IMPACT Live vs. INBOUND: Which Epic Marketing Conference Should You Attend in 2019?

Published on January 16th, 2019

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Marketing events have evolved beyond simply being conferences; they are experiences.

And whether your organization has a dedicated budget for professional development, or you just know that educational events are a big part of staying up to date with industry trends, there’s probably at least one marketing event on your radar for the year.

I’ve attended INBOUND for six years in a row --considered by many as the Burning Man for marketing nerds -- and have been to IMPACT Live both years it has existed.

I’ve also been a speaker at both events. So, needless to say, I’ve got some thoughts.

However, when someone asks me, "Should I got to INBOUND or should I go to IMPACT Live?" I struggle to answer succinctly.

First, because I love both events. Second, because they’re very different.

Fortunately, I’m here to help you decide which event is best for you. Let’s dive into some of the differences between IMPACT Live and INBOUND.

2 Days vs. 4 Days

IMPACT Live takes place over two full days (August 6 and 7) with an opening reception on August 5.

As our website says, get ready for "two days of killer content, cutting-edge solutions, and true social connections that will have you returning to the office an inbound rockstar."

Both days are jam-packed with sessions and, of course, a couple of coffee and networking breaks.

INBOUND, on the other hand, is four full days of conferencing goodness -- September 3 through September 6 -- with an opening event on the first day and festivities wrapping up on the final day around 3 p.m.

Once you consider travel time, you’ll need to devote an entire week to INBOUND. You can manage to hit IMPACT Live and still have a chunk of your week left to start implementing new ideas right away.

For some, a shorter week is a big bonus, since it's less time away from the office. For others, a longer conference is a more immersive learning experience. Personally, I'm a fan of both conferences, because they fulfill different needs for me. 

Oh, also, fewer days also means fewer nights to pay for a hotel. But we’ll talk about cost later on.

Single Track vs. Multi-Track

When it comes time to register for sessions for INBOUND, I set aside an afternoon prior to my registration date where I list out every possible session I’d want to attend.

Then, I prioritize them and share with friends so we can tag-team the ones that overlap. There’s just so much good content available.

Then, I sit at my computer impatiently refreshing the page until I am able to register and then frantically race from session description to session description hoping to be able to secure a spot in each of my top choices.

Will I get to see Rand Fishkin this year? (I say this every year.)

While I love having so many session to choose from at INBOUND, it’s stressful to actually choose and takes a ton of time to figure out.

Like INBOUND, almost every large marketing and sales conference these days includes multiple tracks with a variety of sessions to choose from.

The vast array of speakers, topics, and experience levels definitely gives you the ability to tailor the event to your exact needs and priorities at the time. That being said, sometimes it can be too much to choose from.

I felt a sense of relief wash over me when I registered for IMPACT Live in 2017 and found out it was a single-track event where I’d be able to attend every session.

Plus, you’ll never have to worry about not getting a seat in a session with a speaker you’ve been dying to see. You get to see everyone.

In fact, when the speakers aren’t on stage they’re sitting in the audience right next to you, chatting with you at coffee breaks, and partying with you in the evenings.

My advice to you is this:

Take a look at the agenda for both events and see what topics catch your interest. Consider your goals and what’s currently challenging your organization. See if there are sessions that address these issues.

If you’re not sure, reach out to the event organizers. They love to help you decide if the event is a good fit for your needs!

Intimate Group vs. Cheering Crowd

I first attended INBOUND in 2013 when it was held at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center and drew in 5,000 attendees.

Looking back, that feels like a completely different event from the INBOUND of 2018 which took place at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (the BCEC) and boasted nearly 25,000 attendees.

But with great growth comes great responsibility.

As INBOUND grew their event five-fold in just five years, they experienced the natural growing pains of scaling an event of this kind. The event app experienced challenges, the lines for food were insanely long, and sessions filled up and overflowed into nearby rooms.

Throughout all that though, INBOUND managed to maintain a loyal group of repeat attendees, like me, who couldn’t imagine missing the event each year. Plus, as the crowd grew, so did the energy.

INBOUND has transformed into more than just an event -- it’s a transformational experience. The speakers are famous, the energy is intense, and the parties are unforgettable.

Two years ago, in 2017, I first attended IMPACT Live.

It was incredibly refreshing to be back at an event where I could actually get to know and have conversations with quite a few inbound professionals instead of shouting over thousands of people at a party -- or waving to people while frantically speed-walking from one session to the next across the vast BCEC.

Plus, the IMPACT Live was just as high-energy as INBOUND but with way fewer people.

It wasn’t as overwhelming but was still completely invigorating. I wondered how they did it. Then I came to work for IMPACT and found out exactly how they did it. We’re doubling down on that energy again this year.

Part of what makes these marketing events so memorable and captivating is the utterly immersive experience. You enter this bubble and are swept away by the speakers, lights, and music.

After a couple of days, you emerge with a notebook full of ideas to implement and a completely renewed sense of purpose and drive for your organization.

When it comes to INBOUND and IMPACT Live, you get the energy from both events.

What you have to decide is if you want the chance to meet a city’s worth of inbound professionals or if you want a select few whom you can get to know really well.

Parties & Entertainment 🎉

Ah yes, the parties.

I am not kidding when I say I think INBOUND has too many good parties.

Granted, I like that all 25,000 of us are spread out across a variety of places. It certainly makes for shorter drink lines and less crowded rooms.

Here’s what my “party schedule” looked like for INBOUND 2018.

Screen Shot 2019-01-23 at 7.48.38 AM

There were a bunch of different and absolutely amazing sounding parties I wanted to go to. Plus, you can’t forget INBOUND Rocks!

Unfortunately, I have a severe case of FOMO. I hate missing an awesome party.

Because of this, I often wind up bouncing from party to party only spending about a half hour at each place to make sure I experience every venue and say hi to everyone who invited me.

This means I don’t spend much quality time enjoying each party, and I definitely don’t get into any deep or interesting conversations while I’m there.

Sure, I had fun last year but I’ve already decided at INBOUND this year I am picking one single party each night and staying at it.

For those with more restraint than me -- or those not paralyzed by FOMO -- this might not be such an issue. However, once again, IMPACT Live won me over with the complete lack of having to make a choice. Plus, they delivered with a great party.

Oh, and  I knew everyone I wanted to see would be in one place, so I didn’t have to worry about missing out on networking opportunities at IMPACT Live.

In fact, the speakers even come to mingle with the attendees which is exactly how I got one of the best photos of my entire life. Seriously, if my wife would let me I'd frame this and hang it on the wall next to our wedding photo.

Stephanie with Marcus Sheridan and Ann Handley at IMPACT Live 2018

Look, it's a Stephanie sandwich, with Marcus Sheridan and Ann Handley bread! 

That's the thing about smaller conferences -- you get to spend quality time with people and truly build relationships in the industry.

I'll take that over bottomless margaritas any day. Although I do love margaritas. 

INBOUND vs. IMPACT Live Cost of Attendance

Naturally, something we have to consider when deciding between these two events (or if you’re considering hitting up both) is the price tag. What does it cost to attend each event and what do you get for that price?

INBOUND tickets start at $99 for a community pass.

With this pass, you get to experience the big name keynote and spotlight speakers but you don’t get to see any of the breakout sessions and lunch is not included.

Screen Shot 2019-01-23 at 7.45.20 AM

The next level up (where most people are) is the all-access pass. A full price all-access pass is $1,799 (with a new, one-day option for $599).

Granted, this all-access price starts out much lower and gradually increases as the event draws near. With the all-access pass, you get admission to all the different sessions available as well as lunch and access to the INBOUND hotel blocks.

Finally, there’s the power pass -- formerly the VIP pass.

This one tops out at $2,199 but at the time of writing this, which is a little over seven months prior to the event, you can snag a power pass for just $1,599, which is less than a full price all-access pass.

What makes the power pass so, well, powerful? Basically, you get advanced registration for those hot-ticket sessions, upfront seating for the big-name speakers, and shorter lines to your drinks at the end of the day.

Now let’s look at IMPACT Live. The all-access pass gets you full session access as well as standard meals and event drink tickets. Full priced tickets are $599 but, similar to INBOUND, they start out less expensive and increase in price as the event gets closer.

Screen Shot 2019-01-23 at 7.45.05 AM

IMPACT Live VIP tickets are $999 at full price and include full session access with premium seating, standard meals plus a VIP dinner, speaker meet and greets, signed books, and of course an open bar at the evening events.

Finally, IMPACT Live also has an option for teams -- an option not available at INBOUND.

You can bring a team of up to eight people for $4,500 and get all-access tickets along with priority seating, concierge level treatment, special recognition, reserved tables at meals, access to an IMPACT expert, and a workbook to capture and capitalize on key takeaways.

Like most events, if you get in early the prices are definitely lower. However, as time goes by the prices increase.

Overall, IMPACT Live is a more affordable option. While slightly shorter, it packs a lot of punch into just two days with plenty of content, energy, and party time.

Of course, for both events, you’d have to add in the cost of transportation to the event as well as accommodations while you’re there. Add in any meals that are not covered by your ticket type and you’ll see the actual investment for attending one of these events.

So, Should You Attend IMPACT Live or INBOUND This Year?

Oy, OK. Here we are back at the original question I said I would help you answer: should you attend IMPACT Live or INBOUND? Naturally my answer is...

Well, it depends. Or, for many of you, the answer may be that you attend both.

Do you thrive in an environment full of people or do you do best in a smaller, more intimate group? Or both?

Do you want to pick and choose sessions to form your specific or do you want someone else to do the work for you -- guiding you down the path for a successful inbound organization of course? Or both?

Can you spare a full week away from work or is two days more manageable? Or can you swing both?

Do you live for party hopping at marketing events or is one good party full of the best inbound professionals around appealing to you? Once more with feeling, or both?

Consider all these things and decide then which event is the best for you. Here’s hoping to see you in August -- and maybe again in September.

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