Inbound 2017: My Overview of the HubSpot Mega Marketing Conference

Jen Saunders
Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you haven’t heard, HubSpot is a marketing automation platform that uses the inbound methodology. It is designed to connect the right content, with the right buyers, at the right time and then nurture them through a funnel with “that human touch” so they can identify with the product or service and make a purchase.

HubSpot isn’t “just another tool” used by digital marketers; it is a big investment costing more than 10K a year, and it’s the command center of your entire marketing core (if you offer the inbound approach to clients). HubSpot has offices all over the world, their platform is in multiple languages, and they are known as THE Rolls Royce of marketing automation solutions.

Attending the conference in Boston last week was also an investment. Four of us went. The conference tickets were $800 a piece, then there was the cost of flights and hotel. I met people from distances as far away as Japan, Sweden, and France; there were more than 20,000 attendees who came to learn about the latest digital marketing techniques and how to apply them into an inbound strategy. Our inbound growth marketing agency was recognized by other attendees; we sat down on Partner Day, spoke with anticipation of the days to come, and these conversations were gilded with some high-level ideas.

One would assume that the sessions running over the course of four days (Partner Day included) would be of high value given HubSpot’s reputation, the people in attendance, and, hey, any event Michelle Obama would give a keynote address at would have to have high-level educational takeaways, right? Well….

  • Was the event worth attending? – Absolutely
  • Were the sessions valuable – Mostly, no
  • Was it great for networking? – Definitely

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Partner Day Sessions

These sessions were only open to HubSpot agency partners, so automatically I thought the content would be high-quality. Instead it was regurgitated industry news you can Google from home, old news, and bare basic “how-to” talks. The majority of the sessions I attended were focused on marketing strategy and content, and though there was nothing of high value, I did manage to unearth some valuable information from a session allowing me to address some thoughts and ideas about inbound growth stack takeaways to fuel ideas for our internal projects.

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Tuesday’s Sessions

Again, no high-level content. This was just another Moz Con. For example, there was a session on AI; a hot topic in digital marketing. The speaker got up there and spent the entire time defining what it it, how it’s used, and how we as marketers should view it. That was it. There was no case study, no strategic tips, nothing high-level. It was like listening to some junior high school student give a mandatory report for his English 101 class.

Then you had someone talking about storytelling in content. The speaker shared something personal about herself, illustrated how it prompted her to search for a service, and pointed out how the Google result sold her because it resonated with her own journey. Again, no strategy, no experiments or studies. It, and every session I attended this day, were remedial and contained the same information that has been floating around digital marketing blogs for the last two years.

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Wednesday’s Sessions

Now HERE is where the value was. Every session I attended on this day offered tips based on experiments, strategy, and high-level insights. By far the best session I attended was ‘The Secret Formula to Having a Successful Inbound Agency in 2018 and Beyond’ by Clodagh Higgins. She presented a well-structured, data-backed strategy for agency growth that opened my eyes to a number of things. Her session also reminded me what my goals are, why I’m in this business, and what I need to be doing to really make big waves in our industry.

The diamond partner CEO Panel was also of high value. Here, agency owners talked about challenges in their growth and shared their approach to managing people, growing revenue, and being an owner.

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Thursday’s Sessions and the Biggest Disappointment at Inbound 2017

Again, low-level content in every session. The biggest disappointment was Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz. At first I was really pumped and excited to hear him speak, as I’ve always regarded him as a high-level SEO guy. But it was a dog and pony show. He spent the first 15 minutes talking about his childhood, marriage, and how he loves being a feminist man. He talked about getting beaten up as a kid for being feminine, and then gave a lecture on gender awareness.

So, nothing against feminist men or masculine women (I myself am a masculine woman and members of the LGBT community) I didn’t fly all the way to Boston to get a lecture  on gender politics; I wanted to hear about high-level SEO and where it’s heading. He finally shared a list of high-quality domains valuable for sharing content, and showed the various ways you can rank on page one of Google (though he forgot to mention local pack nor did he relate any of this within the framework of strategy) so I suppose the 60 seconds it took for him to reveal this was worth it, but the rest of the session was filled with jokes and personal stories that had nothing to do with SEO or inbound marketing. Clearly, he is removed from Moz and too focused on his investments and other projects. He probably does his Whiteboard Friday sessions from home the day before, and then turns his back on his roots and spends 30 minutes telling people that he played with Care Bears as a kid, which is cool, but not something I paid to hear.

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The Rest of Inbound 2017

Michelle Obama’s address was amazing. She is a down-to-earth, witty, genuine voice, and a skilled speaker. Listening to her was a pleasure (I may not completely agree with her feminist views, but I respect them). I also appreciated her political standpoint and experienced a degree of schadenfreude in viewing the content held by those who didn’t appreciate her stance (what were they expecting?).

More important was her message of self-love and caring for others. This is something very relevant to our industry; it is often associated with the dreams and goals startups scribe in their mission statement, and lose sight of after reaching certain growth levels.

Back to Michelle Obama, I also experienced a blend of hilarity with shock. I witnessed several women crying at the sight of Michelle. Don’t get me wrong; I love Mrs. Obama, but women were physically crying and hyperventilating as if they were teens back at a Beatles concert. I was laughing at this, but also thinking…WTH?

HubSpot did a good job with food; there were a number of food trucks to choose from all paid for by the event, and staff were friendly and professional.

We also got to meet with our HubSpot sales rep, went over some strategic items, and I learned he went to college where I grew up (nice side-note).

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The Big Picture

We all look at things differently; our  previous experiences, expertise levels and backgrounds dictate how we process and value information. For me, this event was not nearly as good as I thought it would be (it was primarily very entry-level), but it was still worth attending. I got some great ideas, and though they were far and few between, I attended some very good sessions, networked with some incredible people, met a potential client, got to know my team members better, and I became more in touch with my “professional self”. I took these four days, the highs and the lows, and used the experience to examine myself: what am I doing right, what can I be doing better, what is best for our agency as a whole, and how can I best use my heart and talent to grow our company and give extra value to our clients. Life is art, work is art, and sometimes we need to step back, examine it, and look for positive resonance.

This business trip was also an investment in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of our individualism and team unity. We left Boston with a better understanding of our direction as an agency and as unique, creative marketers coming together as a strength (something almost impossible to put a price tag on). Oh, and i got to eat lobster rolls, drink New England beer, eat clam chowder, and go to Fenway Park (the Red Sox won, go Sox)!

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