There’s always an element of uncertainty when writing about business trends and predictions, but 2020 proved that no matter how much we think we know what’s going to happen, we really don’t.
One thing is different this year, however. National lockdowns and mandatory remote working are no longer new or untested. We have a year’s worth of data and insights that we can use to make better predictions this time around.
When you take a look at some of that data, there are three trends that seem very likely to continue in 2021: “lo-fi” content creation, hyper-automation, and inclusive accessibility. Let’s break them down:
In one joint survey between FINITE and 93X, around half of B2B marketers surveyed said their greatest challenge in 2021 would be ‘balancing quantity and quality’ in their marketing.
Remote audiences living under lockdowns have accelerated the need for businesses to produce digital content, however, at the same time, marketing budgets were slashed and resources could not scale to match the new demand. The Bellwether Report saw its quickest decline in marketing budgets since the survey’s inception in 2000.
This gap in supply and demand has forced many marketers to cut operational corners where possible. As a result, the “acceptable” quality level of what branded content should look like has relaxed. Even global enterprise businesses have ditched the polished, over-produced look for something that feels more real and personal, sometimes called “lo-fi” content.
“2020 was the year that “authentic” content finally became a thing – and it’s here to stay”, says Lauren Quaintance, Co-founder of Storyation. “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.”
This lo-fi approach to content creation allows resource-strapped marketing teams more bandwidth to get content out the door without spending big bucks on agencies or joining a design team’s lengthy to-do list.
Technology also plays a key role in finding this balance between quality and quantity. For example, Canva lets marketing teams quickly pull visual assets together so graphic designers can focus on high-priority projects with more advanced software like Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.
This trend is not about lowering content quality across the board, it’s more that marketers are finding spaces in their work where an unpolished look and feel can actually work in their favor while redirecting their resources towards the most important tasks.
The resource issues explored above seem to be pushing marketers closer towards automation as 7 in 10 marketing professionals now believe marketing automation technology will have a positive impact on their work.
Gartner, meanwhile, says hyper-automation is inevitable and that companies will automate as many business and IT processes as possible using AI and machine learning this year.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence of this shift towards content automation is the sudden excitement around AI copywriting tools. The likes of GPT-3 and Contentyze have generated interest in a technology that has been largely ignored or feared for many years.
“I’ve been on the waitlist for GPT-3 for ages,” Rachel Pilcher, a B2B and SaaS conversion copywriter, says. “This is the thing I’m most excited to try out for my own content marketing. The huge leaps in AI tech lately have some interesting things in store for us as marketers, so I’m really hoping I can get access to this in 2021.”
This sentiment is echoed by Inbar Yagur, Head of Marketing at Keywee: “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.”
We’ve also seen rapid growth in interest in our own content automation technology. Brands that need to personalize content on a large scale are using Turtl to automate the process in seconds rather than manually customize each document. This hyper-automation has been seen in other marketing areas, like PPC, for years, but this really feels like the first time content marketers are fully embracing automation.
The days where brands stayed quiet on political and social issues are well behind us in 2021. Consumers expect businesses to take stands on the issues that matter most to them. Companies that show this transparency have been seen to grow two times as fast as those that don’t.
“I expect content marketers to start learning more about creating inclusive strategies and purpose-driven marketing as the hero behind their work,” predicts Christi Olson, Head of Search Advertising at Microsoft. “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?”
This often involves creating content that acknowledges and takes action on the contexts, experiences, and issues of marginalized groups. Some will argue that you should create content for your “average reader” who is potentially not from one of these groups, however, evidence suggests that the majority of consumers, regardless of their demographic profile, want to see more of this from brands.
“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,” explains Christine Michel Carter of Minority Woman Marketing.
In addition to the inclusivity of their content topics, more marketers will be thinking about the accessibility of their content from a technical perspective. Technological accessibility as a human right has been a hot topic recently, particularly around the benefits this can have on every user’s experience. You can read more on this here:
“More content marketers will see the positive effects of deliberately making their content more inclusive,” believes Ann Gynn from the Content Marketing Institute. “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.”
In 2021, we hope to see more content marketers think beyond the average reader and put more effort in to engage and meet the needs of the full spectrum of their audience.
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