Even in the steadiest of times, content marketing can be a difficult field to project forward. The craft is fluid and fast-changing by nature. When customer preferences and behaviors are evolving, which is always, so too must the ways we reach and engage them.
Needless to say, predicting what lies ahead for content marketing is especially tough right now, as we wrap up a chaotic year of 2020 and stare into the uncertainty of 2021.
That doesn’t mean we won’t try!
As organizations lay out plans and strategies for the coming year, it’s vital to get a bead on trends and threadlines that will shape the terrain. Where should content marketers and strategists be setting their sights? Which challenges and opportunities stand out? What will be the keys to success?
Content Marketing in 2021: What Top B2B Marketing Influencers Foresee
To help you gain some well-rounded insight, we reached out to several leading B2B content marketing experts and influencers with a firm grasp on the discipline and its ongoing evolution. Here are their predictions for 2021:
1 — Ardath Albee: “Interactive Content will Become a Mainstay”
I wrote recently here that digital experiences will be a top priority for content marketers in 2021. Veteran marketer Ardath Albee, who currently serves as interim VP of Marketing at Modus, also sees this as a pivotal frontier for content marketers:
“Marketers who want to facilitate the end-to-end buying experience with outcomes that prove contribution to revenue will increase focus on interactive content.” — Ardath Albee @ardath421 Click To Tweet
B2B has gone digital and it’s not going back. Buyers are relying on self-education more than ever. Engagement and experiences are critical for company growth. Interactive content will become a mainstay in Demand Gen and Sales Enablement programs in 2021 and beyond.
From virtual product tours to 3D virtual experiences, to value assessments and Digital Sales Rooms – marketers who want to facilitate the end-to-end buying experience with outcomes that prove contribution to revenue will increase focus on interactive content. They’ll up their game, moving beyond quizzes and surveys to content that resonates by getting buyers to actively pursue conversations with the companies that get them involved in what it takes to buy with confidence.
2 — Ty Heath: Accelerating the ‘Right-Brain’ Movement
Business decisions are made on the basis of both rational and emotional factors. Too often, B2B marketers have over-indexed on the former. Ty Heath, Director of Market Engagement for LinkedIn*’s B2B Institute, anticipates a collective push toward creativity and humanization:
“We can look forward to more memorable B2B marketing messages that connect brand to demand. If you are a creative B2B marketer, that's something you can get excited about.” — Ty Heath @tyrona Click To Tweet
For a long time, marketing’s view of the world has been very left brain rational. The pandemic will accelerate the shift to a ‘right-brain’ movement.
We will see more humor, more storytelling and emotion in B2B marketing in the coming year. We expect to see more brand mascots like Salesforce’s feral raccoon-child mascot, Astro. We can look forward to more memorable B2B marketing messages that connect brand to demand. If you are a creative B2B marketer, that’s something you can get excited about!
3 — Robert Rose: Content-as-a-Strategy on the Rise
Robert Rose has always been a vocal content evangelist, so it comes as no surprise that the founder of CMI’s Content Advisory foresees a continued push to make content marketing a strategic centerpiece for businesses:
“Companies will start to demand more cross-functional skills from their content marketing teams.” — Robert Rose @Robert_Rose Click To Tweet
The trend of in-housing content-as-a-strategy continues and expands greatly in 2021. We’ll see big growth of content studios within brands to handle all manner of content marketing and content strategy functions.
Agencies and Media companies will still be relied on, but to fill more niche-oriented “skill positions” and initial “strategy”. As such, companies will start to demand more cross-functional skills from their content marketing teams.
4 — Christopher Penn: “The Top Challenge? Screen Fatigue.”
People consumed more digital content out of necessity in 2020, with little else to do amid pandemic-driven shutdowns. While this created new opportunities for brand visibility and engagement, it also contributed to a sense of burnout from living life through our computers and devices. Christopher Penn, Co-founder and Chief Data Strategist for Trust Insights, believes that overcoming screen fatigue will be an imperative for content marketers in 2021:
“The perennial meme is 'this meeting could have been an email.' Apply that thinking to your livestreams, podcasts, vlogs, videos, interactive events, etc.” — Christopher Penn @cspenn Click To Tweet
I have no idea what to predict for 2021 — and neither does anyone else, if we’re honest. But I can tell you what’s happening now and what we’re doing about it. We did a survey to our audience a couple of weeks ago and asked what the top challenges they’re facing heading into 2021 are.
The top challenge? Screen fatigue. No one wants more podcasts, more videos, more livestreams, more time on their devices. Literally no one. So all the marketers who pivoted in 2020 to making podcasts, videos, livestreams, etc. are facing substantially diminished audience interest.
What do people want? Content they can consume faster. Want to know what the top converting channel was for us in 2020? Our email newsletters — and not by a small margin. Email was responsible for 56% of all our conversions in 2020 — and we’re not alone.
The perennial meme is “this meeting could have been an email.” Apply that thinking to your livestreams, podcasts, vlogs, videos, interactive events, etc. Are you doing anything that REQUIRES that medium, or just doing it because it’s what all the cool kids seem to be doing?
5 — Michael Brenner: “Committed Brands Are Going to Win Big”
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, according to Marketing Insider Group CEO Michael Brenner. He suggests that content marketers who simply lock down the fundamentals and invest in success will be poised to take the lead:
“In 2021, committed brands are going to win big in content marketing. There's so much noise out there. And yet, there are amazing B2B content marketing examples who have grown massive audiences and delivered marketing ROI.” @BrennerMichael Click To Tweet
Go big or go home! In 2021, committed brands are going to win big in content marketing. There’s so much noise out there. And yet, there are amazing B2B content marketing examples who have grown massive audiences and delivered marketing ROI.
What do they do differently? Just the basics:
1.) They publish keyword-focused blog posts consistently.
2.) They mix in long form and short form content.
3.) They co-create stories with customers, executives, influencers, and partners.
4.) They focus on building subscribers.
5.) They measure ROI
6 — Melanie Deziel: “Doubling Down on Video and Live Video”
Many content marketers who were holding off on video marketing tactics, including live-streaming, took the plunge in 2020 out of necessity. Melanie Deziel, Chief Content Officer for StoryFuel, is heartened by this development and expects to see it carry over into next year:
“I hope marketers retain this mentality in 2021, doubling down on video and live video, and exploring still more formats for communicating with our audiences: quizzes, maps, timelines and more.” — Melanie Deziel @mdeziel Click To Tweet
If I had to find a silver lining of 2020 for marketers, it would be the fact that we increased our agility and adopted new ways of communicating with our audiences. I’ve been particularly impressed by how many brands have fully embraced video and live video.
I hope marketers retain this mentality in 2021, doubling down on video and live video, and exploring still more formats for communicating with our audiences: quizzes, maps, timelines and more.
7 — Carla Johnson: Innovation Through Smart Risks
Experimentation and a willingness to learn through failure are instrumental to breaking new ground. Marketing & Innovation Strategist Carla Johnson feels that the disruption and demands of 2020 forced many content marketers to back away from taking risks, understandably, but hopes to see a big rebound next year:
“For 2021, B2B content marketing will be about taking smart risks that lead to more innovative work.” — Carla Johnson @CarlaJohnson Click To Tweet
Every content marketer has greater pressure to evaluate, measure and report on how, how much, when, where and why customers connected with their brands in 2020. The year was about being nimble, responsive and methodical with execution. There was no room for trial and error.
For 2021, B2B content marketing will be about taking smart risks that lead to more innovative work. They’ll take inspiration from brands that have pushed the envelope with candor, openness, empathy and even humor. With so much that didn’t work, they’ll be able to get rid of projects that don’t deliver and free up at least portions of budgets to begin to experiment. These tiny experiments will lead to more creative ways that solve problems for customers that shake the stereotype that B2B means ‘boring to boring.’
8 — Amy Higgins: Co-Creating More Content with Customers
Amy Higgins, Director of Content Strategy at Salesforce (and TopRank Marketing alumni) sees more co-creation of content with customers as key to building brand loyalty:
“We will co-create more content with our customers and for our customers to help strengthen loyalty and build evangelism.” — Amy Higgins @amywhiggins Click To Tweet
Many things have changed this year — including how marketers have embraced digital channels and tapped into the emotions of our audience. Our job as B2B content marketers has always been to help fill the pipe by bringing in new audiences, keeping them engaged, and moving them toward the next step of their buyer’s journey. However, in 2021, I predict that will change.
We will focus not only on educating new audiences. But, we will expand our focus to further help our existing ones. Customer acquisition will still have a place at the table, but the guest of our honor will be our customer. This year we will co-create more content with our customers and for our customers to help strengthen loyalty and build evangelism.
9 — Lee Odden: Optimize for Findability, Credibility and Experience
Our CEO and co-founder Lee Odden sees an opportunity in 2021 for B2B marketers to raise the bar on their content marketing by optimizing customer experiences with more findable, credible and experiential content:
“The lessons we've learned from creating trusted content that reaches and engages B2B customers for some of the top B2B brands in the world will become the new normal in 2021.” — Lee Odden @LeeOdden Click To Tweet
History will remember 2020 as a year many want to forget with many B2B marketers struggling to manage uncertainty and brand distrust, overloaded communication channels and a buyers’ accelerated expectations of digital experiences. And yet, some B2B marketers have not only survived 2020, but thrived – including our own agency TopRank Marketing. I predict that many of the lessons we’ve learned from creating trusted content that reaches and engages B2B customers for some of the top B2B brands in the world will become the new normal in 2021.
Findable – SEO is more important than ever for B2B content marketers as buyers increasingly rely on digital channels like search to find the information they need across the entire sales journey. Fresh topic research to reflect new buyer preferences plus content and link optimization will raise the bar on being the best answer for customers at the very moment of need.
Credible – Buyers’ increasing distrust of brand marketing and messaging plus the shift towards digital channels has accelerated the impact that subject matter experts are having with content credibility, quality and distribution. B2B brands will raise the bar on content credibility by partnering with external influencers while building the internal influence of their executives through content collaborations.
Experiential – Video has become the price of entry for B2B customer attention but there’s more to creating great marketing experiences and in 2021 successful B2B brands will raise the bar on customer experience with better virtual events, personalization, episodic brand content, more interactive content and increasingly collaborative content.
Cheers to a New Year in 2021
This is an exciting time to be in content marketing. We have an opportunity to shape the “new normal” and further solidify the function as a business strategy cornerstone.
Carve your own path in 2021, but heed the words and advice of these bright business minds who’ve seen many twists and turns in the journey of content marketing, and will help guide us through those to come.
For more 2021 B2B marketing predictions, be sure to check out 12 Top B2B SEO Trends & Predictions for 2021 and 14 Expert B2B Influencer Marketing Predictions for 2021.
*LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client.