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Most Important Takeaways from HubSpot’s INBOUND 2019

HubSpot’s INBOUND 2019 conference has come and gone, and the event has grown in size with over 26,000 marketers, salespeople, and customer success professionals flocking to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for a week of learning and inspiration. This year’s INBOUND featured spotlight sessions from industry leaders Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Redditt, Sal Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy, and of course HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah among several others.

After sitting through hours of inspiring sessions, here are three of my most important takeaways from INBOUND 2019. 1. Embrace diversity. 2. Create a frictionless customer experience. 3. Be human.

Embrace Diversity

Diversity is an important topic of conversation across almost every industry, which was evident at this year’s INBOUND. 

In Dharmesh Shah’s presentation, he showed an image that displayed the lack of educational diversity at HubSpot in the early stage of the company, and further commented on how he was the only non-white team member.

HubsSpot INBOUND 2019

With so many similar people, he reflected that outsiders interested in joining HubSpot would have had a hard time fitting in. He expressed that one of HubSpot’s biggest early mistakes was how little they focused on diversity. When you lack diversity, you’re missing out on varying perspectives that can help lead your company to greater success and growth. 

To prove this, Shah told the story about when YouTube first launched their global app, they came across a peculiar phenomenon. They noticed that a notable amount of people were uploading videos upside down. Around 10% of videos were being uploaded upside down, and they couldn't figure out why. The answer, however, was very simple. Ten percent of the population is left-handed, and hold their phones differently than right-handed individuals, making the videos appear upside down. You may ask, why didn’t the YouTube team catch this? Again a simple answer: nobody on the team was left-handed, therefore they lacked that perspective. 

Shah went on to explain that companies hiring for diversity over “personality fit” are at an advantage. Hiring for personality fit breeds a sea of sameness. Instead, when differing yet complementary people intersect, we build better relationships and therefore better companies. We’re able to gain insight into perspectives different from our own and create something great from our differences. 

Create a Frictionless Customer Experience

In such a crowded modern market place, it’s harder than ever before to stand out from your competition. This has led to a growing number of companies emerging as disruptors in their industry, including Doordash, Netflix, and Lyft. Unlike in the past, these companies aren’t your normal tech disruptors like Google, Apple, and Tesla. HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan refers to them instead as “Experience Disruptors”. What makes a company an experience disruptor you may ask? 

According to Halligan, the new breed of disruptors focus on experience-market fit rather than product-market fit. What that means is that these disruptors all have great products but an even better customer experience. 

Five year old Carvana set out to create a whole new way to buy a car and have already become one of the largest car dealers in the United States. What do they do differently from their competition? They take the hassle out of car shopping. Customers are able to go online, shop for the car they’re looking for and order it online. Carvana will even take care of the boring paperwork, registration, and taxes, while you wait at home for your new car that will arrive at the time and place of your choosing. Sounds risky buying a car online right? Not with Carvana. You have seven days of driving to see if the car is a fit for you and if not, you can simply return the car no questions asked. 

So to Halligan’s point, Carvana and other experience disruptors don’t always have the best product, but what they do have is a frictionless customer experience that makes the customer’s life easier and encourages them to come back for more. How they sell to the consumer is why they win and is why they’ll continue to grow until the competition catches up. 

Be Human

There was one prominent theme throughout INBOUND that many of the spotlight speakers touched upon in one way or another. That theme is that being a humane person can go a long way. That should come as no surprise, but in the business world that isn’t always the case. Keep reading to find out what some of the industry leading speakers had to say about the topic.

Fighting for Paid Family Leave

Ohanian spent most of his spotlight session discussing paid family leave. He has made it his goal to fight for equal parental leave for both men and women in an effort to erase the negative stigma of taking time off after having a child. That is why Reddit offers four months of paid family leave for all of their employees including Ohanian himself who took four months of family leave when his wife, tennis legend Serena Williams, gave birth to their first child. Reddit’s policy allows all employees, no matter their position, to spend time with their family without having to choose between returning to work early or losing their job. 

Shifting Perspectives Through Advocacy

Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned. His story that stuck with me the most was about a prison guard who harassed Stevenson due to the color of his skin when he tried to visit a client he was representing at the prison. He made Stevenson’s typically friction-less lawyer check-in process intentionally long and degrading, including an unusual request for Stevenson’s bar card and a strip search. The next time he saw the guard was from across the courtroom, while he represented his client suffering from mental illness who had lived in 29 foster homes by the time he was nine years old. . When Stevenson returned to the prison to visit his client, the same guard was working, but this time something was different about him. To Stevenson’s surprise, the guard allowed Stevenson to enter the prison with no issues. With his hands shaking and face flushed, the guard told Stevenson that he had also been in a number of foster homes growing up. He said, “At the courthouse, I was listening to you. I think what you’re doing is a good thing. I hope you keep fighting for justice.” Stevenson’s message was clear. Although we have our differences, Stevenson urged the audience not to give up on the hope that people have the ability to change for the better and connect on a human level. 

Creating Access

Founder and CEO of Khan Academy, Sal Khan shared some remarkable background about his company and how it has come to provide free online learning tools to more than 62 million users in 190 countries across the world. In what started as a fun project to help tutor his cousins, Khan quickly realized the full potential of Khan Academy, which led to him quitting his job at a hedge fund to work on building his nonprofit full time. His mission is to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. He shared stories from across the world of how his platform is helping people of all ages and backgrounds.From a young girl in an orphanage in Mongolia to the children of Bill Gates --they all have the same tools to learn with Khan Academy.

INBOUND 2019 already has us looking forward to INBOUND 2020. We’ll see you there. 

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What Women Want from Brands, Advertising, and Marketing in 2021

This Women’s History Month, AMP explored what women today want from brands, advertisers, and marketers. Since there are approximately 3.9 billion women in the world — each with their own unique personalities, backgrounds, and desires — we’ve narrowed the focus of this article to three desires that stood out to us during our research. We’ve also included insights from women we interviewed who have worked in the advertising and marketing industry. (Their names have been removed for privacy.) We don’t claim to speak on behalf of all women, but instead aim to highlight some of the desires and expectations for brands & the industry that many women have expressed in recent years. Women Want More Diverse and Intersectional Representation Over the past decade, there have been some incredible pushes towards more diverse representation of women in advertising — from The National Lottery’s uplifting & inclusive “This Girl Can” campaign to this amazing photo of Black transqueer lesbian model Jari Jones popping open a bottle of champagne in front of her larger-than-life Calvin Klein ad. Most of the women we spoke to in the industry mentioned that they’ve seen more diverse representation in recent years: more interracial couples, more body sizes in the fashion world, more stay-at-home dads, and fewer blatantly sexist ads. Still, only 29% of American women believe they are accurately represented in advertising, according to a recent study by data intelligence company Morning Consult. (The same study found that 44% of American men believe women are accurately represented.) As advertisers and marketers, a crucial step in developing a strategy plan is studying our consumers and learning about their wants, needs, and habits. So why does the industry continue to miss the mark with female representation? Perhaps it has something to do with the word “and.” Because a consumer is never just a woman. Maybe she’s a woman and bisexual and Latinx and a stepmom and really into Maseratis and perfume. When we look at female representation, we must consider intersectionality and what other identities might matter to female consumers. Let’s say our consumer identifies as a lesbian. According to a 2019 survey of 2,000 adults in the UK by GAY TIMES and Karmarama, 72% of LGBTQ respondents think the way they’re represented in advertising is tokenistic.  Let’s say she has a disability. The Calgary Society for Persons with Disabilities (CSPD) reported in 2019 that only 3% of characters on North American television have disabilities and of these, 95% are played by able-bodied actors. (This statistic inspired their moving “Visibility for Disability” campaign.) Let’s say she’s a mom. A 2019 report from the brand Motherly with almost 6,500 survey respondents found that 85% of millennial moms don’t feel like society does a good job of understanding and supporting them. Let’s say she’s a woman of color. A 2019 study on the representation of Black women and girls in Hollywood found that Black females and other females of color are more likely to be portrayed partially/fully nude than white females — in films and on TV. The same study found that white female TV characters are more likely to have a job (89.6%) compared to Black female characters (70.5%) and other female characters of color (58.8%). (This study was conducted by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and focused on family films and TV.) How might it feel to see characters who look like her repeatedly oversexualized and underemployed? Even if a woman feels her “womanness” — or whatever you want to call it — is well-represented, maybe she doesn’t feel like her other identities are well-represented. Maybe the commercials, print ads, and radio spots she encounters are not adding up to how she sees herself as a whole woman person.   Women Don’t Want to Be Superheroes (At Least Not All the Time) The brilliant author Carmen Maria Machado wrote, “We deserve to have our wrongdoing represented as much as our heroism, because when we refuse wrongdoing as a possibility for a group of people, we refuse their humanity.” Our messy complexities are part of what make us human. And it turns out, a lot of women want to see more of this messiness, and less of the fully put together superwoman archetype we’ve been served again and again in past decades. One ad that leans into this attitude superbly is Frida Mom’s “Stream of Lactation” commercial, which highlights the highs and lows of breastfeeding with an authentic, stream-of-conscious voiceover. One woman in the industry we interviewed said: I LOVE the new Frida commercial about breastfeeding. While watching the commercial, I felt seen and understood. I saw myself and thought "Wow, that's exactly what I do" or "Yes, that happened to me." Women want to see other women that they identify with, and that's the best (and most ethical) way to sell your product. For years, women were served razor ads featuring models with shaved skin and pad ads featuring that notorious blue liquid. Marketers made shaving and menstruation seem like a walk in the park. 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But for many internet users, these efforts — many of which took the form of social media posts — didn’t go far enough. Examples of real comments posted on one popular fashion brand’s 2020 posts: “If you just posted a square, you’re performative!” “What steps have you implemented to date?” “So this was a lie.” “I’m so sad to hear all this and will no longer support [brand name]. I’ve been a diehard fan for so long. I will never stand for a brand that would allow, at any capacity, racial profiling.” This brand has over 4 million followers on Instagram. And it’s just one of many brands we saw called out in 2020 for their social media responses to current events. We’re also hearing women say they want brands to contribute more directly to the conversation on gender. A women who works in the industry told us: I want to see more men wondering what detergent to use and more women thinking about what kind of cool car to drive. In my own relationship, my husband is very concerned about dishwasher liquid (really) and I want to drive a slick fast car on an open road. Life is changing, roles are changing, and all I'm asking is to see that reflected. Big brands especially have so much power to normalize and destigmatize. Another important step in joining this conversation is amplifying female voices at brands and agencies. It’s not just about hiring more women, but also promoting them to management and leadership positions. When The 3% Movement was founded in 2012, only 3% of all US Creative Directors were women. The organization has since helped push that number to 29% today — an amazing increase, but still not close to 50%. Promoting women to leadership positions adds diverse perspectives to our teams and brings more female insights into how women want to be represented.   How To Give Women What They Want There are so many ways organizations can tailor their branding, advertising, and marketing efforts to better address the desires and expectations of women. They can engage with the conversation on social issues and gender, complexify female roles in their campaigns, and offer more diverse and intersectional representations of women across the board. They can also enrich their internal teams by hiring women, and promoting them to leadership roles. The goal isn’t for every brand to try and address all the desires of every woman on the planet, but to make efforts day by day where you can. For example, if parents make up a large percentage of your target audience, you might consider how to bring intersectional, complex representations of moms to your ads. Think of where it makes sense to engage authentically with your customers. Insights from Women Who Work in the Industry To get a better idea of how the marketing and advertising industry is currently addressing female wants and expectations from the inside, we interviewed some of the women we know. The responses below come from people who have worked as interns, freelancers, and full-timers — at agencies and in-house — with experience ranging from 3-10+ years in the industry. Q: What do you want from the ads and marketing tactics you see in the world? A: “I would like to see more representation throughout ad campaigns. It would be nice to see people who look like me and the people around me, and not just the same famous people.” “I've seen companies attempt to be more socially aware (or "woke," if you will) but sometimes it backfires. I want advertisers to stop trying so hard in their marketing tactics or do a better job of reading the room.” “I always respond to authenticity, self-awareness and especially humor — the Ok Cupid "DTF” campaign is a great example. As a consumer, I do not respond well to feeling shamed or condescended to.” “I want to see all types of women doing all types of things. I also would love for brands to call out censorship, double-standards, or gender roadblocks in their ads directly.”   Q: What are your expectations for the campaigns you yourself put out in the world?   A: “To cast women in unexpected roles. Conversely, to not only show moms as caretakers and nurturers.” “I do my best to make people think about the thing we're advertising in a new way, whether that means showing them a way our product can add something new and positive to their lives, or just causing them to stop and laugh at an interesting image or headline. I also feel a pretty heavy responsibility not to add to any of the toxic stereotypes or standards that we're all — but especially women — constantly bombarded with.” “What an incredible responsibility we play as women in the biz. It's frustrating to see the same narrative about the same woman over and over. And it's a true challenge to bend that narrative into one that's more truthful of our experiences. But it's a fight worth fighting, and I think having women in leadership roles in advertising is greatly improving this issue.”   Q: How are women portrayed in advertising? Do you predict this changing in the upcoming year?   A: “Over the past ten or twenty years, we've gone from a total proliferation of the same cookie-cutter image to the slow, incremental appearance of more diverse, ‘real’ images of women. As we've seen more and more brands jump on that bandwagon, I can't help but feel a little cynical. Pop feminism and ‘girl power’ have become just another sales tool... it's still so much about making women feel like they need things to be fully realized. It's just gone from, ‘Buy this product and you'll be beautiful’ to, ‘Buy this product and you'll be empowered.’” “My wife and I have both been hyper-aware of the significant increase of interracial couples featured in ads, which is very exciting. For 2021, I'd love to see more of this, and a lot more queer women of all races, ages, body shapes, and ethnicities. I have seen lesbian couples here and there, but I haven't seen many lesbian parents.” “I think there's still an absence of women who are 40+ in the advertising I see. Middle age isn't what it used to be and it would be great to see the modern, mature woman portrayed more in advertising that is not related to medications.” “One thing I hope would change is the Instagram fad of everyone looking like a Kardashian. Influencers are such a huge part of advertising, and we know how harmful those unrealistic depictions of beauty can be.” “For the most part women have been either hyper-sexualized or seen as arm-candy to sell a product. There are more conversations and actions happening in recent years to represent women in less hyper-sexualized roles. On the other hand, I do not have a problem with women being portrayed sexually. Especially in fashion and art. I think there has to be care in not being over-sexualized, where the woman then becomes an object of desire.”   Q: Do you feel satisfied with how you see women represented in advertising today?   A: “Satisfied would sound like there is not room for improvement. I think it’s much better than it was 10 years ago and hope it keeps evolving.” “One thing that bothers me about the way Black women are represented in advertising today is that there is still a bias toward light-skinned Black women or women who look mixed race. Obviously this is an old issue, but it still persists and needs to change.” “I think so… It is encouraging to see women of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, and identities in ads these days… depicted as funny, strong, silly, beautiful, smart, and all of the ways you can be depicted. However, I do think we still need to come up with more ways to flip the script.” “I don’t know if I’m satisfied with how women are represented in advertising yet. I think having more women in advertising and higher positions would change the outcome of some campaigns. There can’t be representation properly done without real women’s voices.” Q: How does it feel to be a woman working in this industry? A: “I’ve been fortunate to work in an environment where I haven’t felt treated differently for being a woman.” “A lot of days I don't think about it too much, but it probably informs everything I do.” “There’s always room for improvement. There's no better time to be a woman in history than today, and hopefully thirty years down the line, a woman will say the same thing. We should always be striving for better.”