theme of less is more was another consistent one across the sessions.  Many companies have found that the bulk of their organic traffic comes from a small number of their website pages.  So why keep all these excess pages on your site? Not only is it not helping, it’s actually hurting.  The key is to have a focused website.  Pick a few key topics that are relevant to your business, that have high search volumes, and that you have content on and stick to those.  The number of topics can vary by business but however many you have make sure you OWN them.  Group all your content by those topics and ensure you leverage internal links to connect the content.  Internal links are one of the most overlooked and underrated ways to improve your SEO.  As you create new content, only add content that addresses new subtopics that relate to that core topic. That will make you the authority on the topic and help you drive the conversation.

Storytelling

Inbound marketing has always been about creating remarkable content. That is truer now than ever. With the volume of content growing at exponential rates, the brands that are winning are those that tell the best stories.  One of the main themes at INBOUND was trust.  Brands need to earn the trust of their prospects.  How do you do that?  You need your brand – regardless of the commodity or service that you sell – to resonate with your prospects on a human level.  Help your prospects understand the pros and the cons of buying from you, but not by communicating the features and benefits of your product/service, but by sharing the benefits to them.  It seems like an old story (“be benefit focused”), but it’s still not the case for many brands.

More Transparency is Better

We’re living in an age of information – that’s not news.  But what’s happening as a result is just starting to become clear. The implication of the ease of access to information that we now have is that prospects expect to be able to find out everything about a company (from its processes to its culture to its pricing), without having to talk to anyone.

For B2B companies, this has big implications. It’s seen as a problem by many, but it can be an opportunity. While B2B companies have traditionally shied away from sharing information, this new era provides the chance to dramatically WOW prospects by being completely open. Companies who share their processes and prices are more likely to engage customers, and get the opportunity to do business with them.  B2B companies who stick with the old way of doing business will find that by keeping their doors closed, well, their doors might just might stay closed permanently.

INBOUND 2018 was, as usual, an amazing week of product and feature launches by HubSpot, a great time to meet and reconnect with revenue professsionals from around the world, and learn about what’s coming in the year ahead.  We can’t wait for INBOUND 2019!

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Lisa Shepherd

Lisa Shepherd is the author of two books on B2B marketing (The Radical Sales Shift and Market Smart). She is founder of The Mezzanine Group , a B2B marketing company based in Toronto that has worked with over 200 B2B companies in the last decade. Lisa is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution and was the youngest female CEO to appear on the Profit 100.