Safe to say, 2020 did not go to plan. Like nearly every other industry, B2B tech had to adapt and pivot quickly – with marketers adapting content strategies, changing messaging, and finding new ways to reach audiences at home.
(Of the 79% of B2B marketers with a content strategy, 70% had to make major or moderate adjustments to it due to the pandemic.)
And while 2021 appears to be getting off to a similar start in terms of lockdowns and COVID cases, we can at least use last year’s lessons to shape this year’s plans.
So how has the pandemic really impacted the landscape of content marketing? As organisations race to become more digital, what content types are leading the way – and which are beginning to trail behind? What are B2B content marketing’s “must haves” in this strange new world of 2021?
Strap yourself in; we’re going to find out.
From the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) benchmarking report, to Orbit Media’s blogging survey, we’ve dived into the data to give you a snapshot of how B2B content marketing changed in 2020 – and the trends that look likely to define 2021. (Of course, if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that nobody can be 100% sure what the future will bring. But we can make a few educated guesses.)
Here are five themes you might want to think about this year…
1. Your community is key (as long as your content is value-packed)
CMI’s latest benchmarking report asked B2B content marketers about their success in 2020. And for the top performers, a key focus was on establishing and nurturing a loyal digital audience.
Nearly half (42%) of the most successful respondents said they have established an online community. In direct comparison, only 21% of the least successful said the same. So, as remote working continues and business becomes increasingly digital, focusing on strengthening your relationship with your existing audience could be key.
Providing value-laden content – especially on your website or blog – is a big part of making this happen. 73% of the top performers said they had used content marketing to successfully nurture their community of subscribers, audiences and leads. And in the same group, respondents cited the value their content provides as the most important factor in their success (83%).
2. Video content is on the up… and up and up
There’s a running joke at Radix that every year since 2013 has been declared the year of video content. But now, in the age of Netflix and Amazon Prime, the evidence shows it could actually be happening.
In 2020, video content marketing really boomed. With face-to-face events cancelled, virtual events like webinars offered an attractive alternative, with use increasing to 67%. YouTube use has also increased significantly. It’s an easy way to produce accessible, engaging content, and 62% of marketers are now using it.
And for those brave enough, livestreaming content (such as Q&As or product demonstrations) offers huge potential to provide value to customers and build up your online community. You can connect with your audience in real time, with a direct line of contact to individual decision makers, and answer the actual questions they may have. Plus, if you have an adorable child or dog interrupt you, you might even go viral (I know, I know; it’s not B2B content. I just love it).
In fact, the proportion of marketers livestreaming content has more than doubled over the past year, from only 10% to 29%. A figure that will likely grow in 2021, especially with nearly a third (29%) of B2B marketing executives saying that they won’t place such a big emphasis on face-to-face events following the pandemic.
We even had a crack at livestreaming ourselves, with our B2B Content Tuesdays webinar and Q&A series, now available as a YouTube playlist and in blog form. Next, I’m trying to convince David to take on TikTok, so get ready for a series of B2B themed dances…
[Give it up, Lizzie; it’s never going to happen. – D]
3. Blogs are still on top – but make them longer, and more visual
However popular video content becomes, it has some way to go before it dethrones our favourite content type: the humble blog.
According to Orbit Media’s annual blogging survey, 78% of marketers see results from their blogs – with 1 in 4 reporting “strong results”. But with nearly 31 million bloggers online, and 94% of B2B marketers using the format, it can be difficult to be heard. Luckily, the Orbit Media report has boundless depths of data. So, I dived into their survey results, to find out how you can stand out in 2021:
- You may need to write more. The average word count is now 1,269, and the majority of bloggers (54%) who write 3000+ word articles see strong results. (Only 19% bloggers writing 500-1000 words, can say the same.)
- Your audience may respond better if you keep your piece visual. Only 3% add more than ten images, but 34% of those that do report high levels of success.
- Write a couple of headlines. Then write a few more. Bloggers who write between 11-19 see the best results, but that’s a lot to ask. According to Orbit, writing seven or more is enough to boost your success rate.
- Spend more time on your posts. The longer you spend on a blog post, the more success you are likely to have. Bloggers who write for over six hours are significantly more likely to see better results. (Great news for me, considering I’ve been compiling this piece since November 2020.)
You can find more stats from Orbit Media here, or if you’re looking for a handy guide to blogging, take a look at our crash course to B2B blog writing.
4. Use the same SEO tools, but with a new approach
According to CMI, the top editorial tools B2B organisations use to assist content marketing are much the same as last year. A huge number of B2B marketers (78%) use keyword research tools for search engine optimization (SEO) during the content creation process.
But how can you ensure effective SEO in 2021? According to Search Engine Journal, which spoke to 42 of the top SEO professionals, there are a few trends you should really be following:
- Really, actually, focus on user and search intent. Search intent is always in flux, and after a year of such dramatic changes, this is truer than ever. So aggregate data from the searches your customers are making. Delve into Google Search Console keyword data, with common question modifiers, to find out what your customers are asking. Then cater to those topics.
- Make sure your content and website perform well on mobile. We may as well face it: phones run our lives. And even for B2B customers, it’s where a lot of searches happen. With remote working here to stay, you need to make mobile device UX a top priority for your SEO this year.
- Consistently publish long-form content. As you can see in the Orbit Media blogging survey, longer posts (2,000 words or more) consistently provide better results for B2B content marketers. But they’re also great for SEO – appealing to Google’s E-A-T guidelines, and helping you boost your rankings.
- Make your content more interactive. Research carried out by Lumen Research for Turtl found that an interactive format is 73% more engaging for readers than a static document. Readers even found key messages more compelling, so including interactive elements could be an easy way to deliver more value to readers.
And there’s a whole world of other SEO trends to follow in 2021 – here’s a link down the rabbit hole.
5. It’s all about big (big) picture trends
Looking at short-term trends is useful, but it also pays to keep the big picture in mind. Helpfully, The B2B Institute at LinkedIn has highlighted some of the macro trends likely to dominate B2B content marketing until (at least) 2030:
Invest in long-term brand building
In the 2030 trends report, the B2B Institute discusses two types of marketing – sales activation, and brand building. The latter compounds over time, which can help you generate long-term growth and demand, so it’s important to focus on a 50/50 split to maximise growth.
In these days of measurable ROI, many brands just focus on marketing to sell, which can lead to overinvesting in lead generation. But the tide is already beginning to turn. Brand building is on the up again, and the data tells us why. For one example, when you expose B2B buyers to brand marketing, their response rates to sales InMail messages increase 150%.
The B2B Institute notes that creativity is one of the most important variables in marketing success, and this is just as true in B2B content. According to their research, a strong creative can multiply the financial returns of a marketing campaign by a factor of 12 (that’s right: 1200%).
To see how this worked in practice, they grabbed all the data they could about Disney’s creative marketing decisions, and have developed some “probabilistic principles” to follow when developing great creative.
You could “Bet Big”, and go all-in on a massive campaign, to really get yourself seen. Or follow the “Extreme Distinctiveness” principle, where you make yourself so unique, you’re instantly recognisable. And it all boils down to this algorithm:
Creative Success = (Big Bets) On (Familiar Stories) With (Distinctive Styles) In (Every Channel).
You can find the rest of the 2030 trends report here – it’s really interesting stuff.
2021, here you come
2021 might see you completely transform your content marketing strategy, or just add an extra couple of hundred words to your blogs. Either way, it’s important to make changes that respond to the new ways your audiences are working now, and the contexts where B2B decisions get made. Hopefully these insights give you some food for thought.
Fingers crossed, by the time 2030 rolls around we’ll be able to visit the pub again.