What do SEO experts, helicopters, and Cyndi Lauper have in common? I found them all at Inbound 2012. The Inbound Conference is one of the largest marketing conferences in the world and it’s hosted by HubSpot, makers of the marketing automation software that we use at SpinWeb.
Inbound 2012 was held in Boston at the Hynes Convention Center and was a very impressive event. From stellar keynotes and business talks to rocking after parties, this conference was a unique journey into the art and science of inbound marketing. The following is my feedback on the aspects of the conference that I took part in.
Without a doubt, the best part of Inbound 2012 was the keynote presentations. They were all amazing. Seriously. Absolutely amazing. Ranging from the more technique-focused talk by Rand Fishkin on SEO to the more conceptual talk by Susan Cain, I was riveted by them all.
David Meerman Scott gave a talk titled “Inbound NOW” which covered the new realities of marketing. His presentation was an interesting dive into some of the specific types and components of inbound marketing and I especially liked his explanations and examples of newsjacking.
Rand Fishkin’s talk, “How to Leverage SEO to Expand the Power of Inbound Marketing”, was a humorous but deep dive into the current state of SEO, and how SEO techniques relate to the “short man” bias that we find in the online dating context. Rand, who is the CEO & Co-founder of SEO Moz, was entertaining, extremely thought-provoking, and a terrific presenter.
Brian Halligan, HubSpot CEO & Co-founder, and Dharmesh Shah, CTO & Co-founder, took the stage twice. The first time was the opening keynote which involved a fairly corny/awesome lead in that featured them entering from a helicopter (via video) and then taking the stage in orange jumpsuits. The second time they took the stage, it was to introduce HubSpot 3, which has been covered in a previous post on how HubSpot is enhancing marketing automation features. I won’t lie, the new HubSpot features are pretty mouth-watering and I can’t wait to try them out.
Gary Vaynerchuk (a.k.a “Gary V”) was a huge hit due to his irreverent presentation style, intensely high energy, amazing ability to tell a story, and most of all – his powerful message. Gary has a talent for cutting out all the crap and getting to the root of what’s important in marketing. His talk was a massive (and necessary) kick in the butt, punctuated by his liberal use of f-bombs and colorful language which was very effective in this case. The crux of his message? Marketers ruin everything so make sure you care about people because that will never go out of style. Never ever miss a talk by Gary V. Ever.
As good as the other keynotes were, my favorite keynote was by Susan Cain. Susan’s talk was titled “Quiet: How to Harness the Strengths of Introverts to Change How We Work, Lead, and Innovate” and amidst all the awesome hype and shiny things that made the conference so much fun, this keynote was a powerful and thoughtful journey into the creative mind of the introvert. I cannot describe how much I loved this talk. As a fairly strong personality, I often find myself devaluing introverts simply because they are not as outgoing and “socially engaged” as extroverts. Big mistake. After Susan Cain’s talk, I left feeling enlightened and with a much better understanding of just how creative and valuable introverts can be with the right support and environment. It is not hyperbolic at all to say that Susan’s message completely changed my life and how I now relate to others.
As a VAR (HubSpot Partner Agency) I attended most of the VAR track sessions, which a few exceptions. Some were good. Some were not. Overall, I was pleased and here is my take on what I saw.
The first session I attended was “How to Create a True Culture of Inbound with your Clients” by Marcus Sheridan. Holy cow! I laughed, I cried (because I was laughing so hard), it better than Cats. That’s probably because Marcus is The Sales Lion. This was one of my favorite sessions in the conference (my other favorite being Marcus’ other session) and it totally knocked my socks off. He explained how to creatively and effectively pull content out of your clients and get them to enjoy doing it. All this while he bounced around the room joyfully shouting at us like a drill instructor from a Disney movie. It was H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S and I loved the presentation and got a ton of great ideas.
Next, I attended “Ditch the Pitch” by Corey Beale and Jeetu Mahtani, Channel Sales Managers from HubSpot. This one was sort of “meh” and there were a few good points but nothing earth-shattering or particularly innovative.
After that, I headed over to the Innovations track to sit in on “Social 3.0” presented by Tim Reis, Head of Social and Mobile Solutions, Americas, Google. I was looking forward to this one (hey, the presenter is a google exec!) but ended up being disappointed. All the presenter really did was show commercials (including Google+ videos) and talk about how social media has evolved. Nothing really interesting or educational at all. From all the typing I heard around me, I could tell that others were not really engaged, either.
My final breakout session from Tuesday was “How to Turn Project Requests into Lifelong Clients” presented by Daniel Lynton, CEO of LyntonWeb. I had high hopes for this presentation because Daniel started off by throwing funny Inbound/Lauper-themed t-shirts into the audience which set a lighthearted tone. However, as he dig deeper into the presentation, it was sort of a standard review of how to set up client retainers and nothing really exceptional.
Then, I went to see Cyndi Lauper… but more on that later.
On day 2 (Wednesday), I started off in the Advanced track with “How to Create Ebooks & Webinars Your Prospects Will Love” presented by Maggie Georgieva, Inbound Marketing Manager at HubSpot. This was a solid presentation with great concepts. Maggie didn’t necessarily blow my mind with anything revolutionary but her message was clear and her ideas helped me confirm that we (at SpinWeb) were on the right track. Maggie is a solid presenter and gave a well-organized and engaging talk.
One of the presentations I was most looking forward to was Paul Roetzer’s “The Art and Science of Selling Agency Services” via the VAR track. I have read Paul’s book (The Marketing Agency Blueprint) and got a lot of value from it. Paul obviously runs a great agency and has a lot of knowledge to share. His presentation style is direct, down to earth, and engaging and it was a great presentation on how to approach the problem of scaling a digital agency. Paul was also kind enough to stick around and answer questions from about 30 other attendees (including me) afterward. Super-nice guy and wealth of knowledge.
As an experienced agency owner, I was not planning to attend any of the beginner tracks. However, after attending Marcus Sheridan’s session the day before, I had to check out his other one. So glad I did! His second session was titled “7 Content Ideas to Blow Up Your Brand, Business and Sales in 2012 and Beyond” and wow was it great. I got a ton of new ideas from Marcus that I hadn’t even considered. Again, his presentation style was an absolute riot and was one of my favorite presentations.
After this, my brain was sort of fried so on Thursday I sort of bounced around between some different tracks while catching up with my HubSpot account manager (hi, Mark!) and doing some general networking and snacking with my BFF, Allissa Haines. I also heard some good feedback about other sessions, including positive reviews of “How to Become an Inbound Marketing Ninja in 5 Easy Steps” and “Email Marketing That People LOVE”, both reviewed by Allissa.
My co-worker, Katie Pellerin, also attended some of the other sessions and especially liked “Why You Get Fired” by Julie Devaney, Account Manager at HubSpot.
Overall, I got good value from the breakouts. Some of the presenters didn’t seem very comfortable or engaging but there were enough great presenters that it was well worth the investment.
So enough of the business talk. How much fun was the conference? Well, it turns out HubSpot knows how to party. In the months and weeks prior to the conference I was inundated with hype about Cyndi Lauper – “Oooohhhh… look! Cyndi Lauper is playing at Inbound 2012! Holla!” By the time I got to Boston I was pretty much tired of hearing about her already. However, on Tuesday night I found out why I was wrong to underestimate her. Cyndi Lauper can rock. Seriously.
Allissa and I hung out at her performance for a bit and were treated to a fantastic show. High energy, great music, and lots of fun. There was an awkward moment when Cyndi Lauper stopped a song to yell at the lighting guy. What made it more awkward was that the lighting “guy” was a machine. Oops. Guess Cyndi was used to playing actual concerts and not marketing conferences.
Other than Cyndi Lauper, there were plenty of other opportunities for fun at Inbound 2012. There were parties in the evening, food (except for when they ran out of breakfast on Tuesday and made Katie Pellerin very sad), and a very well-designed exhibit space complete with ultra-swanky c
hairs and couches. I didn’t attend the parties since I wanted to spend time with friends and co-workers in more quiet dinner settings but I got a lot of feedback from others that the conference as a whole was a lot of fun.
Conclusions & Takeaways
So what’s my executive summary of Inbound 2012? If I had to turn my impressions into bullet points, I would say:
- HubSpot knows how to put on a terrific conference
- HubSpot also develops some amazing software and is good at showing it off
- Inbound marketing pros are super nice and very willing to help others
- HubSpot did a great job of securing outstanding keynote presenters
- The breakout sessions were of varying quality
- It waswell worth the investment
My specific takeaways from the learning sessions would be:
- Content is still (or maybe once again?) king – the most effective component of inbound marketing is quality content
- Don’t get too hung up on SEO, create outstanding content and things tend to work out (see above)
- You know more than you think you do
- Do crazy things like promote your competitors and you’ll get more website traffic
- Keep working on scaling your agency and trying new things – no one else has it all figured out yet, either
- Show personality in your marketing
- You have to care
An even more authentic endorsement of Inbound 2012 is probably a couple of the actions I took immediately following. I upgraded my HubSpot license to Enterprise while I was at the airport on the way home so I could start taking advantage of all the shiny new features. And even more importantly, I’ve already registered for Inbound 2013 and I plan to bring more people from my team with me next time.
Bottom line: Inbound 2012 was outstanding, high-value, and well-produced. I’ve been to a lot of conferences and this one blows the rest out of the water. If you go to one marketing conference in 2013, make it this one.
Michael Reynolds is President/CEO of SpinWeb – a digital agency located in Indianapolis, IN. As an Inbound Marketing Certified Professional with Honors Distinction, Michael regularly blogs, publishes educational industry content, and speaks at conferences around the country covering topics like social media strategies, inbound marketing, and technology.