Inbound 2017 returned to Boston, MA, last week, for the sixth annual event hosted by inbound marketing software provider Hubspot. More than just a marketing conference, Inbound is part Ted Talk, part social mixer, and part seminar on cutting-edge marketing tactics and technology. 

And there were plenty of talks and panels offered for professionals of every stripe: Sessions on the latest in big-data-driven targeted marketing, discussions about the future of multimedia storytelling, and inspirational talks from big names in tech and entertainment. From data analysts to content writers, there was a session or panel for everyone and anyone.

Couldn’t make it to Inbound this year? Not to worry: There were a ton of events at Inbound 2017 — way more than one person could attend by themselves — so we’ve boiled things down to the top trends and highlights the CallRail team experienced at this year’s event.

Powerful stories make for powerful marketing

‘Storytelling’ was on the lips of just about every attendee and speaker at Inbound 2017. More and more businesses understand that it’s not enough to pitch a product to your audience, you also need to inspire them emotionally and make them feel like they’re part of a larger, more meaningful movement.

Indeed, it’s fashionable for anyone from a UX designer to a CRM manager to think of themselves a ‘storyteller’ these days, and the speakers and attendees at Inbound 2017 were no exception. More than a dozen sessions were held on how to take storytelling principles that were first developed for stage and screen, and then incorporate them into a truly next-level marketing strategy.

“We all need to know how to be authentic, and how to stay present in the moment,” said Katie Goodman, founder of the improv troupe Broad Comedy, at her session. Goodman went on to explain how the skills she developed learning comedy as a young-and-hungry twentysomething helped inform the marketing she would later do while helming Broad Comedy.

“Growth in improv requires taking risks, just like it does in business,” she explained. “You need to be your badass self regardless.”

The ethics of big data

Multiple speakers and panels touched on an issue that’s of growing concern for marketers: How to effectively use data to boost your marketing while still maintaining robust ethical standards that protect both you and your customers.

With the recent Equifax data breach and related stories about the effectiveness of data-driven targeting, many sessions this year explored the potential misuse and abuse of data and analytics. While none of the speakers at Inbound 2017 went so far as to advocate a European-Union-style regulatory scheme for big data, almost everyone agreed that more robust internal oversight and ethical frameworks were sorely needed

One compelling session from Emma Knox, senior director for demand generation at Hubspot, explained this issue in a way that’s particularly relevant for marketers: The overuse of data for targeting and personalization can actually turn off your audience, and make them far less likely to engage with your content and convert.

“If your targeting is both too broad and too deep, you’re going to end up with a lot more tinfoil hats,” she said during her session. “The antidote to creepiness is engagement — understanding digital body language.”

The video revolution is coming

If you’re reading this piece, you probably already know that the advertising industry is in the midst of big changes as it transitions from text-and-image-based content into marketing that leans heavily on video — the ‘pivot to video,’ as it has become known (to varying degrees of applause and scorn).

There’s good reason for marketers to be excited about the coming video revolution: It’s psychologically proven to be more stimulating and engaging than content composed of just text or images.

“The human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text, and this figure is direct from the latest neuroscience,” Tyler Lessard, VP of marketing at Vidyard said in his session. “You can create a much bigger and more impactful story with 60 seconds of video than you can with 6,000 words of text.”

Lessard also cited plenty of hard data to explain why he was so bullish on video — one eye-popping statistic he included in his session was that sales teams who use videos to communicate with prospects see a 300% increase in conversions over teams who only use email. “The best way to be educated is through human interaction, but the next best way is through video,” he said.

Representation and diversity matters

Over the last few years, the tech industry has grappled with how to ensure that women and minorities are better represented in the field, whether in programming or the C-suite. While there’s still a ways to go, there were plenty of speakers and sessions at Inbound that spoke to how greater diversity of people leads to greater diversity of thought, which is a win-win for any business.

Keynote speakers like former First Lady Michelle Obama and ‘Insecure’ creator Issa Rae earned several standing ovations as they waxed poetic on why representation matters so much in the work they do. And former World No. 1 professional tennis player Billie Jean King held a rousing talk on the importance of equal opportunity and equal pay in the world of sports and beyond.

While there’s no fast and easy answer to how to increase diversity and improve representation — and many of the speakers cautioned against the idea that there’s a ‘magic bullet’ solution to this issue — Inbound 2017 showed that this is a question that’s still fresh on everyone’s mind.

That was a brief taste of everything we saw at Inbound 2017, but there was even more to digest that we didn’t get to cover here. There’s more in-depth content on the way from other members of team CallRail who attended this year’s event, so stay tuned for our comprehensive writeups of this year’s top sessions and keynote events.

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