Earlier this month, I headed to INBOUND for the third year in a row. Last year, I recapped the conference and shared some of my favorite takeaways — and I wanted to do the same for 2018.
INBOUND is one of my favorite events because of the wide range of people that lead spotlights, breakouts, and keynote sessions. This is the event that allowed me to listen from everyone to marketing industry stars like Rand Fishkin and Larry Kim to flat-out stars like Brene Brown and Michelle Obama.
2018 did not disappoint, and offered the same diverse lineup of speakers to learn from, including celebrities like Alex Rodriguez and Lena Waithe as well as entrepreneurial role models like the CEO of Shopify and former Google exec Mo Gawdat.
Here’s what this group taught me this year.
Deepak Chopra Reminded Us of a Fundamental Marketing Truth
Perhaps the best one-liner of the entire conference came from Deepak Chopra’s opening keynote:
The greatest businesses are the greatest stories.
This single sentence is the reason inbound marketing is so powerful, and why content drives such incredible results. As humans, we resonate with stories; we have always been both storytellers and ready audiences.
A good story is critical to a good business — which means you better take the time to discover what your story is and how you can best communicate it. Without it, content is worthless and inbound marketing will not work for you.
Esther Perel Talked Through Tenets of Fostering Good Relationships
“If you want to change a relationship, you need to change yourself. Own what’s yours,” said Esther Perel, a therapist and author who talked about the tension we all face between wanting to belong and wanting to be free from the obligations of mutual relationships.
Internalizing that idea has the power to completely transform your life, personally and professionally. Too often, we sit around and point fingers at anyone but ourselves.
We blame failures, unhappiness, or shortcomings on how other people are instead of considering the fact that perhaps our interactions with other people serve as mirrors for ourselves.
I think this is a powerful idea and an extremely useful one, but one that’s hard to implement. It’s much easier to want other people to change — whether it’s employees, coworkers, customers, family, friends, or partners — than it is to choose to change yourself.
But, as Perel pointed out, the only way to change the way other people occur to you is to change your own way of being first.
A-Rod Shared Wisdom on the Inevitability of Failure and Change
As the MC of INBOUND announced Alex Rodriguez and brought him onto the stage, and I couldn’t help whisper, “but Yankees still suck,” to myself.
What can I say, I’ve been indoctrinated into the cult of Boston pro sports and I’m not looking back.
But I had to hand it to him: A-Rod actually dropped quite a few good insights that resonated with me at INBOUND. I loved that as the interviewer mentioned his successes and records and loaded on praise, he was gracious — but grounded.
People talk about the successes, he said, but they don’t seem to mention he’s also 4th in all-time strikeouts. “They don’t talk about how only 4 people who have ever lived in this world have struck out more than me,” he said.
“I have a PhD in failure… and a Masters in getting back up. I focus on the latter.”
He continued, explaining that all of us are going to fail. “Someone is gonna say ‘no’ to you,” he said, “but what matters is who’s the one who has the grit, willpower, and character to get back up and say, ‘yes I can.'”
As much as we can expect failure, we can also expect change — and neither one are things to be feared. “Don’t be afraid to change and pivot,” said Rodriguez. “Understand you’re going to screw up. Figure it out, fix it, and move on. Be proactive, not reactive.”
Lena Waithe Explained Her Desire to Create Content That Matters
One of my favorite sessions from this year’s event featured Lena Waithe. I admire her as a creator and a writer, and was eager to hear from her — and she did not disappoint.
Waithe talked about creating content that mattered, something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and I appreciated her honest, raw take on the art of doing creative work.
“There’s so much content out there,” she said, “but not much that will stick, that will stick to your ribs. I want to see or read something that it’s hard to get out of the corners of my mind.” Waithe added that content that makes you feel that way is her mission when she begins a project.
Waithe also spoke to something that I see successful artists have in common: having a huge range of creative inspiration. She said her influences ran from early Spike Lee to the Mary Tyler Moore show, to indie films and documentaries to Golden Girls.
We need to branch out of our own circles and take in things that seem completely unrelated if we want to fuel our creativity. Creative thought happens best when you collect a diverse range of influences, experiences, and knowledge — and let that marinate all together until it inspires some completely new, different, and original ideas.
I Shared What I See as the Future of Content Marketing: Leading with Your Authentic Self
Although I wasn’t on the main stage with this year’s heavy hitters, I did speak in a breakout session at INBOUND about how putting your authentic self into your marketing is one way to supercharge the results you see from content.
In other words, show up and be yourself. Define values and philosophies that you believe in and can stand for, and be able to articulate those beliefs. Let them guide your voice and tone when you create content, and use your beliefs and values and who you really are as guideposts when determining your business’ positioning and messaging.
Too often, we crave complexity and we don’t like the simple answers. Which is what makes this idea hard: the answer to “how do I use content marketing successfully? How do I stand out and make my voice heard?” is incredibly simple:
That’s it. But we tend not to believe that being yourself is enough, or we don’t really know how to do that.
If you don’t have a clearly defined voice and brand yet, I’d urge you to work to develop that. Get clear on what you stand for and what you can create strong opinions around — then share those opinions!
If all this is leaving you scratching your head, then you might need to take a step back. If you have never done the very hard work of personal development, or deep inner work, then you need to stop thinking about this in a business context and consider it personally.
If you don’t know the answer to “who am I, really?” then I encourage you to start that journey for yourself. Getting clear on who you are personally makes it much, much easier to gain clarity on how you want to show up professionally, and how you want to position your business to make an impact and a statement that resonates.