Content marketing has played an important role in the marketing mix for both B2B and B2C marketers for a while now. Ninety-five percent of B2B customers view content as a marker of trust when evaluating a business, which makes it indispensable for B2B marketers. While consumer marketers had to make drastic changes to their content marketing plans as a result of the pandemic, the importance of content grew as more people turned to digital channels for information than ever before. According to SEMRush, about 68% of marketers expected to increase their content marketing budgets between 2020 and 2021.
Content marketing is also maturing across the board. For this article, Trust Insights compared 10,000 articles about content marketing from 2015 till August 2021. It tracked how frequently occurring words and phrases changed over the years. One trend saw discussions of tactical topics around blogs, native advertising and SEO surpassed by content around content effectiveness, finding more efficient resources and monetization.
This growing maturity suggests content marketing is becoming far more embedded in the broader customer experience (CX) strategy. Its moniker is even evolving, with marketers increasingly referring to it as content experiences.
So with content's importance in CX and marketing on the rise and content budgets set to increase, it's time for marketers to understand what elements can have significant impact on content marketing planning, budgets and outcomes.
Five elements have an outsized impact on content marketing strategy and outcomes. So before finalizing your 2022 content strategy, understand their evolving role and learn how to avoid common mistakes in the areas of:
- Social media
- Interactive (Audio, video, text, AR/VR, gamification etc.) content.
5 Pieces of the Content Marketing Puzzle
1. Martech Technology
Technology helps marketers create, manage, deliver and scale content more efficiently and effectively. But the tech landscape is more confusing than ever, and the pressure is mounting to get the right tech to execute content that's consistent with the rest of the digital experience.
Optimize existing technology features first. Much of content marketing is automated, from creation to distribution, amplification and measurement. As a result, most content marketing strategies will include requests for new technology platforms or solutions. To serve these needs (and grab those budgets!), new martech solutions emerge every day. Existing vendors are also pushing hard to evolve their offerings and enhance features. These new offerings can overwhelm marketers, at times causing them to miss out on what their already-deployed platforms can do for them.
Brody Dorland, co-founder of content marketing platform provider DivvyHQ, said he sees this with his customers. "Despite various product marketing efforts, users tend to ignore product update emails/webinars, either because the platform is serving their original needs smoothly or they are just stretched for time.” He suggested marketers spend more time with their vendor's customer success teams to keep up to date on new features or improvements. “Many of those new features may be game changers sitting right under your fingertips.”
Camille Trent, head of content at Dooly, a connected workspace for revenue teams, recommended putting on the brakes before adding another piece of technology to already over-stuffed tech stacks. "One of the biggest mistakes managers make is over-investing in tech without buy-in from the people who will be using it."
Content is almost all digital. Get the tech to support it. Independent brand consultant and content strategist Sonali Karande Brahma said many traditional brick-and-mortar organizations, SMBs or organizations who relied heavily on ‘face-to-face’ meetings for sales still need to digitize their customer-facing pre- and post-sale processes. "Giving technology a miss to execute and scale content is obviously a huge mistake, but not planning content based on new-age technology, or not connecting that technology to consumer journeys is even worse."
Related Article: Content Marketing Hubs, A Safe Space to Meet Your Audience
2. Data Informed Content
Data is central to every marketing process and content marketing is no different. Where should content marketers be focusing their attention and what data-related investments should they be considering in 2022?
Data analysis, not gathering, should be the top priority. The volume of data and the tech that is gathering and crunching it is always evolving, but for 2022, the focus should be on getting better at analyzing it, said Dorland. “Each year, marketers should make a goal of connecting more systems and connecting more dots to tell a better and more complete story. We work with content marketers every day and data maturity levels vary widely.” Planning for 2022 should be heavily rooted in an understanding of what the data tells us, which means content marketers should be more than conversant with analyzing their data. “Leaving the analysis up to data geeks on the analytics team, ignoring it altogether, or over-investing in data collection is a mistake,” he cautioned.
Data + Human Intelligence is a valuable combination. Validating or testing what the data suggests by running it past human intelligence is a crucial element that is often missed, said Brahma. For example, data may indicate millennials love a certain product because of high purchasing numbers, but human intelligence will tell us they are buying it for an older family member. “Content will need to be planned keeping both the buyer and the user in mind.” She added that dark data — the data a company collects but doesn't use for any specific purpose — could be a source of breakthrough insights that could lead to competitive advantage or missed opportunities in content strategy.
No data is no excuse. While everyone wants a sure thing based on data analysis, many early-stage companies don't have much historical data. Trent said using the lack of data as an excuse to avoid executing on high-quality content is a mistake. There is always enough to start with. Andrew Dennis, senior content marketing manager at Shopify Retail agreed. He cautioned marketers not to make the mistake of assuming they're too small to access and leverage original data to inform strategy. "Even small businesses/brands have solid pools of customers and customer data to pull from. You don't need to publish a giant, original study on your entire industry — start small by gathering data from existing customers and I guarantee you will find insights that would benefit and be interesting to your target audience," he said.
Content builds trust and credibility in the privacy-first age. Even as the marketing world continues to struggle with new data privacy regulations, consumer technology companies from Apple (with its new “opt in” model for app tracking), to Google [which pushed off eliminating third-party cookies from Chrome until 2023] are leveraging privacy as a consumer proposition. In the privacy-first world, consumer trust and brand credibility are critical, and contextual content will play a key role in establishing both. 2022 planning should focus on the "content-for-data" proposition. Content can build trust and transparency among audiences and inspire them to share their data by providing clear and differentiated value, said Alicia Esposito, director of content and new media for retail focused publisher network Retail TouchPoints.
Related Article: Loyalty Without Trust: A Long Walk Off a Short Pier
3. Search, SERPs and New Formats
Search keywords have been a great way to gauge the pulse of customers: what they are looking for, what they need clarity on, etc. Creating relevant content based on insights from keywords and search strings will remain central to content marketers. But the role and scope of search is expanding beyond that. Google is redefining the relationship between search, discovery and shopping, which will have a significant impact on marketers. Marketers should address the triangular relationship of search, shopping and content as we move into 2022.
Create content based on the role search plays in your industry. Search is highly dependent on the industry you're in. Every marketer needs to understand the role it currently plays, and plan for how to optimize and improve upon it in 2022, said Dorland. In most cases he recommends allocating more budget to strategic content creation around core keywords that are not sitting in ideal SERPs today. "I don't think enough content marketers are regularly analyzing keyword data (specifically SERPs for core keywords) and using it to inform content/editorial planning efforts. So if not today, make it a priority in 2022."
Search format will be as key as search content. Consumers are increasingly turning to voice and visual search to discover content via services such as Google Lens and others on their mobile devices. Search engines are increasingly serving up multi-format content in response to keywords — not just text, but also videos, podcasts, images and shopping recommendations. The guiding principle for content marketers should be easy discovery and efficient interactions, regardless of format. Part of this is ensuring all content is search-optimized for the relevant formats.
Data and search are inseparable. Marketing teams are having more strategic conversations around search, its role in the content discovery process, and how that impacts not just keywords used, but the entire content experience, said Esposito. "The most effective marketing teams have the SEO team at the content strategy table, and they will use keyword research and audience insights to drive every decision — from keyword selection, to topical focus and content tactics and channels." Dennis said his experience at Shopify suggests data and search will only become more closely intertwined in 2022. "Data is increasingly becoming a key differentiator for content. There are likely already thousands of posts on the topic you want to cover — so if you want your page to rank in search, you'll need to find a unique angle, and what better way to do that than with original research that other pages can't replicate?"
4. Social Media's Expanding Role
Social media has been indispensable to amplify brand content and build engaged communities. But social media is changing, and content marketers need to keep a step ahead of what it will take to win with social content in 2022.
Organic social media promotion is not a viable plan. Marketers need to factor in that, at least in the context of content marketing, there is little hope in extracting any value from organic promotion on social media platforms, according to Dorland. "It's 100% a paid advertising channel now. So treat it as such and leverage the superior targeting and conversion tracking it affords, to boost reach on appropriate campaigns." He suggested marketers looking to take it a step further can leverage paid social media as an effective A/B testing platform. "Spin up a small-budget test campaign to see which headlines/graphics/etc. in your content arsenal get the most clicks prior to full launch of a campaign."
Factor in audience ebbs and flows. Heightened awareness of data privacy and cybercrimes are leading more young people to leave social media, even as the presence of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers increases, said Brahma. Think about your social media content in that context, build in the agility to be responsive to fast-changing audience demographics and preferences, and find ways to co-create audience-centric content.
Create content for shopping, not just sharing. Social media is growing fast as a post-sales customer service platform, a community space for brand loyalists, as well as a virtual showroom. As a result, no one team can be exclusively responsible for social media. Every team across the organization should be involved in optimizing outcomes and amplifying content depending on the context in which social media is being deployed. As Brahma said, "Not getting the entire marketing and sales team trained in social media and content — especially on how to use it in the pre- and post-sales stages of the buying journey" is an avoidable mistake in 2022. As you explore what expanded roles social media can play in your CX strategy, create content in formats that are relevant for the expanding scope of social media.
Experimentation is key to balancing 'shiny new syndrome' with 'missing the boat.' “A few months ago, everyone thought Clubhouse was the next big thing. Now? Not so much. I'd say TikTok is the hottest, especially for DTC. For B2B, I'd continue investing in LinkedIn and get active on Twitter. As always, avoid shiny object syndrome,” said Trent. Marketers will continue to struggle with balancing what's hot and what's not as the social media firmament continues to expand. Build experimentation on a range of new platforms into your budget moving forward.
Esposito shared how her team struggles with determining how much time and how many resources to place on new and emerging platforms. "The impact of visual storytelling platforms like TikTok is undeniable, but your industry and target audience may not be there yet. As marketers, think about their 2022 content marketing strategy, they should think through which networks will be 'core' to their plans and integrate net-new content creation and promotion through these channels. Then, narrow down a list of new apps and channels to test, and allocate a certain amount of 'experiment time' towards these networks to see whether they hold any weight. After all, you don’t know unless you try!”
Not experimenting enough can lead you to miss the boat on some exciting new platforms. Dennis said marketers need to be aware of how the social media landscape is constantly changing. “If TikTok is not part of your content strategy, then you're already (very) late to the party!” Being too safe, he argued, is a mistake to avoid when it comes to social media. “Obviously, things can go very wrong very quickly for brands on social media without appropriate guidelines and precautions, but the brands that I see having the most success on social media are those that take a bold, human approach. Don't be afraid to infuse some humor, or self-deprecation into your brand's social presence to engage followers on a more human level.”
Related Article: Social Media Trends to Consider in Your 2021 Strategy
5. Interactive Content (Audio, Video, Text, AR/VR, Gamification) Ascends, With Some Caveats
Recent reports suggest pandemic-induced shifts in consumer behavior will accelerate the acceptance of immersive tech such as AR and VR in the near-term. The term 'interactive' covers a wide spectrum of formats and content types: think surveys and quizzes, instant price quotes, AR and VR applications to help customers visualize outcomes of a purchase, gamification to drive engagement and product usage, etc. As with all good content, the primary intent should be to help the customer make a more informed choice or solve a specific problem rather than a sales-led call to action. The possibilities are endless.
Experiment! Dorland said this should be the year of trying and piloting new interactive formats to drive audience engagement. But keep the following caution Trent offered in mind: "Interactive plays can get expensive, fast. Always ship an MVP model first before investing too much in one experiment." While gauging how to measure success of interactive formats is hard, the trend is to focus on engagement metrics such as time spent, number of times shared and similar, rather than vanity metrics such as click-throughs. Brahma recommended pushing the boundaries with human-machine interactions as interactive content driven marketing evolves and matures. “Gamification, AR and VR will all play a key role in experiential marketing,” she said.
Engaging, immersive and experiential content are key to creating the content-led customer experiences of the future. But avoid the interactive rabbit hole. While interactive content helps engage audiences in more personal ways, resonates on a deeper level and helps brands be more present in everyday lives, thinking through the intention (and potential impact) of interactive content is vital. "As we go into 2022 planning mode, I encourage everyone to think through, first and foremost, what they want to say, what they want to change, what they hope to inspire and most of all, what they want their audience to do. Then, you’ll be able to determine what tech, platforms or experiences will best support this mission, helping you uncover new ideas and opportunities for content innovation," said Esposito.
Like social media, AR seems to have the most potential for B2B and B2C brands alike. The use of AR and VR content has already found traction in verticals such as clothing, retail, travel and home improvement. With customers now wanting to experience and purchase products without having to go into a physical store or interacting in person with a sales-person, the trend will soon become table stakes. The same holds true for B2B verticals as well, where it would be even easier to drive adoption of AR experiences of products and solutions for business buyers for everything from office supplies to software.