One of the many lessons of 2020 is that we look to the future with anything but 20/20 vision. But that doesn’t stop people from trying. What are budget forecasts if not our best predictions about the coming quarter or year?
Knowing that the results will be perfectly imperfect, we sent more than 100 virtual crystal balls to industry thought leaders and subject matter experts, including Content Marketing World presenters. After reflection, they revealed their predictions for content marketing in 2021.
A few themes emerged from the otherwise varied responses – empathy, connection, inclusiveness, transparency. The term “human” showed up in many predictions. Several predictions recognized content marketing’s elevated role in the business – supplementing sales, helping data acquisition, impacting the bottom line. And a few got more granular with thoughts on tactics and strategies.
Read these prognostications as lenses for comparison with your thoughts about (and plans for) content marketing in 2021. And please share your predictions (and your thoughts about the ones shared here) in the comments.
Everything is different. Take all the old models, best practices, and “normal” strategies and throw them into a blender. Hit the pulse button a few times, then bin the whole thing. Now, laugh. You’re free. Content professionals need to expect that nothing is ‘normal’ anymore. The faster we adjust and embrace it, the stronger our work is going to be. – Ben H. Rome, AIHA
Embrace the MVP
Locusts? Frogs? It’s so hard to predict anything right now. Because of that, I expect more iterative content experiments in 2021. Having seen our big long-term plans get annihilated this year, content marketers will need to embrace the idea of minimum viable content. It’s test and learn all the time now. Everything else is too risky. – Andrea Fryrear, AgileSherpas
Make content mean business
After a year like 2020, the idea of trying to predict the future is almost quaint, which is why this year’s prediction is less about where things are going and more about what they were always about: 2021 will be the year content shifts from a marketing novelty item to a true business line with a positive profit-and-loss statement. 2021 will be the year content means business. – Andrew Hanelly, Revmade
Welcome executive commitment
2021 will see bigger investments in content operations. We are entering a phase where C-level executives will begin to see that managing enterprise knowledge assets, creating content, and orchestrating omnichannel delivery together have the same capital efficiency as investments in industrial supply chains – and require as much resource allocation and executive involvement. This will be good news for overburdened and under-resourced content teams. – Cruce Saunders, [A] – simplea.com
Expect more to do
Content marketers can expect expanded job and responsibility expectations in 2021. It won’t be good enough to create great content that serves the internal demands of sales, demand gen, account services, or the C-suite. Content marketers will be expected to understand the myriad new skills – content operations, digital asset management, measurement, and even paid media. – Robert Rose, Content Marketing Institute
With the shift in demand for all things digital in 2020, content as a marketer, a salesperson, and a customer service rep is going to be even more critical. Content will take a much more mandatory role in a 2021 marketing strategy.
– Pamela Muldoon, Avalara
Foster real-time connections
New digital habits have formed because of the pandemic. There’s a renewed need for real-time connections. As a result, there’s been a rise in private social media communities. This trend will continue. Facebook Groups, Slack, and Discord provide an intimate space for consumers to share similar experiences. The content is unfiltered, giving way to authentic relationships. As brands elevate their communities, executives will finally invest more in them. – Monina Wagner, Content Marketing Institute
2021 will be the year of conversation. This has always been important, but it’s even more imperative now. Schedule one-on-one calls with new-to-you people to share ideas. Post thoughtful questions and have genuine conversations on social media (LinkedIn is my favorite). Participate in at least one community for your audience. – Michele Linn, Mantis Research
Content marketers should be focused on ROI and attribution. As budgets tighten and scrutiny increases, effective attribution modeling will be essential to prove the value of our marketing down to the individual content piece. Without it, we won’t be able to justify additional resources – or even our jobs. – Christopher Penn, TrustInsights.ai
As budgets tighten and scrutiny increases, effective attribution modeling will be essential to prove the value of our marketing down to the individual content piece, says @cspenn via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
The focus in 2021 will be on the bottom line – what creates value for the business. Content marketing can create value, leads, and sales for businesses in multiple industries, we must prove it. We need to speak a language that the CFO understands, and the most important word in her dictionary is ROI. Focus on determining what business goals you need to achieve with the content marketing effort, and then plan the route. Make sure to measure your efforts and report your progress to the right stakeholders within the business. – Alexander Højfeldt Lund, Brand Movers
Fill sales gaps
Due to the lack of ability to sell in person as much as we used to, more and more companies will spend on digital sales and marketing tactics. With quantity going up with creating relevant content, ranking for important search terms, and distribution will become a major focus.
– John Hall, Calendar.com
Just like in 2020, sales teams won’t be attending any networking events in 2021, so they’re going to need our help to stand out in their cold outreach. This means more collaboration between sales and marketing with a focus on creating dynamic, personalized messaging to break through the email clutter. – Vishal Khanna, HealthPrize
Invest for better returns
Content marketers should expect to invest more in content depth, breadth, and intent-focused structure for better performance on search and conversions.
– Paxton Gray, 97th Floor
Content marketers should expect to invest more in #content depth, breadth, and intent-focused structure for better performance on search and conversions, says @PaxtonMGray via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Make everything count
Business is going to be increasingly vigilant about expecting a return on their content marketing investment. Content marketers will be challenged on budget and should expect difficult conversations about whether content production is viable. We need to be ready to show the value we’re adding to commercial goals and improve the overall effectiveness of all our content production. – Sarah Mitchell, Typeset
In 2021 we’re focusing on creating rewarding customer experiences using contextually relevant content. Our fundamental belief in high-quality content remains, but the focus will be on ensuring the right content is served to the right customers at the right time to create measurable momentum towards ultimate objectives. Every piece of content should have specific measurables tied to real client ROI. – Andrew Nunneley, New Media
Yes, content rushed in to fill the chasm left by canceled in-person activities this year. And, sure, that might translate to more content investment in 2021. But those new dollars arrive (if at all) with added scrutiny. Be ready to show how everything you’re doing has a real impact – whether building an audience, motivating one, or mining their activities for insights that help the business (hat tip to Robert Rose for the building/motivating thought). – Kim Moutsos, vice president of editorial, Content Marketing Institute
Celebrate February and June
51% of all consumers and 58% of multicultural consumers are more likely to buy a product or service if that brand is perceived as standing for issues important to them. Therefore, in light of Black Lives Matter efforts and civil unrest in 2020, expect consumer brands to go ALL IN with messaging targeting Black consumers in February (Black History Month) and June (Juneteenth) in 2021. – Christine Michel Carter, Minority Woman Marketing
Expect consumer brands to go ALL IN with messaging targeting Black consumers in February (Black History Month) and June (Juneteenth) in 2021, says @cmichelcarter via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Expand the tent
I expect content marketers to have a critical lens towards inclusion and inclusive marketing. Are they representing just themselves, or is what they are creating inclusive and representative of their users and audience? In our Marketing with Purpose Playbook, Microsoft Advertising unique research found “64% of people said they are more trusting of brands that represent diversity in ads and 85% of consumers said they will consider a brand they trust.” I expect content marketers to start learning more about creating inclusive strategies and purpose-driven marketing as the hero behind their work. Thinking outside of their traditional boxes and strategies to reach consumers by understanding, “Is this Brand for me?” “Is this brand like me,” and “How is this brand engaging in a way that is meaningful to me and my values?” – Christi Olson, Microsoft
Marketers will need to sharpen their focus on the accessibility and inclusivity of their content experience. It’s essential that all who engage with your brand, including people with disabilities, BIPOC audiences, and non-native English-speakers, feel equally seen, welcomed, and supported by your business. If you aren’t making universally accessible and resonant content, you put your customer relationships and brand reputation at risk. – Lisa Dougherty, Content Marketing Institute
More content marketers will see the positive effects of deliberately making their content more inclusive. For example, meeting the content consumption needs for the visually impaired also helps many people who want voice-activated content. Adding captions or subtitles to video content not only helps people with hearing problems, it serves anyone who can’t listen as they watch without disturbing those around them. – Ann Gynn, Content Marketing Institute
Polish those virtual events
Virtual conferences and events are here to stay. Not exclusively, to be sure. But the improvements in reach, convenience, economics, and content longevity are too compelling to walk away from after the pandemic.
– Michael Kolowich, OpenExchange
Marketers expect the perfect virtual event. Someone will crack the code of that problem, creating an event that will benefit and engage attendees and sponsors alike. We have seen lots of events that excel at one or the other, but 2021 – out of necessity – will figure out the perfect mix to do both. – Laura Kozak, Content Marketing Institute
The pandemic will continue to fuel growth in video content, webinars, and virtual events. Most companies will designate a “talking head” and/or specific team members to host all such experiences.
– Tim Hayden, Brain+Trust Partners
It’s going to be tough to keep webinars interactive as Zoom fatigue sets in. I expect we’ll see smaller, more focused, and intimate virtual events in the first half of 2021 and the return of in-person (safety first) conferences in the second or third quarter.
– Mariah Obiedzinski, Stamats
I expect we’ll see more intimate virtual events in the first half of 2021 and the return of in-person (safety first) conferences in the second or third quarter, says @mariahwrites via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Keep thinking remote
2021 will be the most remote-first year in history. Content marketers will adapt everything they make for this remote context. Formats, devices, editorial topics – they’re all on the table. The best content teams know their audience is juggling more than ever. They’ll deliver only their best work for the distributed world. – Heike Young, Salesforce
There’s no real end in sight for the pandemic, meaning less travel and events and more work from home. Therefore, marketing and leadership will focus fully online to reach customers, putting content marketers at the frontlines.
– Amanda Nelson, Salesforce
Focus on video
Videos and podcasts will play a huge role in content strategy for marketers in 2021. In lieu of in-person events and experiences, offering more creative ways for consumers to connect with brands will be key. These two content types give marketers room to get creative, tell an engaging product story, and connect with their target audiences in a more visual and auditory way. – Michaela Scampoli, Datto
We’ve long discussed the need to genuinely connect with our audiences, but now more than ever, people crave connection. The best type of content for that level of depth is a show. More brands will create original series in audio and video in 2021 than any year. After all, great marketing isn’t about who arrives. It’s about who stays. – Jay Acunzo, Marketing Showrunners
Watch the streamers. Watch how they use technology to connect to an audience. Watch how they tell a story – for many hours – for days on end. Watch YouTube videos about how they set up their spaces. Watch how they understand their audience. Watch how they engage with their audience. Watch how they are a part of their audience. In 2021, expect content marketers (the smart ones) to be more like streamers. – Mitch Joel, Six Pixels of Separation
LinkedIn will continue to feed its user interface with features that make video even better, such as filters for native and video messaging (maybe copying Zoom’s “touch up my appearance”), additions to Stories (stickers, templates, custom creation), video-conferencing platforms, Live for all without third-party tools. People using LinkedIn for selling are going to have to get over their fears and start adapting to the use of video for their own benefit. It’s my prediction LinkedIn will make it easier for users to do just that. – Viveka von Rosen, Vengreso
Connect off-site video with on-site text
Future-oriented content marketers must interlock written content on-site with embedded video content off-site (i.e., YouTube), especially one-for-one keyword matching between the two channels. Video won’t replace text as the primary fuel for content-led growth, but it’ll be damn close. – Aaron Orendorff, Common Thread Collective
Sharpen up those podcasts
Once offices reopen and in-person events are back on the agenda, I’m betting all of those USB mics, green screens, better quality webcams, and so on won’t be allowed to gather dust in the corner of the home office. The home studio is here. Competition in the podcast space may be about to get fiercer. Some of the more overused and tired podcast formats may need to be reinvented to stay relevant (interview-of-the-week podcasts, I’m looking at you). – Jonathan Crossfield, storyteller and content writer
2021 will be the year of listening. Podcasts will grow in popularity as screen fatigue increases. With so much binge-watching and endless scrolling, people are searching for a new way to digest media that fits into their daily lives.
– Leire Bascaran, Helen & Gertrude
Work-from-home culture is not going away in 2021. The inevitable result of all these Zoom calls will be screen fatigue – an extremely relevant shift for content marketers. Serving up content in audio formats or with a strong audio component will help us capture attention beyond the screen.
– Shea Cole, Fullscript
Build better experiences
In 2021, brands are going to see a rise in unfiltered conversations. The name of the game will be creating a sense of belonging is greater than creating the sale to build a sustainable brand without the constant pay-to-play model. We will need to focus less on the tools and more on our technique. Building better human experiences will be the battleground. – Jessika Phillips, NOW Marketing Group
With face-to-face events and field marketing on hold, it’s all on digital channels. Every digital channel (email, ads, social) will always link to a piece of content. But the opportunity is to link to a full content experience where everything from the first to subsequent recommendations feels personalized to the buyer. By putting more thought into these destinations, marketers will increase engagement and accelerate the journey. – Randy Frisch, Uberflip
While we’ve seen wonderful examples of brands and marketers rising to the occasion during a tumultuous 2020, 2021 will break new ground with experiential content marketing that provocatively blends the accessibility of digital content and the emotional connection of in-person experiences. – Peter Loibl, Content Marketing Institute, Informa Connect
2021 will break new ground with experiential #ContentMarketing that blends the accessibility of digital content and the emotional connection of in-person experiences, says @peterloibl via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Focus on the journey and how content can elevate the customer experience.
– Zari Venhaus, Eaton
We will witness the birth of “reality content” into the business world. Expect more unplanned, candid, and people-focused content. Instead of scripted, edited, and polished, we will see more success with content that is off the cuff, rough around the edges, and naturally more authentic.
– A. Lee Judge, Content Monsta
2020 was the year that “authentic” content finally became a thing – and it’s here to stay. We all found ourselves Zooming from our kitchens wearing our pajamas. Slick production values, scripted productions, and staged scenarios became jarring. Expect a more stripped back, lo-fi approach to content to persist in 2021 and beyond. – Lauren Quaintance, Storyation
Lo-fi video will explode. We’re now accustomed to human, imperfect, real-life video content. To a certain extent, this is now expected. Brands will further humanize themselves by capitalizing on content that allows them to be faster, in the moment, and relatable.
– Alex Cheeseman, Industry Dive
Using authenticity and vulnerability in your content marketing is going to set you apart in 2021. We’ve all been bruised by 2020. Our audiences seem to be hungry for connection with anyone and everything, and the brands that are successful about pulling down the curtain and revealing their emotions are going to win. Use empathy as much as possible – don’t skip it in every piece of content you publish. – Ahava Leibtag, Aha Media Group
Tune in to audience needs
Who will win in 2021? Marketers who truly empathize with people’s plight today. Stay in touch with how audiences feel, what they need now, and what they’ll need next. The more in tune your content is, the better people will feel about your brand.
– George Stenitzer, Crystal Clear Communications
Content marketers can expect to take their empathetic content creation to the next level in 2021. The whole “we’re in this together” messaging was fine to start, but content marketers will refocus to get more granular about their audiences’ needs beyond the topical pain points brought on by the pandemic.
– Joseph “JK” Kalinowski, Content Marketing Institute
Content marketing will continue to focus on the customer’s needs but target the whole consumer, not just the part that will purchase. The lines between our personal lives and work lives have blurred so much over the past year. Marketers need to dive deeper into the needs, lives, and emotions of their customers – conversational marketing, one-on-one customer interviews, more robust social listening, well-planned paid social, and more. – Cathy McPhillips, Content Marketing Institute
Content will shift into extremely personal, intimate, and emotional territory. Focusing on pain points, marketers will build narratives to educate customers with a genuine desire to help them succeed. Strategies will be more human-focused in an attempt to create relationships based on compassion and empathy in addition to trust. – Melissa Rosen, Groove HQ
In 2021, we can expect empathy to continue to influence content marketing decisions. Sustaining the current momentum is critical, as audiences more than ever expect brands to be authentic, responsive, and in tune with the broader context of their audience.
– Ali Orlando Wert, SmartBug Media
Grace, empathy, and newfound creativity will blossom among content marketers in 2021 as enduring silver lining gems of the pandemic. These qualities will fill the coming year with unique new opportunities for the sympathetic marketers who embrace them and take us all on exciting post-pandemic content marketing adventures. – Lane R. Ellis, TopRank Marketing
Dig into audience data
The most successful content marketers will develop deep insights into their customers’ changing mindsets and buying patterns at this pivotal time. How do current events impact the way they interact with your people personally and your brand/company professionally? That knowledge will be the foundation for all your content-related efforts. – Lisa Murton Beets, Content Marketing Institute
The most successful content marketers will develop deep insights into their customers’ changing mindsets and buying patterns at this pivotal time, says @LisaBeets via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
2021 will bring an influx of those swinging out and searching for ways to save or grow their businesses. We all want to figure out new ways of doing old things. We are eager for new findings based on what audiences like or dislike. Researching user experience to find what works best now will be successful.
– Leslie Carruthers, TheSearchGuru.com
Communicate with a conscience
Trust will become the most important factor in consumer behavior. People yearning for transparency and authenticity will flood to the platforms and businesses that make them feel most safe and valued. In 2021, people, more than ever, will become conscious consumers and expect brands to prove that their impact on the world is a positive one. – Michaela Alexis, LinkedIn trainer and LinkedIn Learning instructor
Work will continue to verify reliable sources of information online. For example, Twitter and Facebook started labeling or even contradicting misleading information this year (mostly with regard to the US elections). That self-regulation will continue. It could have a positive or negative effect depending on how platforms implement this guidance. I believe the intent is laudable, but any regulation of speech is a slippery slope. – Amanda Changuris, AAA – The Auto Club Group
2021 will be the year we see brands fully embrace content marketing with a conscience. The natural evolution will be to go a step further and integrate purpose-driven content across the marketing strategy. The brands that win hearts and minds in 2021 will be those that have a clear mission for their content marketing – a mission that resonates with the values, social, and environmental causes of the people they serve while involving the audience to create positive change together. – Rachael Sullivan, 3rdspace Communications
It feels like the only content that is breaking through these days is extreme or fear, uncertainty, doubt-producing. There will be a moment of reckoning. After the smoke has cleared (hopefully) in 2021, we need to figure out some rules of engagement. More of a warning than a prediction, 2021 needs to be about creating strong ethics and guidelines so that we can remain effective and trusted. – Tara Hunt, Truly Inc.
Sensitivity to data privacy is on the rise. In 2021, consumers will opt out of marketing content. Successful content marketers will have to become influencers who are willing to be vulnerable and human, and those influencers will become proxies for the brand itself.
– Megan Gilhooly, Zoomin
Market with purpose
Content marketers want the investment and support from their senior leaders to “market with purpose” and prioritize using their brand’s core social purpose in the world as a vehicle of authenticity, which builds trust. They also want investment in education across the entire company that marketing with purpose is everyone’s job – that’s when genuine stories of innovation are born, which makes the content marketer’s job one of “story doing” rather than storytelling. Authenticity and trust by design. – MJ DePalma, head of multicultural and inclusive marketing, Microsoft
Marketing with purpose is everyone's job. That's when genuine stories of innovation are born, which makes the content marketer's job 'story doing' rather than storytelling, says @MJDePalma via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Brands are going to want to tell more stories around their social purpose. Why? They’re facing pressure from consumers to show they are doing the right thing; they are coming under more regulatory pressure to show they think about more than just their profits. And they are under pressure from big investors to show they are responsible long-term corporate citizens. It’s a golden opportunity for content marketing to shine through storytelling. – Martin MacConnol, Wardour
Offer the human touch, even when virtual
We couldn’t do our jobs or even see our families without technology, but I think we’re all feeling a bit of digital burnout. In 2021, the most memorable, meaningful content experiences will be those that feel human. Analog. Artisanal. Authentic. Like Ann Handley’s Content Marketing World presentation – more content with puppies. – Carmen Hill, Chill Content
Authentic, purpose-driven, and educational content. In 2021, our audiences are looking at us to be resources, take stands, and be relevant. It’s about the people behind the content – brand speak won’t work. As much as we want to streamline and automate, our audiences are hungry for the personal touch, follow-up, and outreach. Humanity in brands for 2021 and beyond. – Melissa Harrison, Allee Creative
Go all-in with influencers
Full-time influencers. Three factors are converging:Brands no longer have a bias toward local talent, as remote work becomes the norm Influencers are looking for more stability as home life gets disrupted and paid speaking opportunities dry up Organic reach in social media remains low.
Instead of hiring a social media marketer, brands that can swing it may hire social media influencers. The brand gets the reach and the influencer gets a steady paycheck. – Andy Crestodina, Orbit Media
2021 will be the year that the content marketing world puts significant emphasis on content distribution and amplification. Optimizing the creation of content is largely solved. Now, the difference between winners and laggards will be getting content seen, read, watched, and heard. Increasingly, content marketers will begin to turn away from paid ads and turn toward influencers to gain necessary reach and exposure. 2021 will see the first major convergence of content marketing and influencer marketing. – Jay Baer, Convince & Convert
Marketers should go beyond the surface level and embed themselves into industry-relevant communities. Build relationships with microinfluencers – and not just online. Pick up the phone. By gaining insights from creators who are organically winning, you can extrapolate that for your audience to create authentic content and campaigns that speak their language. – Jordanne Waldschmidt, Association of Equipment Manufacturers
Let the cookies crumble
Consumer privacy and the decline of third-party cookies will force marketers to rethink their digital advertising strategies. Brands will turn to content and context to tell their story and create genuine consumer connections in a privacy-compliant way. – Andy Wiedlin, Nativo
Since cookies will be going away into 2021-’22 as data concerns mount, brands will need to find other means by which customer identification (and nurturing) can happen. Enter permission marketing and first-party data. A content-first approach is the best – and only truly viable – mode of marketing ideally suited to collect truer data and cultivate more meaningful relationships. – Michael Becker, Emarsys
Since cookies will be going away into 2021-’22 as data concerns mount, brands will need to find other means by which customer identification (and nurturing) can happen, says @mjbecker_ via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Expect unopened emails
While pandemic messaging may have provided opportunities for some brands to emerge and build trust among their audience, content marketers would be wise to watch for declining trends in email open rates and clicks as a result of the inbox fatigue that set in during the latter half of 2020.
– Nate Riggs, NR Media
Build your own(ed)
Companies will stop spreading online content on media and channels that are not their own. They are going to lead their audience to their own content platform – a digital clubhouse where they can build a loyal fan base without the interference and unreliable algorithms of tech companies. – Cor Hospes, Merkjournalisten
Content marketing has won. Building owned audiences is now a standard part of business practice. However, there is a perfect storm for politicians to start discovering the benefits of independence from rented land by adopting an owned-media model to reap the benefits of addressing niche audiences (ignored by mass media) and owning first-party data (denied by social media). – Igor Bielobradek, Deloitte in Poland
Give the people what they want
Now is the greatest opportunity for content marketers to remember that relevance at scale is job one. When we’re stressed, confused, or overwhelmed, we just want what we want. To deliver real relevance, we have to step up our understanding of a user’s objectives, scenarios, and emotions – and how we can maintain personal conversations at scale. That means working on the 5Ws (a taxonomy of who, what, where, when, why) to help someone on their way. – Noz Urbina, Urbina Consulting
We have to step up our understanding of a user’s objectives, scenarios, and emotions – and how we can maintain personal conversations at scale, says @nozurbina via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Brands will think and plan differently. When change is a constant, evergreen content has less value. The opportunity is to use timely news-based content to build authority – news that’s relevant to audiences in multiple formats, from social posts to feature articles and video.
– Genevieve Brock, Business Australia
We will finally double down on pragmatic content. Given coronavirus, civil, and climate chaos, people have less time for theory and rhetoric. What little attention we might earn will be focused on content that our intended audience finds imperative, useful, and immediately helpful.
– Rich Schwerin, Autodesk
Going into 2021, content marketers can expect people to continue to feel distracted, disconnected, and distrustful. Moreover, given the polarizing climate, audiences may outright reject any messages that don’t appear to support their view on a subject. Marketers will need to work even harder to connect with their targets and engage them. Consider the hardwired behaviors that impact what people read, who they trust, and when they buy because when people are distracted and afraid, they’re more apt to respond instinctively, without really thinking. – Nancy Harhut, HBT Marketing
Do less or more, but do it better
We’re going to see a lot of marketers aiming for a fewer-things-done-better approach and returning to fundamentals. Lots of brands are being forced to really examine what makes them unique and how to make content that their customers want vs. what the marketing team wants to prioritize. – Amber Naslund, LinkedIn
Content marketing will experience the biggest transition ever. 2020 hit us without warning, but as the pandemic becomes a part of reality in 2021, content marketing will embrace all the realities of what our lives now look like. Gone will be boring content or overly slick professional content. There are more content producers than ever, and I expect that what comes out of all of this will surprise us all. – Eli Schwartz, ProductLedSEO.com
2021 is the year content marketing gets back to basics. That means creating truly useful, informative, entertaining, and engaging content that connects with your ideal customer without being a veiled sales pitch.
– Erika Heald, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting
Expect AI to solve content and ROI challenges
Most companies want to publish more content than they can, blocked by resources and budget. Natural language generation will become more prominent to help companies jump-start drafts and scale their content production. They can publish more without losing the integrity of their brand voice and perspective.
– Jeff Coyle, MarketMuse
Content marketers’ trust and reliance on AI-generated and -optimized content will grow, and adoption will spread wider. With the emergence of better natural language models like GPT-3, content marketers will learn to embrace and use AI as a helping hand in their content creation process.
– Inbar Yagur, Keywee
Personalization is the key to B2B success. My prediction is that content marketing will be personality-driven, and marketers can compose highly personalized communications with AI. Content will be tailored to each individual to increase engagement exponentially and drive the message home even closer exponentially. – Usman Sheikh, xiQ, Inc.
Artificial Intelligence will solve content marketing’s ROI problem. As companies need to deliver tangible results from their content programs, they can use AI to better understand the consumer mindset during the pandemic and deliver business outcomes like leads and conversions efficiently. This will lead to bigger budgets and an expanded market share for the entire content marketing industry. – Peyman Nilforoush, inPowered
Connect with tech
[Use] marketing automation to create relationships between our content and users.
– Arantxa Gulias Valverde, Ferrovial
We will see a rise in the use of new tech. Online audiences will ask for not only better but also newer ways to interact. The shift to working from home had an accelerating effect on the digital transformation companies went through, leading to a quick learning curve for content marketers in using new technologies. – Tim Hanse, Crossphase
Without a clear timeline for in-person interactions, 2021 may be the tipping point for virtual reality to penetrate the marketing space and truly thrive. I expect accelerated tech development in this area, leading to new tools and creative applications that will be more engaging and intuitive for consumers and easier and more affordable for brands to implement at scale. – Jodi Harris, Content Marketing Institute/Informa
Offer an escape from the dark
Content will move toward the surreal. We already see it when a cranberry juice drinking skateboarder and a decades-old song captures the marketing world’s attention. The 2020 content themes followed a progression of reassurance in the face of fear, togetherness in the face of solitude, resistance in the face of oppression, and living in the face of caution. Things may get darker, and when they do, audiences are open to unexpected rays of light. The best content marketers will produce work that acknowledges the shadow of reality in the corner while letting escapism fill the rest of the frame. – Adam Ritchie, Adam Ritchie Brand Direction
Focus on results for audience and brand
In 2021, only committed brands are going to win in content marketing. What did they do differently? They published consistently based on keyword research. They mixed in long- and short-form content. They profiled customers, executives, and partners. They focused on building subscribers. They put paid promotion on their top performers. – Michael Brenner, Marketing Insider Group
The brands that nail genuine personalization will own 2021. Brands in search of true content ROI will start to really tackle content chaos. And it will be the year of the editorial board as enterprise brands, looking for budget and process efficiencies, start to streamline content efforts as they move away from siloed ways of working. (OK, that one probably won’t happen, but I wish it would.) – Karen Hesse, 256
Aim for the best answer – not the longest or shortest
In 2021, expect to spend significant time retraining content producers on what it means to create the best possible answer to a user’s question rather than the longest or most in-depth content. Sometimes the best answer is one sentence, one comparison table, or one map. Not everything needs to be long-form text or a 10-minute video to satiate user needs. – Evan Waters, Prosus
In 2021, expect to spend significant time retraining content producers on what it means to create the best possible answer to a user’s question, says @evanmwaters via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Content marketers are going to continue to experiment with long- and short-form content. Some audiences will have time to explore deep explanations. Others will just want the highlights in a video or social media post.
– Penny Gralewski, Commvault
Get the most from content
2021 should be the year of the content optimization project. Identify content that needs to be optimized and update it and its SEO elements, so it continues to perform.
– Julie Hochheiser Ilkovich, Masthead Media Company
Not only will we focus even more on purpose-driven and sustainable actions as brands, we also will add sustainability goals to our content. This means less disposable or single-use content for short-term objectives and more creating valuable databases with content series as part of our long-term strategy. – Carlijn Postma, The Post
Not only will we focus even more on purpose-driven and sustainable actions as brands, we also will add sustainability goals to our #content, says @carlijnpostma via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
After the year we’ve had, building trust through authoritative content is essential. In-depth content created with and by experts, more links and connections to trustworthy sources, and other authority signifiers will boost content visibility and engagement, no matter what medium you’re working in.
– Deborah Carver, The Content Technologist
Expect to find audiences more critical of the words, images, and arguments put forth by thought leaders, brands, speakers, and content marketers. It won’t simply be enough to say something is so; we’ll have to provide evidence if we hope to persuade the consumer of our content to believe what we are telling them. – Tom Martin, Converse Digital
Expect to find audiences more critical of the words, images, and arguments put forth by thought leaders, brands, speakers, and content marketers, says @tommartin via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Fill the lead-gen need
Many vendors generate the bulk of their leads by sponsoring and participating in industry conferences. Virtual conferences have proven that people can get the information they need without getting on an airplane, being away from the office, and spending a lot of corporate money. For vendors, however, virtual conferences have largely been a bust, leading to few (if any) leads. We will be challenged to help vendors find a replacement. – Val Swisher, Content Rules, Inc.
Expect waning audiences
We’re going to see a lot of audience shrinkage in 2021. Everyone is experiencing increased content fatigue, which will lead to people trimming back to the essentials. If your content isn’t incredibly consistent and helpful, you may be weeded out. But if they don’t leave, you know they’re not just a consumer, they’re a fan. – Drew McLellan, Agency Management Institute
Turn off TV ads
The pandemic proved two things: Broadcast TV is over, streaming won. And content marketing proved vital in connecting with customers when other channels were blocked. In 2021, smart CMOs will shift TV dollars toward content marketing experiences to initiate or expand those customer relationships.
– Eric Goodstadt, Manifest
Put content at the heart of everything
Content sits at the center of any marketing and communications program going into 2021. It’s where we’ve begun to build every paid, earned, social, owned (PESO) model campaign that we implement. Without content, you don’t have anything to share on social, nothing to boost through paid social and search, and certainly nothing to show to a journalist to prove your thought leadership and expertise. – Gini Dietrich, Spin Sucks
Invest for better results
Content marketers are going to have to spend more money to create better content if they want to see results and stand out in 2021. Free trial offers, basic white papers, and demos are not going to cut it. The content that will get noticed will need to be creative, impactful, and make a difference to the person reading it (really help them do their jobs better, get better results, be more efficient … but with more specifics than most have ever needed.) – Angela Vannucci, Content Marketing Institute
Open a classroom door
Educational content will become the hot new content marketing trend. I’m not talking about just any educational content; content-savvy B2B marketers will ditch one-off educational pieces to develop e-learning courses and certifications that deliver real value to prospects, building trust and nurturing them until they’re ready to buy. A study by Conductor found high-quality educational content increases a prospect’s likelihood to buy by 131%, but the impact isn’t limited to new business. Educational content is also a key customer success tool, helping to develop savvier, more loyal customers while reducing the overall cost to serve. – Joe Lazauskas, Contently
#Content-savvy B2B marketers will ditch one-off educational pieces to develop e-learning courses and certifications that deliver real value to prospects, says @JoeLazauskas via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Visualize the data
Given the election cycle as well as the progression of COVID, I see a lot more interest in and facility with data visualizations. We are going to see a lot more creative, data-driven storytelling in 2021. I don’t just mean beautiful-but-static charts and graphs but incredible new interactive formats, such as animations of longitudinal data like a bar chart race. – Clare McDermott, Mantis Research
Step away from the PDF
The 1990s called, and they want their PDF back. Content will become more interactive and engaging to close the customer experience gap.
– Kelvin Gee, Oracle
Content development for long-tail queries with low search volume (like “am I covered by Medicare in Puerto Rico?”) will be crucial to winning in search in 2021. The search space is saturated for high-level umbrella terms (like “Medicare”), but these terms can inform long-tail topics for content creation/optimization that will provide an edge in search. – Katie Tweedy, Collective Measures
Don’t stop the presses
The COVID-19 crisis has the potential to make the last remaining analog content channels disappear. However, I am not so pessimistic. Provided we manage to emerge from this situation, people will appreciate a good print magazine, for example, just as they will enjoy real-life experiences more than ever before.
– Matthias Bill, SIX
Provided we manage to emerge from this situation, people will appreciate a good print magazine just as they will enjoy real-life experiences more than ever before, says @MatthiasBill via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Pay attention to structure
I hope to see more discussion among content marketers about structured content and structured data. Metadata applied to our content makes it more findable, understandable, and usable by both robots and humans.
– Laurel Miltner, Orbit Media
Mobilize your content
Our word for 2021: Unlock. After a year of sheltering and working from home, people will finally be unlocked. And the device that helped them survive that lockdown – their phone – will come with them. Content marketers must realize that mobile will be more central to their existence than ever.
–Andy Seibert, Imprint
Content marketing will shift to mobile-first content that converts for all brands and categories. The pandemic vaulted digital adoption forward five years, and mobile content consumption rose in every brand category. The direct-to-consumer path to purchase now requires multiple types of mobile-first content at every stage, from inspiration to product information to sales conversion. – Jacqueline Loch, SJC Content
Look outside your bubble
In 2021, content marketers will need to look outside their industries to find inspiration. This will lead to more creative content that stands out from a sea of sameness, inspires people to want to pay attention, and builds a stronger emotional connection between the audience and the brand. – Carla Johnson, marketing and innovation strategist
Confirm your hypotheses
We’ve all had a chance to conduct the great coronavirus content marketing experiment. The budget earmarked for events was reallocated to content marketing. If virus concerns ease around events in 2021, we’ll see who truly capitalized on the opportunity to build an audience and who just went through the motions.
– Frank Strong, Sword and the Script Media, LLC
If virus concerns ease around events in 2021, we’ll see who truly capitalized on the opportunity to build an audience and who just went through the motions, says @frank_strong via @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Expect the unexpected. 2020 has taught us you can never stand still.
– Susi O’Neill, Kaspersky
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute