DORSET business people have been absorbing the lessons from two US marketing conferences which attracted thousands of guests.

Paul Tansey – managing director of Poole marketing agency Intergage and president of Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry – was at Inbound 2018 in Boston.

“I was in heaven – 25,000 marketing nerds all gathered to see what the future looks like,” he said.

The Inbound movement was started by HubSpot, the software maker which Mr Tansey says is “fast becoming the Microsoft of sales and marketing”.

It is based on the idea that good online content can inspire a potential customer to leave their email address, after which automated systems build up a profile based on what parts of the site they look at and for how long.

“We’ve got some unbelievable statistics about how little people want to engage with sales people,” said Mr Tansey.

“Ninety-seven per cent of customers use online methods to research products and services, even in the local market.”

Three times as many people prefer to gather information online than interact with a sales rep.

A key theme of the event was artificial intelligence and how chatbots and virtual assistants can improve customer experience.

Mr Tansey said people were increasingly willing to interact with AI. “When they know they’re talking to a bot, people are quite happy to,” he said.

Speakers at the event included author and alternative health advocate Deepak Chopra, novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bloomberg anchor Emily Chang and HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah – as well as Stephen Bavister, founder of LexisClick Growth Agency in Bournemouth.

Mr Tansey said: “I’ve never been to a rock concert as big as the Inbound event. They have so many screens on the stage because the people at the back are just dots.

“These people are doing a great job of creating a movement that just happens to be supported by their software.”

Content Marketing World happened at Cleveland, Ohio, at the same time, with speakers including comedian and writer Tina Fey.

Mark Masters, founder of the ID Group in Poole, said: “If I had to summarise the 2018 event, quickly, it was about how your business creates meaning, builds familiarity, is believable and becomes dependable.”

He said quality online content remained a good way to build loyalty.

“If you can share on a consistent basis, people feel like they are having a regular test drive from you. When it is time to move forward and commit, they will already have their minds made up,” he added.

He said it was important for online content to show people that a business cared and understood them. “When the narrative is centred on you, all you are doing is holding up the mirror to yourself rather than looking out onto the world and where you sit within it,” he said.

“When the message puts you centre stage, there is no vision and no tension.

“It is pointless to look to game the system by playing with the algorithm. People can see through this when you have nothing to contribute and where the only objective is reach.

“If you are picking up the momentum with your content creation efforts, to save confusion and wasted time and budget, find the channels where people are the most receptive and then focus on them.”

He said the size of a company was no longer important when building a following online.

“Those companies that are making change are documenting a belief, not an agenda. This is how relationships are formed and developed,” he said.