I attended HubSpot’s INBOUND conference last week, where about 24,000 marketers descended on Boston for four days. It was a far cry from the 200 folks who were at the very first INBOUND a decade ago.
While at the conference I had a chance to spend a few minutes with Jon Dick, HubSpot’s VP of Marketing, and pick his brain on a few of the hot topics currently facing marketers today. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To see the full conversation watch the video below, or click on the embedded SoundCloud player.
Small Business Trends: HubSpot is known for inbound marketing and marketing in general. But recently you added Service Hub. You are the inbound marketing company. Now you’re saying, okay we have customer service too. How challenging is that from your perspective to sell?
Jon Dick: From my point of view, HubSpot is an inbound methodology company. And I think that unsurprisingly over the past 12 years the inbound methodology has just evolved a lot. It started with this inbound marketing thing. But pretty quickly we were like this sales space, something’s fundamentally changing here. And there’s something we have to think differently about.
And now, over the last 12, 24 months we’ve really been looking at the role of the customer and delighting the customer in the entire growth of a company. And we realized that it’s just such a core part to what inbound is. And so, you know if you think about inbound and its most abstract level, it’s about adding value to people.
It’s about adding value before you extract value. And I think what we believe is that the customer’s kind of been ignored in that. And that once someone buys they don’t get a ton more value from you as a company.
And so as a marketer I’ve personally found it a very natural extension.
Small Business Trends: So, being not only an inbound marketing company, you’re a VP of marketing and you deal with customers who are trying to figure a lot of this stuff out.
Jon Dick: Yeah.
Small Business Trends: With change and technological advancements, and best practices, what are some of the things that your customers are needing help with or are challenged by from a marketing perspective today?
Jon Dick: I’ll tell you what HubSpot has needed help with, and the things that my team has been really focused on. And we tend to publish about this stuff, and I think that drives our customer community to adopt a lot of these things.
I think first of all unsurprisingly and as everyone has witnessed, search has just continued to change a lot. And at the core on inbound marketing is the ability to track people through search. And so, we’ve spent a lot of time, and Matt Barby who runs our SEO team has spent a lot of time trying to figure out how you deliver a modern SEO strategy.
We’ve done a lot of testing. We’ve published a lot of content around it. And we’ve actually enabled our software to deliver on it. We call it the pillar content model. And it’s all around topic clusters, and pillar content, and how to really tell Google these days what your company does.
We’ve done a lot to figure out Google snippets. And how to help Google index your articles, and your blog posts for snippets because obviously that reduces your clicks from SERP a significant amount, so you want to get into those snippets. Search is always changing, continues to change. I think keeping up with that is something that our teams invested a lot in.
I think one of the most oft said things in the marketing space is that email is dead. They’ve been saying that for how long?
Small Business Trends: Forever it seems like.
Jon Dick: Probably since 2008 when you came to INBOUND. I don’t think email is dead. My personal observations around email are the following though. Number one, I don’t do a lot of communication with my friends anymore through email. And that has me a little bit worried as a marketer because it means I only communicate with my colleagues and with businesses through email.
And I think your personal indications are kind of a leading indicator of how you communicate in all walks of life. So that has me worried. And so one of the things we did last year was we said we gotta get our email kind of up to speed with how people want to be communicated through email. So we set a goal last year to cut our email volume 50 percent.
Small Business Trends: Wow.
Jon Dick: We just went, and we said we’re cutting volume. We’re going after all these pools that we’ve just been sending all of this email to. And guess what happened? We get more traffic to our website from email and 50 percent of the volume than we did when we were sending higher volume because people weren’t opening our emails anymore.
It just seemed like too much. So now folks are getting an email from us hopefully. You can tell me if this is true or not. Hopefully you’re finding that it’s valuable to you and you’re getting a lot of value from it.
Small Business Trends: Wasn’t that one of the stats that Dharmesh actually popped up about? Either Dharmesh or Brian, that if you send an email, and it’s kind of more of a self serving email that like 85 percent of the people actually think less of your brand?
Jon Dick: Yeah.
Small Business Trends: So in this case less is more.
Jon Dick: Less is literally more for us. I think that’s a common thing. I think getting obviously your chat experience great. Figuring out how to leverage bot automation. It is popular for very important reasons right? If you’re gonna fight so hard to get traffic to your website, create a way for them to engage with you right away.
The model that worked for a really long time was fill out this form, and we will follow up with you and you will follow up with us. And we will go back and forth. And we’ll find a time to talk and meet. And that was fine in a world where people weren’t overwhelmed with emails.
But things get lost now and people have been trained by companies like Netflix, and Lyft, and Amazon, to expect things now. And so, we’ve really done a lot of to embrace what we call just real time connections. The ability to book a meeting right away, the ability to chat right away. And I think that’s an important part of any company’s monetization strategy.
Small Business Trends: Well you mentioned chat bots. So I have to talk a little bit about the voice end of that, talking about voice interfaces. There’s a lot of people who have Alexa, and Amazon Echo devices, Google devices, Siri’s on the phone. Are you starting to see any kind of movement in terms of leveraging voice as an interface into some of the things that you’re doing around marketing?
Jon Dick: I think it’s going to be a very natural part of the evolution of chat bots candidly. I kind of view chat bots as a stepping stone in the path towards voice bots. Some things are always I think going to be done through text. And I think many things are going to be best communicated back to someone through text, or through image if you’re looking at data and stuff like that. I think it’s really hard to just hear a stream of data and make sense of it.
But I think that what we’re learning as marketers with chat bots is we’re learning how to create experiences, and leverage machine learning to actually create really good intuitive experiences that allow people to get to the answer they’re looking for more quickly.
And I think we’re just going to see that people are going to keep asking those questions, but they’re gonna ask them via voice instead of via typing it out themselves. I think we’ll see that. I think we’ll see a lot of companies in this space start launching voice services at some point fairly soon.
Small Business Trends: Do you think that with the Echo Show, who has the screen and Google is coming out with one of theirs, I think the Lenovo that has a screen. Do you think that’s going to impact or accelerate the adoption of voice from a consumer perspective in marketing?
Jon Dick: I think so. I mean again, I think it’s the fusion of information. One of the big things we’ve learned in the past 12 or 18 months is that people want options, they don’t just want to communicate on one channel. Think about your life and the way that you communicate right?
You know if you and I were trying to connect, you might email me on LinkedIn or InMail me on LinkedIn and I’ll be like, okay cool this is good. Can you email me so we can find a time? I’d give you my email, you’d send me an email. And then the day of I’d be like, what’s your mobile so I can text you? Like people just move through channels.
Anytime we think we know exactly what someone wants and try and limit them to that, we almost always have lower conversion rates and lower engagement rates. So when we open up options, on our website where we say, do you want to book a meeting? Do you want to chat? Or you want to call us? We see 50 percent of people book a meeting, 20 percent chat, and 30 percent call us.
Small Business Trends: So it’s all over.
Jon Dick: It’s all over the place. People want options. I think it’s the same thing when it comes to voice and visualization. To imagine that anyone just wants voice is probably not the right answer.
Small Business Trends: Right.
Jon Dick: It’s the same in my opinion with bots and forms. Bots and forms are the same product. It’s the same thing. It’s just an evolution of how you capture information and how you get people to the right content that they want. So I think we’re just going to see all of that kind of merge together. And I think the presence of screen is going to accelerate voice.
Small Business Trends: So there’s so much coming at marketers today. Consumers are smarter, their more tech savvy. And so much coming at them from a content attention span kind of thing.
Jon Dick: Yeah.
Small Business Trends: What do you suggest over the next 6 to 12 months is going to be the biggest challenge that marketers have to get across and get over in order to stay connected with customers over the long haul?
Jon Dick: I think it’s the data challenge more than anything else. I think we all can see and envision what the futures going to be like. And this ability to have this omni channel experience and multiple approaches to how to communicate with people effectively and have all the context.
I think the problem is going to be having all your data underlying it effectively. And I think having great CRM is an awesome first step for that. I think you’re going to see CRM’s evolve a whole bunch in the way that they fundamentally operate and the data underlying them.
I think that’s the biggest challenge. And I think unsurprisingly marketers who are really data savvy and can help envision how that needs to evolve are going to be really successful.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.