Earlier this fall, several members of the Grafik marketing team attended INBOUND, a cutting-edge marketing and technology conference hosted by Hubspot. The event was jam-packed with insights, innovation, and inspiration, with two dominant topics that, at first glance, might seem at odds with each other: artificial intelligence and human connection.
Resonating strongly throughout INBOUND was the rapid evolution of technology, specifically, the rise of artificial intelligence. AI was the buzzword on everyone’s lips, and the message was crystal clear: AI is here, and those who don’t adapt are at risk of being left behind.
HubSpot set the tone with the welcoming keynote by introducing a suite of new tools powered by AI, which help users gather information and generate actionable insights or reports with speed that vastly outstrips manual data-crunching.
Dharmesh Shah, one of HubSpot’s co-founders, also delivered an impassioned talk on his personal early adoption and love of AI. He contrasted the impact of AI to computers, which allowed computation at scale, and then the internet, which allowed information at scale. AI, he said, will bring cognition at scale. Essentially, AI is propelling us from the age of information into the age of intelligence.
Many other sessions delved into the realm of AI, with keynote speakers addressing this topic extensively, offering ways in which it can add to our work as marketers. Some, like futurist Sinead Bovell, even explored how AI will likely be integrated into everyday tasks and processes. She likened the current moment to when cameras were invented but movies had yet to be realized—AI is here, but we’re still exploring its full potential. Bovell envisions supercharged teams with AI members that can extract insights, segment audiences, and contribute significantly.
The consensus from INBOUND was clear—AI is not a one-time upgrade; it’s a journey of continuous learning. To succeed, companies must adapt and evolve alongside technology, which requires a culture that supports innovation and growth. The most successful agencies will see this new technology as a powerful tool in our belts, focusing on adding value with AI, not just replacing human roles.
The other prevalent theme at INBOUND was centered on human connection. In the age of AI, it’s essential not to lose sight of people. Topics included debating the four-day workweek, creating a vibrant remote-first culture, supporting mothers in your organization, and building community.
One lively session delved into burnout—the root cause of which often traces back to toxic company culture. They looked at company culture through the areas of individual behavior, organizational systems, and leadership. To create a positive culture, all three elements must be strong, with clear expectations, empathy, and accountability.
Another presentation highlighted the intersection of diversity, equity, and inclusion with customer service, asserting that DE&I is not only a vital move for interpersonal office culture, but can actually lead to huge profit. They called this inclusive marketing, defined as “acknowledging our differences and finding common ground.” Customers inherently seek a sense of belonging, so when brands are able to make them feel like they do, it builds the kind of brand loyalty that results in sales.
A session on “radical candor,” led by author Kim Scott who coined the phrase, explored effective communication, especially during disagreements. Radical candor offers a path to navigate such situations, beginning with soliciting feedback and fostering open, honest communication. Radical candor stands in contrast to ruinous empathy (giving feedback that is nice but ultimately unhelpful), manipulative insincerity (neither challenging nor caring), and obnoxious aggression (giving criticism without empathy or kindness). Radical candor works by combining compassion with clarity, allowing individuals to give feedback that is kind, clear, specific, and sincere.
The conference left our team with a renewed sense of excitement about the future of marketing. With countless other sessions, presentations, and workshops, INBOUND covered many topics. But the themes of technology and humanity were woven throughout the three-day event. Finding the balance between the two will be the key to thriving in the ever-evolving landscape of marketing and technology.