Helpful Takeaways From HubSpot INBOUND 2021

by Matt, on 26 Oct 2021

Earlier this month, I attended HubSpot’s annual conference, INBOUND, to hear about the latest marketing trends and technology.

Held fully online for the second year, the three-day event featured interactive sessions with subject matter experts, new product discussions with HubSpot insiders, keynote interviews with A-list celebrities, and sponsored panel sessions led by the likes of Google and LinkedIn.

Overall, I found the agenda a bit lighter and the content less impactful than last year. Nevertheless, several well-run sessions made the time investment worthwhile.

In this post, I’m going to share edited highlights from the reams of notes I typed while I watched. I’ve grouped notes from multiple sessions under common headings, so hopefully they are easier to digest and cherry-pick.

If you also attended INBOUND and want to use your login to watch a recording of anything I’ve quoted, let me know which bullet points caught your eye and I’ll guide you to the right session.

If you didn’t but you’d like to hear more detail on any of these points, please drop me a line and I’ll be glad to set up a time to chat.

Finally, you can sign up here for updates on next year’s INBOUND event. If you’re involved with sales, marketing, support, and customer experience, I highly recommend buying yourself a ticket. And, if it’s held in person, we look forward to meeting you there!

Highlights follow on the following topics:

Customer Experience (CX)

  • CX is how your customers perceive their entire experience with your business, not the ideal experience that you hope to create. (NB: UX is the specific experience a user encounters with an app or part of a website).
  • In a recent HubSpot survey, 27% of respondents said a CX experience had “ruined their day.”
  • Generic, impersonal experiences don’t delight. Customers want to feel special, understood, and connected.
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) started out as a local system (hosted on your PC), then became cloud enabled (Salesforce), and is now a connected customer experience (HubSpot). Importantly, it can now also connect customers to other customers.
  • Avoid building a “Frankensystem” – a disjointed mess with multiple applications each doing things its own way. Note: these are never created intentionally, they creep into being over time.
  • CRMs and CMSs (content management systems) are becoming inextricably linked, providing customers with self-service and e-commerce functionality. Users can now build a customer portal within HubSpot Service Hub, using HubSpot CMS.
  • Both content and community development should be goal-driven and have a clear time horizon. Not all customers need or want a community (a popular misconception) and too much time can be spent creating content without enough effort on distribution.
  • Cannot just create a community and hope it will grow on its own (the “field of dreams” phenomenon). Ask customers what they want. Example: lots of customers asking for Slack communities at the moment.
  • Snappy, easily accessed content is helpful for answering specific questions (e.g. how to do something), making the customer smarter and better at their job. Communities and longer form content are better for philosophical questions with multiple potential answers. Capturing and sharing user-generated content (UGC) can be very powerful.
  • Listen to your customers! Ask them for feedback and follow them on social media. Show empathy and remain relevant to them. Uncover their key questions and be the voice of the customer when developing content.
  • Every page on your website could be “page 1” – a potential entry point for a prospect, so develop them and view them through that lens.

Data Management & Technology

  • Web 1.0 was about access to information. Web 2.0 was about interaction. The next evolution, Web 3.0, is about decentralization – you will own and control your data, rather than being beholden to a few, powerful companies.
  • Predictive analytics is going to be table stakes within a couple of years, both for personalized upsell and identifying cross-sell opportunities. High quality input data is critical to effective prediction.
  • Marketing teams need to adopt and master the data discipline, including an understanding of data security because it is critical to maintaining customers’ trust.
  • 5G is bringing faster speed (enabling the instantaneous society), higher capacity (bandwidth, fewer interruptions), lower latency (real-time applications), and greater reliability (uptime). Expecting 500 million 5G users by end-2021 and over 1 billion by end-2022.
  • Where 3G took the phone and introduced messaging (think Blackberry), changing how we communicate with each other, and 4G brought internet to the phone with a broadband connection (enabling apps), 5G will make video streaming ubiquitous, introduce new layers to apps, democratize access to high-speed internet, and finally make the internet of things a widespread reality. This will create a new consumer expectation that more of the world will be connected. Hard to imagine what developers are going to do with the speed and capacity it unlocks.
  • COVID led to a massive wave of technology upgrades and adoption – accelerating what would normally be expected in 4+ years into 1 year. This means more people have the latest tech than would normally be the case, both at home and in the office.

Email Marketing

  • On average, only 24% of sales emails are opened but email remains the #1 way of reaching prospects and 90% of B2B buyers identify content as having had a moderate-to-major impact on their purchasing decision.
  • Things are currently helping to increase open rates include:
    • Using parentheses, brackets, or asterisks in the subject line
    • Using emojis in the subject line, especially bookending with the same emoji (either a couple of words or the whole subject)
    • Use a ‘mistake’ subject line, e.g. “Oops, we forgot…” or “Oops, you almost…”. This creates a form of rubbernecking, where recipients can’t help opening the email to see what (almost) went wrong.
    • End the subject line with an ellipsis (…). This builds suspense and is being used a lot by major brands.
    • Promote a list as your offer in the subject line, e.g. “6 reasons to choose…” or “9 ways to…”. This creates FOMO and satisfies readers’ desire for structure.
    • Customize the “From” alias on each email. At a minimum, use a company or individual name (not the email address itself). Matching the alias to the topic of the email is establishes relevancy and allows you to send multiple emails to the same recipient in a shorter time – e.g. Strategic Piece Events (email about a webinar) vs. Strategic Piece Blog vs. Strategic Piece News.
    • Use email templates to improve consistency across the company and throughout the buyer’s journey, but have a variety of formats to suit different types of content (case studies, brand positioning, educational, personalized outreach etc.)
    • Use document sharing and tracking services – the days of attaching a PDF are almost over. Train your team how to use this functionality.
  • Things to avoid:
    • Fake FW: and RE: subject lines – people hate being tricked and your unsubscribe rates are likely to go way up.
    • Don’t pretend to be clever or funny. People don’t care how creative your one-liner is, they care about what’s on offer to them. Vague or confusing subject lines will result in zero interest.
    • File attachments – see comment above about sharing and tracking services.
  • It is a myth that including special characters or emojis in your subject line will trigger a recipient’s spam filter. Filtering is based on your send reputation. The higher your open rate, the higher your reputation, which will end up meaning less email gets blocked, not more.
  • iOS 15 (with its opt-in for mail privacy protection) will disable your ability to track open rates. However, you can segment your audience by device and calculate stats for the ~54% that open their email on a non-Apple device. Only a small fraction of Apple users have upgraded to iOS 15 so far, but this will become a real effect by the end of the year. Note: this will create a major issue for marketing automation workflows based on whether a user has opened an email.
  • Visit to see the latest data on trending words that are driving the highest open rates. At the time of writing, words related to 2022, in-stock, and update are popular as the world experiences uncertainty about supply chains and future availability of products.

Video Content

  • Each media channel provides a different type of user experience. Instagram is about who/what you follow, primarily for entertainment, and is moving away from its square photo roots to embrace more video. TikTok is about connecting with anybody in a very casual way. YouTube is the second largest search engine, and is a much more educational user experience.
  • Nielsen research has shown that creative elements (video, images, graphics) are the single biggest driver of marketing campaign success.
  • Short-form video requires adjusting the story arc. Eliminate the build-up and start in the middle of the action. You only have a few seconds to capture the viewer’s attention so open with a high-impact visual (e.g. close-up of someone talking into the camera) and quickly reach a big reveal and then close. Fast pacing (cuts, shots, audio) makes a big difference.
  • Instagram defaults to sound off, whereas other channels default to sound on, so plan your captions accordingly. There is no data (yet) to show whether closed captions or superimposed text is more effective. Whatever you choose, make sure your key takeaways can be understood with the sound off!
  • Try to keep video ads under 15 seconds, with at least 50% of your key messages appearing in the first 3 seconds of the ad. What is the one thing you want them to remember before the skip ad button appears?
  • End your video with a clear call to action. Don’t let it get drowned out by a large logo or slogan – make the CTA the focus of the last 1-2 seconds.

Brand Building vs. Performance Marketing

  • In old-school parlance, brand building is “top of funnel”, generating leads, whereas performance marketing is “bottom of funnel”, converting leads into sales. Today, marketing should be seen as an end-to-end experience for the buyer, not visualized as a funnel.
  • Key stat: only 5% of potential customers in any given category are “in market” (i.e. ready to purchase) at any given time.
  • Brand building is about marketing to the 95% who are not currently in market but represent future buyers, priming them to think of your brand when they are ready (known as mind share).
  • Performance marketing can only work its magic on the 5% who are in market, so its maximum impact is inevitably constrained.
  • Companies are largely valued on future sales (what their revenue and earnings are likely to become) and brand building helps deliver something memorable that underpins those future sales.
  • Performance marketing remains important because it speaks to finance, which is the department controlling your budget! Financial analysis responds to value creation, which gives marketing influence at the corporate level. Brand marketers needs to do a better job of quantifying their impact (hence lots of emerging science and AI in this area), since short-term wins tend to capture more attention even though 95% of buyers aren’t in market and 80% of sales are long-term!
  • The second most influential group (after finance) is sales, which is usually an expensive team and needs to operate at maximum efficiency. Performance marketing aligns directly with sales.
  • Latest research suggests that while 60% brand marketing, 40% performance marketing is the optimum spend balance for B2C, it should be closer to 50%/50% for B2B because more effort is required to close B2B deals with longer sales cycles and more complex buying processes.

Growing a B2B Brand

  • Mind share drives market share. Creating ‘mind availability’ (ease with which a person recalls your brand) should be the most important objective in B2B advertising.
  • Reiterated the 95/5 rule mentioned above. Only 5% of your potential customers are in market at any given time. This means about 20% will be in market at some point during a year, leaving 80% of your ads hitting people who aren’t ready to buy yet.
  • It is largely a myth that ads move people through the buying journey in the short term. Their biggest impact is making future buyers (the out-of-market group) more familiar with your brand.
  • When a buyer moves in market, research shows that they usually consider at most two brands when making their purchase, based on which ones are most mentally available. If you’re top of mind when they are ready, you are most likely to win their business.
  • The biggest brand is the one with the most mind share. This has been shown to be much more important that brand perception. Your biggest challenge is usually brand un-awareness – most people don’t think about your brand at all!
  • Whether you like it or not, you compete with the biggest brands in your category, irrespective of image or positioning.
  • Big brands have huge advantages. Most customers defect from smaller brands to larger brands because it’s what they think of first or can encounter most easily – mental and physical availability.
  • Buying relationships are seldom monogamous – most customers buy from two or more suppliers. They likely buy more from larger players than from you. This is even true in niche, specialized segments (e.g. aviation fuel), not just consumer goods.
  • Brand loyalty is strongly correlated to market share. Taking care of existing customers is important but not sufficient. You must grow your market share to grow customer loyalty. Usage and perception drive attitude.
  • Important to spread your marketing spend throughout the year because recency plays a major role in mental availability (i.e. people remember the brands they’ve seen most recently).
  • Use consistent branding across all your assets to increase familiarity. The messaging should be about the customer (and therefore vary depending on the audience), while the branding is about you (and should not change).

Thought Leadership

  • Most industries don’t have an established “WebMD” in their space. What would it take for you to become that WebMD (or join them) in your sector?
  • Many businesses say that “trust” is important to them, but they aren’t willing to pay the price to earn it!
  • Steps to becoming more trusted (by Marcus Sheridan):
    • Talk openly about who you are and are not a good fit for.
    • Talk openly about prices/rates, what drives them up/down, why some companies are so expensive/cheap, and where you fall.
    • Lower the readers guard by saying things that surprise them. This can be as simple as publishing unbiased content about your sector.
    • Show them your ‘secret sauce’ since very little is truly proprietary and hardly anybody is looking to steal the info and compete with you.
    • Be willing to compare yourself to others, without bias.
    • Talk about the competition without opinion. Stick to the facts.
  • Make sure you have buy-in from the top on what trusted content looks like and have someone on the team own content production to ensure consistency. Quantity and quality of content both matter.

Fun Quotes

  • “I follow the Pajama Principle – if an activity requires me to change out of my pajamas, I avoid it on principle.” – Dharmesh Shah, Founder & CTO, HubSpot
  • “The greatest thing by far is to be the master of metaphor” – Aristotle
  • [About good marketing] “It’s a dialog not a monolog!” – Kristen LaFrance, Director of Community, Repeat
  • “Being young and dumb is an advantage – a powerful combination of enough know-how, bravado, arrogance, and stupidity. As you get older, failure hurts more because of the cumulative scars.” – David Chang, Chef, Restauranteur, & Entrepreneur, Momofuku.
Topics:Marketing StrategyLeadershipTechnologyCustomer ExperienceBrand