Every industry has been changed by the pandemic. And while in some cases that’s meant catastrophe, in others it’s more a matter of evolving to meet new challenges. The content marketing industry is one that’s relatively well positioned to face this kind of crisis. Because providing valuable, useful content that people care about is as important as it’s ever been.
But that doesn’t mean content marketers haven’t had to make big changes to how they approach their work. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) releases research on B2B (business-to-business) content marketing trends every year. For 2020, their data offers useful insights into what content marketing has looked like in the pandemic so far.
1. Content marketers pivoted quickly and effectively.
The overall industry proved to be remarkably adaptable. Eighty-three percent of all respondents said they made fast changes to their content marketing once the pandemic started. And 80% said those changes were effective.
Ninety-four percent of content marketers said the novel coronavirus caused a change in their strategy, and a quarter of them indicated the change was major.
2. Overall messaging and editorial calendars saw the biggest overhauls.
At most B2B businesses, the biggest change was the messaging included in their content. Seventy percent said they altered their messaging strategy, and 64% updated their editorial calendar.
When people’s concerns and priorities change, the type of content they value will change as well. Shifting strategies to include the new kinds of topics and questions that people face when living through a pandemic is one way to ensure your content marketing stays relevant and useful.
Another big, predictable difference is the shift from in-person events to virtual. This isn’t unique to the content marketing industry, but nonetheless the change from 73% of companies using in-person events to only 42% is notable. Those using virtual events jumped from 57% to 67%.
And the way content marketing professionals work has changed as well. Likely due to the sudden boost in marketers working from home, the use of tech products meant to aid in efficiency, collaboration, and workflow is up from 48% last year to 58% this year.
3. 86% feel (at least some) of those changes will stick around.
Something marketers and Covid-19 consumers have in common is the expectation that some of the changes adopted due to the novel coronavirus will still be with us for the foreseeable future.
The data doesn’t dive into which changes respondents expect to linger, but when change is forced upon people and processes, it can help you figure out new ways of working that are better than the old. The experimentation and creativity that happens now will put content marketing departments in a strong position to pick and choose which changes are improvements to stick with for the long-term.
4. Having a holistic strategy is still a huge indicator for success.
Year after year, one of the takeaways of CMI’s survey is that successful content marketers are likely to have a documented content strategy. This year is no exception, and yet only 43% of respondents reported having one.
In practice, what really influences success is having a strategy that takes into account the full buyer’s journey. Top-performing content marketers were more likely to prioritize goals beyond brand awareness. Specifically:
- 73% use content marketing to nurture leads
- 64% use it to directly generate sales
- 60% use it to build an audience of subscribers
And 94% of top performers don’t just practice content marketing, they measure it. Part of being successful is having the ability to recognize how well your work is performing.
5. Building an online community can improve success.
Content marketing is extremely competitive, and finding ways to differentiate your brand and make headway can be challenging. When the research reveals a valuable strategy that’s going underused, you want to pay attention.
And this year, establishing an online community is one compelling tactic most respondents said they aren’t yet using—less than a third have done so.
Notably, the top-performing marketers use this tactic in larger numbers than other respondents—42% versus 21% of the least successful content marketers. Building a community in social spaces like Slack, Facebook, or Twitter is a powerful way to go from pushing out content, to building relationships with your audience. And as a tactic so few are using, it’s a good way to get ahead of the competition.
6. Building trust and loyalty have become bigger priorities.
When people face a crisis and the world devolves into uncertainty, trust matters more than ever. The research from just two years ago showed 68% of marketers saw building trust as a priority. Now 81% do. Similarly, the numbers for valuing loyalty have jumped, from 54% to 68%.
As more customers base their shopping choices on having shared values with a brand—not just factors like price, convenience, and name recognition—working to become a brand they see as trustworthy and value-driven can pay off. And content has a key role to play in that.
7. Companies are still investing in content marketing.
Right now, job losses are distressingly common across a number of industries. But businesses are still comfortable spending money on content marketing. As of the time of the survey (July), the majority of content marketing teams had increased in size or stayed the same.
And recession or no, for the most part, content marketing budgets aren’t shrinking. For the first half of 2020, 53% said their budget stayed the same. And 18% even saw an increase.
But the first half of the year is one thing. What about the coming months, as the pandemic and its economic effects really start to settle in? While respondents can only guess at the months to come, most expect budgets to stay the same for the remainder of the year.
That’s good news for the industry as a whole, and for all the people working within it.
Content Marketing Still Works
The survey also points to a good reason for why businesses are still willing to spend on content marketing: it’s getting results. Respondents report success in creating brand awareness, building trust, educating audiences, and generating leads, among other key goals.
As long as content can help businesses appeal to the right audiences and earn and keep their trust, it will continue to have value for companies across industries. If anything, our current crisis has revealed that content has more value when people’s needs become more complex. Content marketing done well can help meet those needs, and help improve business in the process.