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Marketing’s up for Debate: the Hidden Takeaway from Two Days at HubSpot Inbound 2020

Marketing conferences are opportunities for education, yes, but also networking and grabbing every piece of vendor swag you can get your hands on. With the move to virtual experiences, many of the distractions and swag have been removed, giving attendees a renewed focus on the content. And this year’s HubSpot Inbound was filled with it.

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One of our favorite presentation formats HubSpot used this year was live debates. It forced speakers to go beyond high-level fluff and provide nuanced, and contradictory, arguments. The debate format reminds us that marketing isn’t a science that’s already figured out. It’s always evolving and there is often more than one answer to every question. At Br8kthru, we push ourselves to always grow, innovate, and push beyond ‘best practices.’ Looking closely at this year’s HubSpot Inbound, we found a renewed sense of the value in the grey areas.

THE VALUE OF GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN

Trends and best practices exist for good reason. There are use cases where the strategies and tactics have led to success. But technology changes. Consumer sentiment changes. And sometimes a trend gets it wrong. One popular school of thought for advertisers: the more personalized and targeted you can get with an audience segment, the better your campaigns will perform. In the presentation, “B2B Trends for the Contrarian Marketer,” Tyrona Heath of LinkedIn’s B2B Institute offers a differing view. Hyper- targeting can actually lead to higher costs than broad targeting, outweighing any benefit of higher conversion rates earned from the tight segmenting.

Just like thinking outside the accepted trends can lead to good things, blind agreement and harmony can stifle a team’s success. Amy E. Gallo, contributing editor of Harvard Business Review, focused her session on creating “productive tension.” Creativity, innovation, and solutions to complex problems rarely come from agreement. Rather, we need healthy conflict. Our varying points of view are assets, not hindrances. This is true for internal teams and for building collaborative Client relationships.

FOR THE UNKNOWN, TESTING IS CRITICAL

If grey areas exist, and not every great marketing tactic has been 100% figured out, then how do you find your best way forward? Testing. The classic answer every marketer will give to almost every question is, ‘it depends.’ Every situation Clients face is complex, in a unique time, in a unique competitive environment. Experience and critical thinking alone won’t solve every problem. You have to test, learn, and test again. Where a team’s experience can help is by knowing how to set up and execute a meaningful test. In Karen Hopper’s presentation on using Google Analytics segments, she reiterated the need to start with your goal. Your expected outcome.

Unknowns are going to remain unknown until we do the work to uncover valuable insights hiding beneath the surface. It’s important to throw assumptions aside, even assumptions steeped in years of industry experience. Growth isn’t about applying the same concepts over and over in every situation. It’s about testing, learning, and adapting your concepts to fit new situations.

ONE SIZE CAN’T FIT ALL

HubSpot Inbound utilized the debate format to highlight some good back and forth on various marketing topics. All were friendly debates; just data-backed opinions against other data-backed opinions. One that stood out across the two days was AJ Beltis of HubSpot versus Ashley Faus of Consciously Corporate, discussing gated content versus ungated content.

Both participants made great points, but what really stuck out was both kept including the other’s points in their own. Neither was ready to say only gated content or only ungated content. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to putting content behind a form or leaving it open for everyone. And there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to any of our Clients’ challenges. We test because ‘it depends,’ and we look for new, creative solutions, because our solution for one client can’t be copy and pasted to solve another.

We attended HubSpot Inbound to learn best practices. We left HubSpot Inbound with the assurance to keep questioning those best practices and to keep challenging ourselves and our team members to lean into the spirit of debate.