4 Content Marketing Bets We’re Placing in 2021

By now there has been no shortage of hot takes about 2020 and all of its unprecedentedness. And without a doubt, much has changed this year—some things irrevocably.

But 2020 has also revealed some trends that stood the test of the pandemic and will see marketers through 2021 and beyond. Here’s a list of content marketing truisms you can count on for the long term.

1. Content marketing’s clout is growing.

According to new research by the ANA and the Content Council, most marketers (52%) report that their organization has a strong commitment to content marketing—double the number of marketers who felt that way two years ago. What’s more, marketers expect this trend to continue with nearly 80% expecting to have strong commitment from their organizations by 2022. ANA captured these sentiments just before the pandemic began, but additional research by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) suggests that confidence in content marketing has withstood the pandemic.

CMI’s findings, which were gathered in the summer of 2020, show support for content marketing has not been blunted by the pandemic. More than 70% of marketers surveyed by CMI reported that they either maintained or increased their content marketing budgets. A quarter shifted budget from traditional advertising to content marketing, and even that trend was even more pronounced among larger brands.

A variety of factors can explain content marketing’s staying power—especially during a year of heightened uncertainty and consumer appetite for information. Content marketing is one of the best ways for brands to control their own narrative and establish legitimacy with their audiences. Consumers are more conscious and skeptical than ever of advertising and instead are seeking out trustworthy, authentic content that provides value—a service content marketing does better than any other tactic.

2. Marketers with a content marketing strategy see a brighter future.

This one may not be a surprise, but it’s still worth noting since CMI found that a minority of marketers (43%) have a documented content strategy, and only 35% of those surveyed by the ANA reported having one. The old saying that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” holds true in many disciplines, and marketing is no different. In an ordinary year, strategy is a critically important part of a successful marketing program. Without it, your efforts are susceptible to creep, inconsistency and criticism. In 2020 and beyond, having a plan will be even more important as marketers are forced to build flexibility and preparedness into their plans.

(We wrote a whole post on why revisiting your content strategy is one of the best resolutions you can make to set yourself up for success in 2021.)

Having a plan gives marketers a confidence boost that their efforts will be defendable and undeterred by distraction. ANA found that just having a documented strategy doubled marketers’ confidence in the outlook of content marketing in their organization.

3. Measurement is a challenge that must be met.

Measuring the ROI of content marketing programs continues to be a challenge for marketers. Nearly 60% of respondents to the ANA’s survey reported that their current tracking methods fail to provide actionable insights. And 31% said their data was too overwhelming to make sense of. CMI found that about a third of marketers reported measurement issues as a factor in the underperformance of their content marketing programs this year.

The pioneer of business management Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.” A variety of free and paid marketing automation and tracking technologies have democratized the gathering of data across a range of media and platforms, but extracting meaning from that data is the next hurdle marketers must overcome to truly optimize their efforts.

4. High-quality content outperforms high quantities of content.

Despite strong commitments and reliable budgets, marketers report that content production remains a top challenge for their teams. This often forces marketers to choose between volume and quality. Reach and impressions can be cheaply bought, but seasoned marketers know that qualified leads yield results, and they require more than a banner ad or blog post to capture and convert.

Cathy McManus, vice president of marketing and branding at McGraw-Hill told the ANA, “Prioritizing quality over quantity is key. One well-researched, well-structured piece of engaging content built around customer insights that enable it to truly meet your target consumers’ unmet needs … will win out over massive amounts of inexpensive, mass-produced, mass-amplified content every time.”

As 2020 comes to a close, businesses are reflecting on the year that was and are looking forward to the year that will be. Marketers can be confident that content marketing will remain an important tool in their arsenal, and they can expect it to perform well for them if they can make a commitment to strategic, measured and substantive content.