The Top Sessions and Speakers at Inbound 2017

Team CallRail just got back from Inbound 2017 in Boston, MA, and we’re still reeling from all the excellent panels, speakers, and events. There were so many excellent talks to attend, with industry leaders speaking on hot new trends, the latest and greatest marketing technology, advice for aspiring creatives, and even hosting Q&As on how to make it as a celebrity chef.

If you couldn’t make it this year, Team CallRail has assembled a list of highlights with some of the best panels and speaker sessions we saw at Inbound this year.

The Psychology of Video, by Tyler Lessard

Marketers have been bullish on video content, and for good reason — audiences are engaging far more with video than with text, and ads in video are proving to be more effective at generating ROI than regular web ads.

For his Inbound 2017 panel, Vidyard VP of Marketing Tyler Lessard set about explaining the psychology behind why video is so effective at capturing our attention, and how marketers can best capitalize on this emerging trend. “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 said, adding that our brains evolved to process visual stimulus much more effectively than text.

But that doesn’t mean it’s enough to simply turn on your webcam, record and publish a vlog, and call it a day. Lessard cited study after study showing how the most effective top-of-funnel video marketing is content that has a definitive story arc, the kind you’d see in a three-act play or major motion picture: Well-defined characters encounter a problem, overcome that problem, and arrive at an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

“The human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text, and this figure is direct from the latest neuroscience,” he said. Lessard continued, explaining how “Storytelling, or the conflict-to-resolution arc, is psychologically proven to develop empathy and neural coupling, which can help convince and convert customers.”

It sounds like a lot to take in, but the payoff for marketers is well worth the effort, Lessard argues: “Sales teams who use video to connect with prospects see a 300% increase in their response rate over email.”

The Personalization Creepy Scale, by Emma Knox

Personalization and targeted advertising can yield big dividends for data-savvy marketers — it’s one of the most effective tools in our arsenal, after all — but what happens when your targeting gets too specific and granular? It can actually turn your customers off and make them far less likely to convert, argued Emma Knox at her session.

Knox, the senior manager of demand generation at Hubspot, had plenty of hard data to back up her assertion: “74% of online consumers get frustrated when online content appears that has nothing to do with their interests, and 67% of consumers find it intrusive when third-party data is used to personalize marketing.”

The question, then, is how to give consumers a relevant and targeted experience without crossing the line and coming off as creepy. For Knox, the answer requires knowing how customers engage with your content — their “digital body language” — and understanding that over-personalization is just as off-putting to someone as invading their personal space in real life.

When someone is socializing in-person, they need to be able to understand nonverbal cues and body language in order to communicate effectively. Knox argues that the same principles apply to targeted marketing and that properly reading your audience’s digital body language will help increase the effectiveness of your advertising without turning them off.

“The best source of marketing is word-of-mouth, but the worst source of marketing is also word-of-mouth,” she explained. “So don’t bombard prospects, and don’t piss them off, because you’ll have to spend a lot of money to replace them.”

Brit Marling & Issa Rae Spotlight Interview

Issa Rae, the co-creator of the hit HBO show ‘Insecure,’ took the main stage at Inbound 2017 alongside ‘The OA’ creator Brit Marling for a freewheeling Q&A on fame, creativity, and the importance of authenticity in your work. Though the duo came from different backgrounds and created wildly different shows, they had the same message: Never give up on a good idea, no matter how many times you’re told it’s impossible.

Rae recounted how, despite the smash success of her YouTube series ‘Awkward Black Girl,’ she had to relentlessly pitch her ideas to nearly a dozen TV studios before finally getting the creative freedom she needed at HBO: “Having ownership of my project was more important to me than selling my creativity to some producer.”

Marling, the creator of Netflix’s dystopian sci-fi series ‘The OA,’ remembers having to subside on lentil stew for nearly seven years in order to finally bring her project to fruition. “You have to take a step back because maybe it’s not about validation, it’s about forging your own path through the wilderness,” she said. “You have to chart your own course.”

Marling continued: “There was a period of a good seven years where I just had to keep doubling down on myself, when no one else was doubling down on me, and that’s hard!” Rae and Marling both stressed how critical their self-determination was in bringing their projects to fruition, which is something that just about any marketer or content creator can relate to.

And it was that exact drive and clarity of purpose that ended up making their shows critical darlings, as Rae explained: “Whenever I create anything, I’m only thinking about the people I know I can make laugh. Fine-tuning to a specific audience actually helped me find humor that was universal and relatable.”

Data and the Borg, by Natalie S. Burke

Though most of Inbound 2017’s speakers and panels were unreservedly optimistic about our data-driven future, Natalie S. Burke’s session presented a more balanced and sober take. Burke, the President and CEO of the nonprofit Common Health ACTION, used a metaphor cribbed from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation‘ to explore both the potential upsides and pitfalls of our increasing reliance on data and analytics to make business decisions.

On one side of Burke’s ‘Star Trek’ metaphor is the android crewman Data, who represents ‘small data’ — limited sets of information that require human input and interpretation in order to be useful. On the other side are the civilization-consuming cyborgs known as The Borg, who represent ‘big data’ — analytics that become so big and broad that the human element disappears from the picture entirely.

“Scientists know that 75% of human behavior is irrational and unpredictable,” Burke explained during her session. “Yet, we’re increasingly using big data across more and more fields, under the belief we can predict the future.”

Burke argues that while small data can help reveal essential truths and insights about human nature, an over-reliance on big data can have the opposite effect: It can remove you from the fact that your audience is made up of real people. She illustrated her point with statistics from city police departments like Chicago and New York that adopted predictive analytics; enforcement and arrests went up, but actual crime rates remained unchanged in these cities.

Her proposed solution isn’t to abandon big data entirely, but to instead interpret it through the lens of smaller datasets that illuminates your audience’s humanity: “We need to use data for storytelling, to tell the truth of people’s experiences, not to use data to just tell a story… We are all stewards of data now, in some way shape or form, and we need to be good stewards.”

Improv: Not just for Comedians, by Katie Goodman

Katie Goodman got her start as an aspiring comedian on the mean streets of Los Angeles, scrapping it out for more than a decade before she co-founded her own performance troupe, Broad Comedy. In her panel, Goodman outlined how the skills she developed through improv informed how she’d manage and market her comedy group.

“Improv has become a laboratory for the rest of my life. There’s so much rich material about how we use improv skills in our personal lives,” she said. “We all need to know how to be authentic, and how to stay present in the moment.”

Goodman called improv a “laboratory for the rest of my life,” explaining how improv can teach you to silence your inner criticism and doubts, in order to unleash your full creative potential. The best principles of improv likewise apply to any situation where you’re working collaboratively, since effective group comedy requires teamwork.

Or, as she put it in her closing remarks: “If you want to change and grow, you have to allow yourself space to get lost, and you have to be comfortable with that.”