Our Favorite INBOUND 2021 Sessions

INBOUND 2021 is a wrap, and once again HubSpot didn’t disappoint. This year, I joined Portent’s client partner team for three days of exceptional programming that covered all aspects of inbound marketing.

With all of the quality content, it was hard to narrow down our favorites! Below are the top takeaways from INBOUND 2021 that Leyla Church, Kyle Eliason, Kirsten Pickworth, Ann Robison, Matthew Taufa’asau, and I wanted to share.

Email Myths Busted! What’s REALLY Working Now!

Presented by: Jay Schwedelson, President & CEO, Worldata, and Founder, Subjectline.com

The question still gets asked a lot in the marketing industry – “Is email marketing here to stay?” The overwhelming answer is yes, but it will only be effective if you’re smart about it and you adapt to newer trends. In email marketing, every little thing matters.

Arguably the most important aspect of email marketing isn’t about the email content or the CTA; it’s elements that contribute to the open rate. You can’t have your clients read all about how awesome you are if you don’t get their attention and trust.

There’s a Lot You Can Do With the Email Name

Probably the biggest trend in email marketing is personalization with the sender name. Actual people names are much more effective than brand names.

Image courtesy of Jay Schwedelson

It’s worth noting that unsubscribe requests may go up, but this may not be a bad thing. Unsubscribers are generally less qualified, and it’s not worth the effort to market to everyone.

Another tip for use of sender names is to use different ‘friendly’ addresses for different purposes. It doesn’t take much time to change the display name that people see, so why not change it to something more aligned with the purpose of an email? If it’s a product update email, use something like “Portent Product Updates” as the display name. If it’s a new promotion, then use something like “Portent Promotions.” This establishes relevance immediately as well as allows for a dramatic increase in sending volume. Studies show that matching the display name more closely with the topic of the subject line offer increases open rates by over 34%.

There’s Even More You Can Do With the Subject Line

Coming up with a good subject line is almost an art form, but there’s a lot of good data to help you create a subject line that increases your open rate. Here are some great tips for a good subject line:

  • Use mistake subject lines. An example of this is, “Oops, we almost forgot to tell you about our free consultation. This delights users with the fact that they might have missed a great opportunity. (It’s worth noting that this may not work in six months because users will start to consciously identify this as a tactic.)
  • Use dots at the end of the headline. An example of this is “Have you seen…” or “Our sale starts in…” This creates suspense and increases open rates.
  • Bookend with emojis in the subject line. There’s a misconception that emojis are juvenile, but we’re seeing these used with B2B companies like Oracle for good reason. They grab attention and can communicate visually (and as we all know, visuals like infographics convey information much faster than words).

    Image courtesy of Jay Schwedelson

  • Don’t try to be too clever or funny. There’s a much bigger chance that you miss the mark, and the upside is not too valuable.
  • Use words in the subject line that are known for increasing open rates. Words that convey scarcity (ex: Limited, In-Stock) will compel users to act. Also, don’t be shy of using “free” in your subject line. Some marketers consider “free” a spammy word, but if you use it well, it indicates tremendous value to the user.

    Image courtesy of Jay Schwedelson

But again, a word of caution: use these tips now before the next trends come along.

From Delighting to Promoting

Presented by: Diana Zalaquett, Principal Channel Account Consultant for HubSpot

What does every marketing team want more of, in addition to budget? Feedback. We desire to know what’s relevant to customers, how we can improve their experience, and how we can keep them engaged. And we know that if we receive that feedback, we can improve our communication and services. But are we listening for that feedback?

According to Diana, “Loyal customers grow a business faster than sales or marketing.” And in order to retain and delight existing customers, we have to uncover their top friction points and high-effort experiences that lead to churn. Seeking feedback and sharing how you’re evolving your business will build loyalty and initial trust signals with new and referred customers too.

Image courtesy of Diana Zalaquett

Your Customers Want to Give You Feedback

Diana shared that 76 percent of customers expect companies to understand their needs, and 81 percent of customers said they would be willing to provide feedback if they knew it would be heard. Those facts present a few opportunities:

  • We need to ask for feedback to continually uncover friction points and delight customers.
  • We need to use the right type of feedback tool (Net Promoter, Customer Effort Score, etc.) to measure, understand, and respond to friction points.
  • We need to illustrate for customers how their feedback is being received and prioritized.

How to Receive and Use Feedback From Your Customers

Throughout the session, Diana shared opportunities for better use of feedback frameworks. Most agencies and organizations are likely familiar with the Net Promoter Score (NPS), but other tools can provide valuable insights at different points in the customer journey.

  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is a measurement of how satisfied a customer is with a specific interaction with a company.
  • Customer Effort Score (CES) helps you measure how much effort was required by your customers to get their problem solved. This method helps pinpoint the service issues that are most frustrating for customers.
  • In-App Surveys are the most effective way to gather customer feedback to improve your product.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures the likelihood a person will recommend your product or service. A customer is asked to respond on a scale of 1 to 10, “How likely are you to recommend {your business} to a friend or colleague?” The score is calculated by subtracting the % of Detractors scores (0-6) from the % of Promoters (9-10). This survey method is considered the best way to measure trends in customer satisfaction over time.
Image courtesy of Diana Zalaquett

For some customers, it’s more valuable to them to know that you’re promptly responding to and implementing changes based on their feedback. First, thank your customers personally via mail or email, then report back publicly at a later date on how you’re improving your services.

The A.I.A. framework can be used to measure customer experience:

  • Analyze customer satisfaction results
  • Identify the rate of and reasons for churn
  • Ask customers for product or feature requests

Use a Flywheel Model to Remain Customer-Focused

Many businesses, including HubSpot, have pivoted to a flywheel model instead of a funnel model for customer engagement. The benefit of the flywheel is that you speak to everyone as if they are already your customer, engaging them and delighting them from the beginning. And once you get it moving, you start attracting the right customers for your business.

Image courtesy of Diana Zalaquett

80 percent of CEOs believe they deliver superior customer experience, and only 8 percent of customers agree with that sentiment. That misalignment needs to change if customers are to remain loyal and become promoters of brands.

Diana offered the following approach for teams to establish a baseline of customer feedback and get the flywheel moving:

1. Map out your customer journey. Be sure to include customer experience after purchase and all touchpoints. Pay attention to the fact that this is your customer’s journey, not your competitor’s customer journey, and it will help you reach your target audience.

2. Listen to your team. Name processes that could be improved and what customers can get frustrated with. Some of the areas that could be assessed within an organization to remove friction for teams and their customers, and improve consistency, include:

  • Handoff points
  • Data source/location
  • Poor internal process
  • Confusing communications
  • “Not my problem” approach
  • Customers = a number
  • Manual approaches

3. Ask your customers for feedback. Use the Net Promoter Score to ask how your company is going and gain reviews of customer experience at different phases. Then conduct more targeted focus group conversations of 1:1 conversations with long-term customers to understand their loyalty, support needs, and overall experience.

4. Do something about the feedback. Start with evaluating the top friction points and focusing on low-hanging fruit opportunities. Then document and share the feedback with other internal stakeholders to get buy-in, collaborate on solutions, delegate opportunities for implementation. Examples might include revising communication channels, using AI, refining ease of use, improving convenience and responsiveness, and creating more personalization.

Ultimately, customer delight is everyone’s responsibility regardless of their job title or if they are in a customer-facing role. It’s a worthwhile investment knowing the $1.6 trillion is lost each year by businesses due to poor customer service and that customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than companies that aren’t. Diana’s talk was a thoughtful reminder of the importance of feedback in retaining and growing customers that will be your brand advocates.

How to Scale Thought Leadership

Presented by: Ashley Faus, Content Strategy Lead, Atlassian

Ashley started by asking the audience to think about whom they considered a thought leader, and then offered this definition: not celebrities, not entertainers, not sports stars or other famous people, but a “thought leader” refers to any knowledge workers in your industry or vertical.

Most organizations experience a one percent/ten percent split when it comes to thought leadership. The top one percent of the company (founders, C-suite executives, etc.) are the official spokespersons and influencers for the brand. Then, the bottom ten percent are out speaking, writing, and engaging with their community, but they aren’t really official, and they aren’t necessarily tied to the brand’s efforts.

Image courtesy of Ashley Faus

So what do you do with that middle 89%, who are interested in graduating from that ten percent to the top one percent of official thought leaders? You need a thought leadership framework.

The Thought Leadership Framework

A thought leadership framework is a key development to ensure you can scale your thought leadership efforts to respond as your industry, your organization, and your business objectives evolve. The goals of the framework accomplish the following:

  • Assess your current efforts (what’s working, what’s not)
  • Create a consistent and holistic plan (get everyone on the same page)
  • Create a pipeline to scale (thought leader succession plan/bench strength)
  • Make actionable recommendations (a path for someone becoming “official”)

Ashley emphasized that this framework will only be successful if you have a thought; if you are executing in novel ways, making improvements, or otherwise introducing something new or original. In other words, just because you are good at your job, doesn’t make you a thought leader.

Thought Leader Assessment Pillars

There are four pillars that support a successful thought leader:

Image courtesy of Ashley Faus

as your credibility starts to grow, you’ll go from citing your sources to eventually people citing you as a source.

Profile: start with the connections that you know, but then grow those connections until you only know 10% of them, but 90% of them know you.

Prolific: the only pillar that is completely in your control, it’s about how much you create. Start with one channel/content type but then expand.

Depth of ideas: start by codifying things that have proven to work for you and your team. But as your ideas grow, you’ll start to influence other industries.

The Approach

There are two ways you can successfully develop a thought leader. You can build a narrative in a topic area and craft it so multiple people can deliver it. Or you can build the person, by taking someone who already has traction in a topic area and shaping the story specifically for them. Either way, both rely on a successful framework:

  1. Establish the narrative (what you want to talk about)
  2. Determine how much depth you want to share
  3. Join the conversation (identify existing influencers on this topic, the outlets where the conversation is happening, and conferences to pitch)
  4. Develop your personal brand (voice and tone, signature look, personal stories you want to incorporate)
  5. Set up social (audit existing channels and activity, address gaps, and develop a process/train for ongoing engagement)
  6. Set up those speaking engagements (develop topics, build content, and pursue speaker coaching)


Building and scaling thought leadership relies on ownership from a variety of teams.

Image courtesy of Ashley Faus

However, the biggest piece of the puzzle is individual ownership. At the end of the day, if the person you are developing isn’t willing to put in the time and effort to have thoughts and share them, then they don’t really want to be a thought leader.

5G and the Tech Revolution

Presented by: Don McGuire, Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

INBOUND sat down with Qualcomm’s Senior Vice President and CMO Don McGuire for a quick and dirty 30-minute interview about 5G, possible routes it can take us, and what 5G means for advertising and marketing.

So, What is 5G Anyway?

The “G” in 5G simply stands for “generation;” 5G is the fifth generation of technology standard for broadband cellular networks. At its most basic level, 5G means faster, more efficient data transmission, aka faster downloads and uploads.

Why is 5G Important?

Don McGuire broke down the importance of 5G by explaining its relationship to previous generations.

For me, 1G phones always harken back to Saved By The Bell! and Zach Morris’ comically huge cell phone. The first generation enabled us to talk, while mobile, for the first time.

You might remember 2G back in the form of the classic brick Nokia phones and the original Blackberry; 2G allowed for a short-messaging layer, aka mobile texting, for the first time.

3G brought us the advent of the first smartphones, circa the early 2000s. 4G, with its even faster data-transfer rates and lower latency, gave us video on the go in the form of Netflix and YouTube apps, uninterrupted streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora, and the rise of “smart” home products, that can connect to our phones from almost anywhere.

Now, we have 5G. It’s faster than 4G. It’s more efficient than 4G. There’s less lag and latency. And the possibilities are mind-boggling to think about. Imagine trying to explain a 4G smartphone to someone back in 2004; we couldn’t even imagine its capabilities back then. We couldn’t conceptualize what was even possible, let alone the innovation that would result from the top creative minds.

We can certainly hypothesize about what new technology prospects 5G can bring us, and McGuire himself is particularly excited about virtual reality and augmented reality capabilities, but the fact is we don’t know yet, and I’m betting on the fact that 5G will allow for things we couldn’t even dream of in 2021.

Why Should 5G Matter to Marketers?

Here’s where marketers need to pay attention to Don McGuire. 5G most likely means the best and most accessible video capabilities yet. That means if your company isn’t already investing in video advertising, demo and walkthrough videos, and other promotional video material, you’re running out of time. Companies that are prioritizing and honing their processes around video creation will leave behind businesses that refuse to or delay innovating their approach to digital marketing.

Companies need to be making efforts to stay malleable as new technology is released, because I can tell you now, your competitors will outpace you.

Trusted Content: 7 Steps to Becoming the Most Trusted Voice In Your Space

Presented by: Marcus Sheridan, IMPACT

Once again, Marcus Sheridan shows why he’s an INBOUND favorite as he discussed how you can become the WebMD or Wikipedia of your business vertical. In other words, if someone has a question about products or services in your area, where do they go for information? If someone has a question about a sore throat or a sprain, where do they go? WebMD, likely. If someone wants to know about a type of product that you sell, how can you make sure that your site becomes the trusted resource?

All Companies Say Trust is Important

Sheridan points out that, of course, companies say they want to be trusted or seen as trustworthy. However, when it comes to putting in the time, effort, and money, most companies stop far short of delivering on this promise. Further, he illustrates that most companies don’t want to stray from their industry’s usual marketing and sales formulas; they won’t say what their competitors aren’t already saying or discuss why they’re a better fit for some customers. True thought leaders or trusted resources are willing to answer the questions their customers are asking. To become that trusted voice for your customer, he suggests following these seven steps:

1. Speak openly about why you’re a good fit for some customers and a bad one for others. This one seems like it might be a hard pill to swallow for some marketers and sales teams. Why would you cut out potential customers before they even call in for a sales consultation? If you’re expensive, that’s fine. Think of Apple here; they don’t hide that their products are better and cost more. If you only serve a small geographic area, let customers know this upfront. Setting these expectations saves both you and the customer time and money.

2. Talk about pricing. As we mentioned earlier, building trust is challenging, and hiding your pricing from customers will do little to help you earn it. He reminds you: If you’re not going to talk pricing, your potential customer will find someone who will. So give them at least a range of prices. Better yet, talk about what goes into that pricing. What causes prices to go up? Why are some services cheaper?

3. Learn the skill of disarmament. Much like a hostage negotiator, Sheridan wants you to start by asking that your content consumers drop their defenses while they read on. If you can create unbiased content that talks about your industry, you’ll earn much trust. You can compare your products against others, discuss advantages/disadvantages, and allow future customers to make their own decisions. Consider removing outcomes from your unbiased articles, he notes. A “reasons to buy” title will quickly show the true motives behind an article or guide. Instead, link out to additional resources that can move them along their particular user journey.

4. Show your secret sauce. Here Marcus challenges his attendees to create videos that describe how they make their products, especially if their competitors aren’t. A company that produces engaging, sticky content such as this will easily stand out from the pack.

5. Be willing to compare without bias. Circling back on a few points above, if you’re already transparent about customer fit and pricing, you can likely also compare yourself against your main competition. For example, if your primary user persona is looking for a full-stack marketing agency that includes all the bells and whistles AND is willing to pay for it, you can call that out as you compare yourself to competitors X and Y: X is great at paid search and paid social, while Y is a solid content producer at a reasonable price.

6. Talk about those negatives people search for. If your industry or products have been around for some time, you’re likely aware of the objections sales teams are trained to overcome. Directly address these objections in your content. It’s another excellent opportunity to talk about whether your service is the right fit. Another example he provides is a retailer that talks about their most and least serviced appliances.

7. Talk about the competition. He’s not advocating negative talk here. He states that you should do so “without opinion” and “stick to the facts.” In the example he gives, he lists his direct competition and ranks their work. It’s a savvy play. By talking about his competitors by name and assuming his site is already ranking as an authority in the space, he is actually showing up for their keywords.

Take off your marketer hats for a moment, and you’ll see that these concepts make a ton of sense. As a customer, have you hard-bounced from a website that refuses to show pricing? I sure have. Could you imagine if you were researching a site that discussed how they compare against another competitor you’ve seen during your decision phase? These are the questions that customers are asking while they consider you. And if it helps, it all boils down to a mantra that is also the title of his book: They Ask, You Answer.

Lessons Learned on the Road to Success

Presented by Oprah Winfrey, Global Media Leader, Harpo Productions

INBOUND wrapped up their holistic marketing conference with a closing session that only Oprah could deliver.

Taking us on a deep dive into self-reflection, Oprah opened with candid talk about some of the lessons she has learned through ‘aha’ moments triggered by mentors and friends like Maya Angelou, Stevie Wonder, and Jerry Seinfeld. It’s clear that Oprah’s intention for her session was to peel back the layers of intention itself, or as she puts it, “Understanding the why behind the why.”

To connect the dots between her personal belief in the principle of intention and her professional success, she shared Oprah Winfrey Show moments where an intentional alignment of their mission (to uplift, enlighten, encourage and entertain) with a specific story, guest, and the audience won her an Emmy.

Oprah went on to share how intentions can work against you, explaining that the reason we make mistakes is due to the lack of clarity behind our intentions. Actively reflecting on the role that we played/or are playing in a problem, listening to the whispers from life (intuition) can help us avoid a crisis.

She explained that daily reassessing of our intentions is the sweet spot of our work and our life, “Your life has its own pattern, and your real job is to start paying attention to how life is speaking to you.”

If the first half of Oprah’s session wasn’t inspiring enough, the second half of the HubSpot hosted conversation was equally thought-provoking, leaving you with more than enough to ponder as you look ahead at your legacy in life.

Here are some of the highlights from the Q&A between HubSpot’s Laura Moran and Oprah:

Laura: How are you intentional about keeping the two worlds of professional and personal life separate or bringing them together in an intentional way?
Oprah: The principle of intention can be applied to change the trajectory of your work and personal life. “I’m intentional about creating private time and space for myself.”
Key Takeaways: Your life is yours to design. Know that you teach people how to treat you, so be intentional about your work boundaries, phone time, etc.

Laura: How do you keep yourself honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and how do you bring in the right people to support you in areas that you are not strong in?
Oprah: “That’s not a hard question if you know yourself…This is challenging for people who are not self-aware and assume they know more than they do. I embrace, celebrate, and am thrilled to be in the room with people who are much smarter than me.”
Key Takeaways: Self-reflect and take inventory of your strengths & weaknesses. Play off your strengths and celebrate the strengths of your colleagues.

Laura: How do you choose what activities, causes, or work projects to participate in?
Oprah: Evaluate the history of the cause/benefit and understand if it will have a meaningful impact. “Can I have an impact, can I say something meaningful, and can it be heard?”
Key Takeaways: Consider what is most important to you and how you want to show up in life (personally & professionally).
Reorganize your priorities based on your intentions.

Laura: How do you approach the legacy of leaving the space better than you found it?
Oprah: “Maya Angelou said, ‘People might forget what you did or said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’ Martin Luther King said, ‘Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service.’ To leave the space better is to lead with compassion.”
Key Takeaway: As explained to Oprah by Maya Angelou, “Your legacy and everybody’s legacy is not the one thing you’ve done…Your legacy is every life you’ve touched.”

Final Thoughts

We left INBOUND 2021 with a ton of tips, tricks, and insights on the future of inbound marketing. We can’t wait to apply everything we learned to the work we do at Portent!

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