The past couple of decades have seen marketing go from offline to almost completely online. While traditional marketing methods (TV, billboards, radio, and the likes) still work well to generate brand awareness, they simply aren’t affordable for everyday businesses, startups, and SMEs.
With the internet becoming increasingly accessible in recent years, enter digital marketing — a substantially more affordable way to market your business using online means such as search engines, email, social media, and so on. And at the core of any digital marketing strategy lies content — aptly crowned as “king” by Bill Gates way back in 1996.
The 2010s saw the unfolding of content marketing from a mere nice-to-have to something of a necessity. As Seth Godin once said back in 2008, “Content marketing is the only marketing left”, and for good reason — it’s authentic, useful for the audience, and highly shareable — ideal for the internet generation.
So, while the effectiveness of content marketing is pretty much indisputable, the channels, tools, and techniques marketers use to create and distribute content will continue to advance in 2021 and beyond.
Wondering what exact trends and tactics lay in store for the year ahead? Read on to find out 17 content marketing trends that’ll likely dominate in 2021.
Trend #1: Video content marketing will take center stage
Most marketers today are no strangers to video and its effectiveness in marketing, and video content marketing has grown significantly in the last couple of years.
In fact, 83% of marketers believe that video is becoming increasingly important and gives good ROI, which indicates the start of more brands using video content as part of their online marketing strategies.
Plus, as you know, video content is being devoured on social media like never before. YouTube, not Bing or Yahoo, is the second biggest search engine after Google. People search for practically everything on YouTube — how-tos, product demos, recipes — you name it.
- 96% of people say they’ve watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service.
- 84% of people say a brand’s video has convinced them to buy a product or service.
- 86% of people would like to see more videos from brands.
What’s more, 70% of B2B buyers and researchers watch videos on their path to purchase.
Even so, many businesses are yet to give video marketing a shot (due to lack of time, budget, technical know-how, or some other excuse). Thus, it is still a relatively untapped marketing channel that you should seriously plan on leveraging in 2021 (if you haven’t already).
Also, when it comes to video marketing, don’t post all your content on YouTube and/or other established social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter — and call it a day. Doing so is fine if you’re in B2B, but if you’re in B2C, then there’s another platform you need to consider, discussed next.
Trend #2: Death of Google+ sees the rise of new social platforms like TikTok
Back in April 2019, we bid farewell to Google+. To be honest, not many marketers (or users for that matter) would miss that platform. Do you?
While Google+ passed away, there has been a new player in town and it’s gaining rapid popularity among the younger folk. That new player is TikTok, a social media platform for creating and sharing short (and rather eccentric) videos.
Currently, TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms with well over 800 million active users worldwide. That’s more than several well-established platforms like Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Reddit — yes, unbelievable.
But wait, there’s more — of the top five most downloaded apps worldwide in Q1 2019, TikTok is the only one that is not owned by Facebook. It crossed the one billion mark for worldwide installs (on both the App Store and Google Play) in January 2019, which itself is a truly commendable achievement.
It seems to be no turning back for TikTok at this point, and if your target audience is between 16 and 24 years of age, investing in TikTok marketing campaigns is almost a no-brainer. That said, you could argue that…
Trend #3: Text would still be preferable over videos, at least by the older folk
There’s something about plain-old text against a white (or black) background that still works wonders.
People seem to agree — a casual Twitter poll by Kunal Shah, Founder of FreeCharge and CRED, indicates that people prefer news-like content in the form of text rather than videos. Of course, this may not be true for other varieties of content such as interviews, product reviews, and how-tos.
Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, just can’t get enough of visual content. For Gen Z, YouTube is the first platform they turn to when they want to relax or cheer up.
66% of millennials engage with a brand after watching a video in their social media feed, and 30% want a video to be accompanied by a link that allows them to quickly purchase the product, proving that product videos and shoppable content present a lot of opportunities for businesses.
Simply put, these younger generations are avid consumers of media and by 2021 they’ll make up 40% of all consumers.
So, yes — the times they are a-changin’ — but blogging will still remain the primary form of content marketing, at least for the foreseeable future. The effectiveness of textual content in the form of listicles and how-to guides isn’t going to die anytime soon.
Trend #4: There will be a special focus on increasing E-A-T
Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness — that’s what it’s all about moving forward. Businesses who wish to rank high in search results in 2021 need to focus on proving expertise, authority, and trust in their content.
While E-A-T may not be an official ranking factor for Google, they have explicitly described its importance time and again.
How do you prove these three factors to your audience (and Google)? There are four ways you can do so, according to Julia McCoy, CEO of Express Writers:
- By earning links or mentions from other authority websites.
- By providing E-A-T information on your site, including a bio and credentials on your about page and author pages.
- Linking out to authoritative sources for supporting stats, data, and facts in content.
- Updating your site and content regularly with relevant, accurate, current information.
This is where textual content, which is “crawlable” by Google’s web crawlers (unlike videos), makes its value known. In 2021, you must continue creating long-form content such as how-to guides and massive listicles. It is a great way to prove authority and earn links.
Trend #5: Garnering more User-Generated Content will become a priority
All that big talk about video content and social media is incomplete without highlighting the importance of user-generated content (UGC), that is, any type of content (blog posts, lifestyle images, video reviews) created and posted online by users who aren’t paid to voice their opinion.
Think about it — would you rather trust a brand’s marketing or a recommendation from your friends/family? Of course, the latter. People trust other people more than they ever could trust any brand. And this holds true in 2021 more than ever.
UGC adds to your social proof (product reviews, testimonials, and shout-outs), boosts engagement with your brand, and saves you time on content creation. A tried-and-tested way to garner more UGC is by running social media contests.
Contests provide an incentive for consumers to publicize your brand (and thus, to some degree, endorse it) in their social network. For instance, Hyundai, the multinational automotive manufacturer, ran a contest using the hashtag #myhyundaiveloster on Instagram and Twitter as a way for fans of the brand to enter to win the chance to test drive a new model of the Veloster.
In 2021, you’ll see more and more brands running branded hashtag contests on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Overall, it is safe to assume brands would become increasingly customer-centric and focus on earning more product reviews and customer testimonials.
Trend #6: Collaborated content will see a surge in demand and execution
When thinking about content collaboration, it is time you go beyond guest blogging and sponsored posts. Start thinking about influencer collaborations, specifically, micro-influencer collaborations.
Why micro-influencers? Not just because the usual influencers with massive follower counts (over 100K) have exorbitant price tags, but because micro-influencers have more intimate relations with their followers which results in a much higher engagement rate.
Plus, the problem of “fake followers” is highly unlikely in the case of micro-influencers. You can easily ascertain that the followers you’re targeting are real people and the engagement is authentic.
Moreover, micro-influencers don’t necessarily demand money in exchange for content. They may be open to other ways of payment, such as you offering your products for free.
Not to mention, collaborating with an influencer boosts your E-A-T. That’s because nearly two out of every three consumers say that they trust influencer messages about a brand more than a company’s advertising about itself.
So, if you haven’t already, 2021 is the year for you to try content collaboration with an influencer that’s fit for your brand.
Trend #7: Podcasts will be more popular than ever before
In 2020, a survey on podcast consumption revealed that 37% of U.S. adults had listened to a podcast within the last month, a figure which has nearly tripled over the past decade. Weekly podcast consumption has also increased notably, and some of the world’s leading podcast publishers achieve millions of unique streams and downloads per month.
These numbers are expected to continue growing in 2021. So, if you find there’s a clear demand for audio content in your niche, now is the time to go for it.
However, it’s important that you do so with an intention. Creating a podcast just for the sake of doing so won’t do you any good. Similarly, creating an episode whenever your team has some time to kill or whenever the mood strikes is of no use.
Instead, approach your podcast content strategically as you do with the rest of your content marketing efforts. And if you’re not looking to produce podcast content yourself, you may consider appearing on other podcasts your audience listens to.
Think of it as the new way of guest posting for the year 2021.
Trend #8: Content personalization will be the key to effective marketing
Savvy consumers of today don’t want to be treated as “just another customer”. They want a personalized experience each time they engage with your business.
In fact, The Salesforce State of Connected Customer Report 2019 found that an astonishing 73% of business buyers expect communications from businesses that are personalized to suit their needs.
Simply put, customers want a tailored experience as they proceed from first hearing that a company exists all the way through to deciding to do business with them. Besides, B2B buyers are well aware that they have countless options to choose from when making decisions. Many of them won’t hesitate to switch to another company if they feel that their needs are not being met.
So, personalization is now a must to give your business a competitive edge. Without a sharp focus on personalization, your 2021 content marketing strategy is far from effective.
Sending personalized emails, which is commonplace nowadays, is another surefire way to more marketing success. According to campaign monitor, personalized emails have a 26% higher likelihood of being opened than generic emails. If you have been sending generic emails to your customers, 2021 has to be the year you change that. You can also personalize the links you create and share online with a tool like Rebrandly. Branded links can increase click-through rates by up to 39% over the use of generic links.
Trend #9: Artificial Intelligence (AI) will start playing a bigger role in content marketing
AI has already been making great strides in content marketing. For instance, can you believe the following opening line of a sports story was written solely by an algorithm:
“Kenny O’Brien did his best to change the outcome, but the sophomore couldn’t will George Washington past Virginia as the Colonials lost 2-0 at Davenport Field on Tuesday.”
Companies such as the Associated Press, Fox, and Yahoo have been using AI and machine learning to automatically create content. Worried much?
What’s more, AI algorithms are useful in curating content and predictive intelligence — something that gives marketers insight into which content pieces to target to which customers.
When you recognize where users are in the buyer journey (via predictive lead scoring), you can use that data to target the specific style of content they are most likely to enjoy and engage with. 2021 could be the year AI disrupts content marketing.
Trend #10: Chatbots will become mainstream
While talking about the role of AI in marketing, let’s not forget about one of its more basic and increasingly mainstream uses — chatbots.
Chatbots help streamline the customer support process. Instead of having users fill out a form, they can just type in their queries and get instant answers to commonly asked questions.
43.18% of all respondents to a survey by Tidio claim that a chatbot is their preferred channel of communication when shopping online. Furthermore, research from Survey Monkey and Drift suggests that only 38% of consumers want to talk with an actual human when engaging a brand.
And here are the findings from Salesforce’s latest State of Service survey:
- 53% of service organizations expect to use chatbots within 18 months — a 136% growth rate that foreshadows a big role for the technology in the near future.
- 64% of agents with AI chatbots are able to spend most of their time solving complex problems, versus 50% of agents without AI chatbots.
The biggest benefit of chatbots is 24/7 availability and the possibility of real-time customer service. People now expect chatbot as a standard on any business website. So, if your business lacks one, it is about time you integrate one.
Trend #11: Interactive content will continue to grow
Content is maturing from plain-old text interspersed with stock photos to more engaging and gratifying interactive formats. As already discussed above at length, visual content is where the money’s at.
Calculators, online quizzes, and interactive infographics are great, but for 2021, they’re old news. For example, did you know you can now make your own augmented reality (AR) filters and lenses for Snapchat?
Sure, creating interactive content requires considerably added investment of time and money. But the results are worth it. So, if you haven’t yet started creating and promoting next-level interactive content, make this your 2021 marketing resolution.
Trend #12: Evolution of result-oriented content
Along the lines of interactive content, result-oriented content is something that’ll really help you stand out.
Here, the phrase “result-oriented” doesn’t mean to convey content that is subtly persuasive or keyword-optimized. Of course, that is expected from quality content and is needed for effective content marketing.
Rather, think of the phrase from the user’s perspective. You want to help the consumers of your content get their answers as quickly as possible — that is good user experience which builds trust and retention.
To be specific, consider shamelessly stealing this fantastic idea of creating filterable posts from Content Mavericks:
Instead of skimming through an enormous list of metrics to learn about how to achieve their particular desired content marketing goal, all readers have to do is click on the goal they want to achieve, and those metrics are brought up.
As a result, the content is easier to consume and focused on getting readers what they want. You’re right — you might need a developer’s help to make this happen, but your readers would love it. Do it for them this coming year.
Trend #13: Most content will be optimized for voice search
A key trend to be aware of that is likely to majorly affect SEO and content marketing in 2021 is the increasing use of voice search. In fact, Comscore predicts that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2021.
Brands are still just starting to optimize their content for voice search. So, if you do so before your competitors, it won’t be long before your content gets spoken out of your audience’s smart devices.
For this, you must understand how users actually conduct voice searches. With text-based searches, they might type “2021 content marketing trends” but their voice query would likely be something like “What are the top content marketing trends of 2021?”.
Recognizing these nuances will help you craft more effective headlines and create more specific long-tail keywords within your content that’ll be picked up Google as featured snippets.
Trend #14: Good user experience (UX) will become indispensable
Truth be told, user experience always was and will be imperative for product-based companies, just as customer satisfaction is for service-based businesses.
While even the biggest of the big companies have been getting away with bad UX (ahem..Facebook), it won’t be the case for long. The amount of competition in every niche and the sheer number of alternatives available to consumers today simply means that products with poor UX will perish.
The same goes for your content. If it fails to engage, entertain, and delight the user, it’ll be lost in a sea of lackluster. And so, make sure you focus on content quality, not quantity, in 2021.
Trend #15: Account-based marketing (ABM) will become the go-to B2B marketing strategy
Back in the day, all B2B marketers followed the same ol’ sales funnel. But not today, and certainly not in 2021.
The funnel is flipping. Instead of casting a wide net with generic blog posts hoping to catch some leads, account-based marketing takes a completely opposite approach.
Rather than relying on blanket campaigns that are meant to appeal to the whole industry and bring more site traffic, account-based marketing uses highly targeted, personalized campaigns to win over specific business accounts.
ABM stresses on quality outreach and relationship-building. So, instead of endlessly publishing blog posts and blasting email lists with generic content created for a mass audience, ABM best practices emphasize on crafting content and experiences for a specific set of people from particular accounts.
In a nutshell, account-based marketing is essentially personalized B2B marketing on steroids.
Now, according to research by ITSMA, nearly 85% of marketers measuring ROI say that ABM outperforms other marketing investments, while 41% of B2B marketers worldwide said they would boost spending on ABM. So, in 2021, maybe it’s time for you to ramp up your ABM game.
Trend #16: Intent-based content for semantic search
A few years ago, content marketing was mostly about sprinkling keywords throughout your content but today keywords are just a small piece of the puzzle.
“Semantic search” is how Google sifts through oceans of web pages and data in their index and uses AI to determine the intent and contextual meaning behind a search query. It is how Google ranks the most relevant results at the top.
If Google expects high-quality user experience from your website, the same applies to them too. They too want to be able to deliver the best search experience possible by enabling users to quickly find the best results using natural language search terms.
Optimizing for intent comes down to understanding how and why your audience searches. It’s about understanding what answers, information, products, or experiences they’re seeking.
In 2021, here’s what you need to to create intent-based content:
- Create content that answers your audience’s questions. These could be FAQs — in a Q&A format — but comprehensive. You might create long-form pieces of content to answer just a specific question, answering the question at the top of the piece (“what is semantic search,” for example) before diving into the details.
- Write for humans, not bots. That is, your content must be to the point and written in easy-to-grasp language. No adding fluff for the sake of hitting a target word count. Use subheadings and bullets to aid readability.
- Use structured data when applicable. Using a product, question, article, ratings, or review schema helps crawlers better understand your content and results in a more inviting search result for the users.
- Practice contextual internal linking. Strategically link your site’s pages to create a well-structured map of related content around a central topic or search term — the idea behind HubSpot’s topic cluster model.
Semantic search and contextual optimization will gain more importance in 2021. Google’s algorithm is striving to comprehend a user’s intent, so the more relevant content you create — with primary and semantic (conceptually related) keywords — the higher you rank.
Long story short, create content meant to answer questions that your target audience would have. Think topic clusters instead of fixating on keywords. Use structured data wherever applicable. Finally, don’t write for search engines but for human users.
Trend #17: Live streaming continues to surge
We started with the first trend being about video content marketing, and when you dive deeper into that, you’ll find live streaming to be its centerpiece.
No, live streaming is not just for gamers on Twitch and YouTube — many brands have been successfully using live streaming since 2016. In fact, live streaming content has increased from 10% in 2019 to 29% in 2020.
And so, live streaming should certainly be a part of your 2021 marketing strategy, as it:
- Enables real-time engagement: Your audience can converse or comment in real-time, enabling you to understand what sparks their interest and motivates them to engage with your business. Live streaming helps build rapport and a sense of connection that can’t be done with other content formats.
- Builds trust and transparency: For instance, an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session makes viewers feel that they’re participating in truly genuine interaction with your brand. Your audience appreciates authenticity over heavily edited and scripted stuff.
- Is appealing and exciting for the modern audience: Viewers love the sense of unpredictability and anticipation they feel when watching a live stream as anything can happen.
- Is cost effective: All you really need to live stream is some camera confidence, a stable internet connection, and a decent camera, like the one your smartphone has. Plus, it takes little-to-no time to prepare for a quick and engaging live video once you have some experience.
- Can be easily repurposed: Once you finish streaming, you can simply take that video and publish its transcript as a blog post, an infographic, a podcast, and obviously a refined version of it as a proper video.
With so much recent focus on mobile-friendliness and mobile-first, “What after mobile?” is a question many marketers ask themselves. Could it be a focus on other mobile devices like wearables and smartwatches? Well, time will tell.
But for now, know that blogging, email, and text-based content marketing aren’t going anywhere. And that 2021 is going to bring a lot more of seriously exciting visual content marketing aimed at building E-A-T.
Personalizing content without seeming creepy would be crucial for online businesses. Above all, outstanding user experience and credible user-generated content would separate so-so businesses from thriving brands.
If you want to share these trends with your colleagues, clients or friends, feel free to share this post with them or you can use the infographic below: