Hubspot, the local marketing and sales platform phenomenon, plays host to an annual conference celebrating industry innovation, promoting new strategies and products, and attracting attendees from all over the world.
The conference is also notorious for its lineup of celebrity speakers and entertainers – this year, the big draws were Alec Baldwin, Anna Kendrick, Serena Williams, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michael Strahan, Gary Vaynerchuk, Leslie Odom, Jr., Trevor Noah, and Ali Wong. Between all the big names, conference attendees were able to select breakout sessions tailored to their individual interests and occupations; in my case, most sessions circled around the themes of content creation, audience engagement, and workplace innovation. Here, I’ll summarize a few of my favorites.
Tell Your Story: Give Your Brand a Heart
Beth Dunn, Product Editor-in-Chief, Hubspot
As the resident copywriting and word nerd, I was probably most excited for this particular breakout session. The theme of the talk was engaging with your audience by thinking of your message as a story, incorporating both your organization and your client as characters.
Ms. Dunn laid out a few ground rules for effective communication. They revolve around the idea of “short and sweet” – the reality, as many of us know, is that attention spans are short and high word retention or comprehension are not universal. The ground rules are:
- Short Words – if the goal is clarity, stick to short synonyms for the longer words you’d like to use (i.e., “use” instead of “employ” or “utilize”). Ms. Dunn also pointed out that people tend to be drawn to words of Germanic, rather than Latin, origin; for instance, “see” is often more effective than “view”.
- Short Sentences – incorrect comma splices were the key offender here. They’re more vague, and aren’t as effective in driving a point. A common example is “That page isn’t available, please try again” versus “That page isn’t available. Please try again.”
- Short Paragraphs – this one’s simple. No one wants massive paragraphs, nor will they read them. Keep it to 3-4 sentences per block of text.
The second notable point was the emphasis on a “client first” approach. Most mistakes in this realm seem to come from product launches and newsletter announcements, where companies will start with sentences like “We are excited to announce…” or “Our team has been working…” In these instances, it’s better to go straight to the client – try “This product is coming to you in November 2016.”
An addendum to the second point was the idea that companies, in an effort to sound friendly or casual, will often use words like “Oops” or “Uh oh” to redirect a user away from an error. However, she pointed out that this kind of language is condescending and implies that the user is at fault. That gets you farther away from your goal of connecting and engaging, so instead, it’s better to craft language that keeps any blame strictly with your company – or displaces the implication of blame altogether.
Finally, Ms. Dunn talked about the need to sound human. Personally, I know it took me some time to stray from the formal expository style I’d learned through high school and college. However, your audience wants to hear from a person, not from a company or a disembodied “other”. So use contractions with (practical) abandon!
How to Develop Your Inner Producer
Arvell Craig, CEO, Design That Speaks!
Mr. Craig started by asking the audience to think of a goal, be it a piece of content or a business idea, that they’d entertained internally for a long period of time. The session centered on finding the impetus, through a combination of thought practices and actions, to put any long-term goal into practice and aim for success.
Mr. Craig introduced us to marketing DNA, which is a combination of each person’s natural preferences and inclinations that, once identified and exercised, can work together to jumpstart creative energy, create consistent and effective work habits, and lead to successful content generation. He identified four “natural preferences”:
- Alchemist vs. Producer
The alchemist is the creative leader, or the one who often starts projects. The producer is a planner and a natural finisher. These two preferences need to work together.
- Text vs. Images
The text-focused person can prefer spoken or written word and has a love of language. The image-focused person is someone who is more visual in their communication.
- Live vs. Recorded
The person who prefers “live” interactions is comfortable hosting a webinar, attending networking events, and speaking over the phone. The person who prefers “recorded” interactions tends to aim for a presentation style that is polished, planned, and tailored.
- Empathetic vs. Analytic
The empathetic person understands themselves and their target customer, often taking an emotional approach. The analytical person uses data and statistics to persuade their audiences.
Once you identify your particular DNA makeup, you must make a commitment to follow through with the practices that best suit your preferences. Mr. Craig’s best advice was to “beat resistance”; that is, adhere to a series of tactics that prevent you from slowing down or backing away from working towards your ultimate goal. Some of his tips include:
- Start small – don’t overwhelm yourself by shooting for the big picture from day one. Break your goal into incremental, achievable milestones, and view those milestones as a pathway.
- Don’t focus on originality – instead, focus on how your project can be useful.
- Normalize failure – failure is inevitable. Account for its occurrence and treat it as the result of cumulative learning experiences.
- Minimize decision-making – making decisions drains energy. Delegate, find worthy partners, and use every moment effectively.
- Reward every win – each step forward in your process is worth celebrating, no matter how small. Share your victories and reward yourself accordingly.
- Remember the why – the idea was exciting enough to kickstart the project, but it can be easy to lose your grasp on that excitement. Remember why you started, what you’ve accomplished so far, and who you’ll be helping.
The Future of SEO
Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz, Moz
There was wild applause when Mr. Fishkin stepped onto the ballroom stage. Moz is prolific in the world of SEO, and Mr. Fishkin is its founder. His talk covered wide-ranging statistics and data, but I’ll summarize the key takeaways here.
- Google Advertising
Paid advertising has become significantly more subtle, with the only real differentiators between these ads and organic search results being their placement on the page and the little green “Ad” tag. For the time being, this is working – these ads are getting solid clickthroughs. However, users are smart, and they’re biased; eventually, clickthrough rates are bound to decline as users veer away from content they know to be promoted.
- Search Channel Diversification
Google may be the big fish, but it’s certainly not the only one. Marketers can’t afford to ignore a search channel just because it’s not Google – search, and the way content appears to users, is diversifying, so marketers need to consider content for multiple engines. This doesn’t just mean Bing, either; platforms like Facebook and YouTube provide valuable opportunities, depending on what is being marketed.
- Mobile and Desktop Alignment
When creating ad content, marketers need to be conscious of the ever-decreasing differences between desktop and mobile appearance. For Google, both platforms now contain features like the “answer box” that frequently appears at the top of the search results when a user types in a question, which can either detract from or augment clickthrough rates depending on the strategy employed by the marketer.
The Moz blog has several interesting tips and tricks to supplement the above observations.
Reshma Saujani, Founder, Girls Who Code
Ms. Saujani is impressive for a long list of reasons, but foremost in my mind is her pioneering attitude towards improving the occupational, and therefore quality of life, prospects for women across the country. Her organization recognizes the dearth of women in the candidate-hungry technology space, and aims to close the gender gap by showing young women that they, too, can join the ranks of engineers and developers despite stereotypes that preach the opposite.
You likely don’t need to read the jarring statistics to understand that this gap is very real, so I won’t list them here; you can check out the Girls Who Code site if you’re interested in the details. Ms. Saujani recognized that girls were often being taught from a young age that the skills that lead to engineering and technology (math, science, coding) were better suited to boys, and this (hopefully) unintentional bias was a significant contributor to the vast gender gap that exists in the job market today. So she took action, and began with a coding summer camp that worked with a group of teenage girls from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Since that first summer program, Girls Who Code has graduated more than 10,000 girls, 90% of whom say they plan on majoring or minoring in Computer Science or a closely-related field. The summer program and immersion girls have the opportunity to meet with cutting-edge companies, industry thought leaders, and innovative scientific researchers to help augment the lessons they’re learning in the classroom. Essentially, both programs normalize and encourage girls to explore career interests that they were previously discouraged from or never considered a possibility.
INBOUND was a whirlwind of a week. I attended several sessions that were inspiring in nature, was given a primer on effective social media practices, and learned about the future of SEO (hint: it’s all in quality content and targeted campaigns). Bonus: I sat in a twenty-person audience just a few feet from Leslie Odom, Jr., who I last saw during his Tony-winning run in Hamilton. Between the breakout sessions and the keynotes, I enjoyed INBOUND and felt inspired and better-equipped to go after some of my long-held goals.