Go InBound: innovation lessons from a marketing conference

by Jason Williams

Hundreds of marketers from across the US descended on Indianapolis, Indiana last month for Go InBound, a digital marketing conference. While attendees came to sharpen their marketing skills, they also walked away with valuable lessons on innovation:

Open Yourself

“The massive maze of craziness can be overwhelming,” said Tiffany Sauder, President of Element Three and host of Go InBound. “I challenge you to open yourself to new experiences, new people and new ideas. If you only obsess on the science of marketing, we take something to market without personality.”

The theme for this year’s Go InBound event was “Science + Story”. Sauder was recognizing that the crowd represented experts on both sides of the marketing coin. She was also recognizing the need for each side to step out of their comfort zone and be open to ideas outside of their areas of expertise.

Keynote speaker, Johnny “Cupcakes” Earle, stressed that people thrive on new experiences. This thinking has helped the Johnny Cupcakes t-shirt empire grow into a multi-million dollar business. And Earle attributes a lot of his success to meeting lots of different people. “Meet strangers. Grab coffee with people in different businesses,” he told the audience as one simple solution to getting started.

Keep It Simple

Unbounce’s Oli Gardner shared his 12-Step Landing Page Rehab Program. Step 2 was to “give the gift of simplicity” to those you’re marketing to. The attention ratio of a landing page factors in the things you can do and the things you should do. As attention ratio goes down, conversion rates go up.

The same is true for innovation. To sell innovation efforts internally, keep the messaging simple and focused on the benefits to the company. To sell new innovations externally, keep the developments simple and focused on the real needs of the customer.

“A product is only as powerful as it is easy to use,” said MailChimp’s John Foreman. There is a tension between flexibility and usability that companies must also balance. However, it is usually better to err on the side of usability and simplicity.

Tell Stories

“Technology is only as good as the story,” said Scott Brinker, referencing a quote from Ann Handley. And story matters to innovation as well. Emotionally charged stories are more memorable. Innovation teams should use storytelling to sell their new developments to both management and the market.

“Data tells a story too,” Wistia’s Kristen Craft told the audience. Innovation is about solving unmet needs in the marketplace. To do this, innovators must piece together the story a given market’s data provides. Pay attention to the data to identify where you’re trying to get to or how you might get there.

Gardner stressed the importance of getting your story in the right order before you tell it. You may only get one shot to sell a new innovation development to your organization. Does the story for the innovation add up? Will it make sense to managers? Investors? Potential customers?

Pattern’s Polina Osherov added a valuable reminder that “audiences are too sophisticated now.” You have to believe in the story you are trying to sell. Just as authentic storytelling works for marketers, authentic solutions and stories work for innovators as well.

Find Conflict

“Where there’s energy, there’s a story,” said ad veteran Luke Sullivan. The spaces where conflict and tension meet are where the energy is. “Innovation is at these edges,” according to Sullivan. In marketing and advertising, creativity happens in response to a problem – a tension. Innovation is created the same way. The best new innovations typically answer a previously unmet need in the market. A problem with no previous solution, or at least not one that best solved the problem for consumers. And if there isn’t a problem in your product, category or industry? “Create one,” says Sullivan.

Start Now

In combining the Science and Story of marketing, one of Go InBound’s recurring themes was not to let anything hold you back in your efforts to impact the market. “Don’t give yourself another barrier to entry,” said Craft when discussing ways anyone can get started with video production.

Brinker acknowledged that “technology must become part of the DNA” for any organization, but “not everyone needs to be a technologist” on your team. Don’t let the fear of new technologies hold back your innovation efforts. Just as not everyone on a marketing team needs to be creative, innovation teams can consist of multiple skills and talents to drive new developments.

And finally, the best call to action comes from Osherov. “If you see the actual need for something, fill that void. Create something to fill it and have faith in filling it.”

image credit: InBound

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Marketer. Innovator. Connector. Jason Williams is the Owner of SPYCOMPS consulting firm and Communication Director for Centric: Indy’s Innovation Network. Connect with him on Twitter @jawbrain

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