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Top Ten Takeaways From the Inbound Marketing Summit

The best marketing conferences combine education, inspiration and entertainment with plenty of face time and networking. At the recent Inbound Marketing Summit 2011, the consensus of the nearly 800 attendees scored it highly on all counts.

Drawn from conversations with fellow attendees, plus a few days to mull over the flood of ideas, this list of the Top 10 takeaways reflects the mix of strategic concepts and actionable ideas featured at the summit.

1. Jump off the competitive treadmill – If your company disappeared today, would your customers truly be lost, or could they just switch? Harvard Business School’s Youngme Moon explored how being meaningfully different cultivates irreplaceability and brand loyalty. To get there, we need to go beyond analyzing competitors and markets, blaze new paths and take risks. This is a scary proposition – but it’s a vital factor in some of the biggest successes in business.

2. Focus on the middle of the funnel – In the transition from outbound to inbound marketing, most of us still aren’t doing enough to nurture and transform initial interest into bona fide relationships and sales opportunities. How do we change that? By creating more personalized customer experiences with our sites, content and campaigns. One example: Greg Head of Infusionsoft suggested creating custom campaigns for hot, warm and cold leads.

3. Remember, nobody likes being sold to – My favorite quote from HubSpot’s Dharmesh Shah: “I didn’t wake up on Monday and say, ‘I want to be a lead in someone’s funnel!’” When we get bogged down in goals and metrics, tools and tactics, it pays to step back and consider our prospects’ and customers’ perspectives. As Shah put it, “Forget B2B. Think B2H(uman).” We should review – and improve – our marketing with this idea in mind.

4. Rethink your social media ROI – Just because social site check-ins and QR codes have tons of buzz, doesn’t mean they’re right for every organization. The Boston Celtics still get more list sign ups at home games from paper forms than QR codes, and only a small fraction of the team’s fans check in at the Garden, according to Pete Stringer. Looking for a formula to demonstrate social ROI? Hearsay Social’s Clara Shih suggests “Social CLV” – take your standard customer lifetime value metric, then add word-of-mouth referrals, new sales ideas and customer support savings. That’s a lot more valuable than just a tally of fans and followers.

5. Plan for failure (to help avoid it) – Along with several tips for enchanting your customers and colleagues, one idea from Guy Kawasaki really stood out for me: When embarking on a new initiative, conduct a “pre-mortem” – prepare for how the initiative could fail, list the factors and obstacles, then find ways to overcome the potential problems. Think of it as a SWOT analysis on steroids.

6. Keep it simple with social – While Dan Zarrella’s session on the science of social contained dozens of stats and charts, one quote elegantly summed up the underlying thread: “Don’t crowd out your own content … let it breathe, like a nice glass of wine.”

7. Don’t fall behind on Google+ – Although still a social newcomer, the impact of Google+ is evident in the new features being rushed out by Facebook and Twitter. And despite its smaller user base, the real story with Google+ is the convergence of social and search, and its impact on search marketing, both organic and paid. To paraphrase Chris Brogan, this isn’t the channel you want to be caught on the sidelines for, waiting for the tipping point to arrive.

8. Build a social organization – “Being a social business today means not just your sales people are selling – it’s your whole organization,” said Jon Ferrara of Nimble. You don’t need every employee in your social stream, but today it’s certainly wise to have your key departments represented – or at least a social presence that is aware, active and responsive. A related point: Your social presence isn’t just there to support prospects and customers, but also the influencers. Is your organization cultivating communities that let these audiences become part of the company?

9. Rethink your approach to change – We all know how hard it is to change, from simple habits to an organizational culture. Part of the problem is that we tend to go about it in absolutely the wrong way, says author Dan Heath. We rely on the rational instead of the emotional, and think that change comes from careful analysis, when many times it’s driven by what we can see and how it makes us feel. This concept doesn’t have a quick fix, but it’s well worth exploring in more depth when formulating new, groundbreaking projects.

10. Use authenticity to inspire and engage – Author Ben Mezrich’s session was perhaps the most unusual. He didn’t have charts, tactics or case studies. He talked about failure, gambling and sex on the moon (his new book). Favoring anecdotes over slides, he kicked off after 5:00 p.m. And held the audience’s attention by using real, personal stories laced with inspiration and humor. The million-dollar question: How can we do the same with our inbound marketing efforts?

About the Author

Hunter Boyle is the Senior Business Development Manager for AWeber. As a seasoned optimization and content marketing strategist, Hunter also speaks and blogs about multichannel marketing with an emphasis on SMBs and nonprofits. Follow him on Twitter at @hunterboyle or on Google+