With a little over two months of the year left, planning is already underway in content marketing departments for what is expected to be another uncertain yet potentially transformative year in 2021.
Things are changing in tech and search that could pave the way for new ways of working and engaging with audiences and, as recent reports attest, there is a widespread expectation of even greater levels of investment in content creation.
To predict what is in store for 2021, some of the industry’s leading figures gathered at a recent virtual Content Marketing World presentation. Here’s what they had to say.
‘Organic’ is a term that is readily used in content marketing, SEO and social media to define cost-effective strategies that aim to deliver value in the long term, as opposed to expensive ‘paid’ promotion.
There could be a new meaning in 2021, according to American Fidelity Assurance’s Rachel Mann, who believes that organic production will be in vogue across the industry. Organic in this instance alludes to the authenticity of content campaigns. Mann says that there is now an abundance of “formal or overproduced” output and that down-to-earth and relatable videos actually help to humanise brands. This will be crucial to driving engagement.
There is still an element of risk to greenlighting new marketing campaigns, but Vengreso chief customer officer Bernie Borges expects cutting-edge tech, and in particular AI-powered predictive intelligence, to make it easier for key decision-makers to make savvy planning decisions.
This is because the intelligence will be built into the tech stack. While this is more of an IT-related development, the forecast highlights the way that digital transformation can potentially improve content strategies. Borges says that it could make them as “close to fail-safe as possible”.
Barkley vice president Jessica Best admits that it will be impossible to make predictions for 2021 after an incredibly tumultuous 12 months. However, she does expect the running theme of meeting consumer demands and expectations to continue, regardless of how the wider industry evolves.
She stated that the “only truth” is to follow the needs of consumers and that this will be particularly evident in content creation, where audiences still need insights and answers to important questions. Matching content with search intent will therefore serve brands well heading into the new year and beyond.
The pandemic has brought social issues and inequalities to the fore, according to Corteva Agriscience leader Andi Robinson. She says that content marketers will need to be aware of these issues and be in discussions about how content can address and support them in 2021.
Key to this will be an understanding of how far the organisation they work for is “willing to go” to fight for certain values. Marketers can offer advice here and reiterate the need to keep consumers onside. Robinson concludes that misalignment between campaigns for good and content marketing efforts will not be viewed favourably by consumers.
More than a sale
Quest Digital director Jacquie Chakirelis says that people are no longer just motivated by a purchase, and are looking to brands to do more to establish connections and maintain relationships that have a throughline of “common purpose and values”.
This will lead to a rise in “inclusive, purpose-driven” marketing, where content helps brands to communicate their views on a range of different topics. There needs to be a willingness to invest in this type of content, according to Chakirelis, which could be a challenge for higher-ups who are still focused entirely on using content to drive sales.
Conversely, marketing expert Lindsay Hotmire believes that there will actually need to be more of an emphasis on the sale and, more importantly, the thought processes that a buyer goes through before checking out.
She says that understanding the different “stages of awareness and funnel psychology” will help marketers to produce more relevant buyer personas and then targeted content that will move consumers along the cycle. Hotmire also believes that being able to grasp Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how such concepts can shape content output will be important in 2021.
While written and visual content will command the vast majority of content marketing budgets next year, The Authentic Storytelling Project CMO Christoph Trappe has advised brands to look into the recent growth of audio and the potential for a podcast or audiobook to complement more traditional formats.
Delivering consistent, high-quality audio content could be a key differentiator for companies in certain industries, as this is an area of creation that has not been as explored as exhaustively as video, for example. Trappe expects podcasts to have “another record-breaking year”. Considering how to tie a podcast into an omnichannel strategy could give you an edge.
The thirst for answers to questions and advice for challenges has not been sated and will continue into next year, says University of Rochester director Brian Piper. He believes that it will be important for brands to publish new content that focuses specifically on answering audience questions in detail. This is something that Google already prioritises in search results.
He also says that companies will typically have to engage with a wider audience that contains “more varied demographics”. Virtual and remote engagement will be key, according to Piper.
The uncertainty of 2020 has brought the true value of content into sharp focus, according to Joe Pulizzi and Melanie Deziel, who both expect brands to invest more in creation in the absence of in-person events. While traditional “engagement points” have been closed off, content has filled the void in often exciting and experimental ways.
Storyfuel’s Deziel expects further investment in live video as it will act as a sort of bridge to a shared experience with an audience, enabling interactions, communications and conversations.
While 2020 has been very challenging, Adobe’s Adam Morgan sees very good things for the future and believes that many content marketers may not actually be fully prepared for growth in the industry, which is a positive and comforting closing thought for brands and agencies to work from.