Was 2020 a lost year in marketing and communication? On the contrary. In many sectors, the cut went public, but we also saw a shift from traditional advertising budgets to content marketing. Also, the crisis in many areas of communication was the accelerator of a previously initiated evolution. You can expect these four trends in 2021.
The insights in this trending article result from 10 interviews with people in the marketing and communication profession.
The obsession with technology decreases, creativity returns
The wall that stood between advertising and content marketing for a long time is crumbling. While traditional advertising excelled in creativity and knew better than anyone how to generate eyeballs, content marketing swore for (too) long by funnel thinking.
Under the impetus of powerful Martech vendors such as Hubspot, they built a marketing machine with gated content, nurturing, and MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads). Whoever controls the funnel has a competitive advantage.
“However, this funnel vision has become tunnel vision earlier,” says Reinhard De Milt, chief growth strategy at com & co. “Many brands have put their very best content under lock and key in recent years. Potential customers have to pay with their data. After which they are, often against their will, pushed into a funnel.”
The result: many leads, but of poor quality. Simultaneously, the corona has shifted the focus to maintaining (and strengthening) existing customer relationships.
“In 2021, and in the years after, many organizations will make a radical shift,” Reinhard continues. “From the question ‘what content is needed to get my prospect a level deeper in my funnel?’, Back to ‘what content really helps him or her?’ Our sales colleagues may get fewer MQLs, but they will be a lot better.”
So creativity comes back to the fore. Funnel thinking will not be overhauled, but content marketers will be less obsessive about marketing technology. Advertising, content marketing, and branding thus merge more and more logically.
Audience building and performance enter into a marriage of convenience
Let’s call a cat a cat: The corona crisis is putting pressure on marketing budgets. However, it is not necessarily the case that they become smaller in their totality. This often involves a shift, with more emphasis on measurable results.
“We automatically find this measurable deeper in the funnel,” confirms Independent Strategist Bert van Loon. “The ROI of simple help content that leads directly to conversion is easier to demonstrate than that of an inspiring video series that connects an audience to your brand for a longer period.”
For some brands, this leads to the ‘more expensive’ top-of-funnel content disappearing in the background. This is understandable, especially since it is (more) difficult to sell or defend this long term in critical management committees.
The motto of our trend special from last year, therefore, remains intact: do not label a content strategy as such. Better you keep it on ‘marketing plan’. In which you reconcile tactics that generate leads in the short term with audience building in the long term.
Therefore, surround yourself with a good performance marketer who understands advertising (SEA, display, and social advertising), conversion optimization, and reporting. This way, you manage to make performance visible in the short term. And you automatically get buy-in faster for your – often slightly more expensive – long-term ambitions.
The boundaries between marketing and training are blurring
Just about every company of any size today publishes content that actually makes customers or prospects smarter. That help or how-to content is ingrained in every content strategy. Only the pendulum has turned too much. Simple FAQ-like blog posts are written quickly and easily, with some desk research and interview techniques. Result: brand communication has become too uniform.
Unique, valuable educational content, therefore, comes back to the fore. Something that the first trend also described. But it goes even further.
“Customer education, with deep learning experiences, will be the trend in B2B marketing,” predicts Doug Kessler of the British agency Velocity Partners. “As a result, the boundaries between content and product are blurring.”
For example, many B2B companies are going to ‘open up’ their training offer to some extent, and give it a place in their marketing offer.”
Good examples abroad are Salesforce’s Trailhead, the Mailchimp Academy, or LinkedIn Learning. All of them help users master their platform, but they also support us to become better at our profession. “Innovative companies will also bring additional experts on board,” Doug continues.
Collaborating with schools and universities is a great way to put branded learning into practice. – Doug Kessler
People are more credible than brands.
Admittedly, terms such as human-to-human are no longer new. And yet, communication still (too) often happens exclusively on behalf of a brand. Thought leadership is, nevertheless, increasingly a human phenomenon.
This trend is partly prompted by the ever-declining organic reach of brands on social media. Companies are also getting fed up with algorithms that dictate what is seen, while the cash register is ringing in Silicon Valley. They choose to focus on peer-to-peer networks: internal experts are responsible for the creation and publication of content, with which they then claim thought leadership.
This evolution is certainly all the rage among large B2B companies. After all, traditional business channels rarely reach directors and CxOs. And in B2B, this is exactly where the buying power lies. An evolution that has accelerated corona because they, too, are forced to spend more time behind the laptop. That makes the CEO a coveted but much-needed influencer.
With these four content marketing trends in your pocket, you can start the new year strong. Good luck!