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2021 Content Marketing Predictions

For much of 2020, predicting the events of the next 24 hours has felt impossible. Never mind thinking about the next year! The world as we know it has changed. Some old lessons still hold true. Yet there are likely big opportunities that will present themselves in 2021.

Content Marketing Institute’s General Manager Stephanie Stahl and Creative Director JK Kalinowski joined our host Amanda Subler for a candid discussion on their predictions for the new year.

Key takeaways from the interview

  • Expect what Stephanie calls a “perfectly imperfect” year.
  • Brands will need to express genuine empathy in order to gain consumer trust.
  • Marketing with a purpose will make a content marketer’s job “story doing” and not just storytelling.
  • Marketers can expect expanded job responsibilities in the next year.

Amanda Subler: So today’s discussion, we are going to get out our crystal balls. We’re going to dust them off, and we are going to talk about our predictions for what’s going to happen in 2021. We all know how 2020 went. So predicting the future can be more difficult now than ever. Today’s discussion is based on an article we published last week, where we asked over 100 content marketers what their predictions are for 2021. We are going to dive into that today.

Let me bring in my guests today. We have our super awesome general manager here at the Content Marketing Institute, Stephanie Stahl.

Stephanie Stahl: Hello, hello. It’s great to be here.

AS: And we have our creative genius Joseph “JK” Kalinowski, the creative director at Content Marketing Institute. Hello JK!

Joseph Kalinowski: Hi everybody. Thanks for having me.

AS: Alright. We published this article last week where we asked 100 hundred content marketers what they thought. Stephanie, after going through the predictions, are there any themes that surfaced from all of that?

SS:  Oh my gosh, yes. You know we’ve all been so fully immersed in this digital world since the spring. That’s not going to change anytime soon. But what it has changed are our routines, our ways of learning, our ways of connecting with people, and ultimately our content marketing. So a lot of the themes that we saw emerge for 2021 predictions were based on some things that started in 2020. That is creating content that is more empathetic, more human, more inclusive, more purposeful.

So those were some really great themes that emerged in many of the predictions. Like I said, we’ve seen a lot of great examples of all of those things this year. I think that our communities, our readers, our customers, our prospects – this is something that’s going to be expected, even demanded quite honestly.

So those were the key themes that really stood out to me this year.

AS: Speaking of empathy. JK, you had an interesting prediction. Why will marketers have to go beyond saying “we’re all in this together” this year?

JK: Going off of what Steph said, empathy is a huge, huge factor that a lot of brands are going to have to deal with now in their marketing and specifically in their content marketing. We’re getting blanketed so much with all of this “we’re in this together” to the point where it’s almost, “Okay. I get it. We’re in this together. But how are you really going to connect?”

I think that brands are going to have to get a little bit more granular and a little bit more personal and specific with their marketing message to really connect with their audiences. Obviously, there’s this we’re-in-this-together fatigue that’s starting to happen. We’re seeing it all the time.

We’re starting to see larger brands really start to get onto this more personal vibe that’s starting to happen. Case in point, I’m sure you you’ve all seen the commercial – which I think is absolutely wonderful – that’s almost like a mini story from Amazon, about the young lady who gets the leading role in her ballet, and it gets cancelled due to COVID. All her neighbors get together, and her little sister does this whole rooftop show for her. The neighbors have lights that they’re shining down on her. There wasn’t one word spoken to the audience, like third person, like looking at the camera. It was like you’re a person sitting in their kitchen seeing this young lady go through all these emotions of finding out that everything’s canceled.

So they feel what we’re feeling. I think that makes a real, cool emotional connection which I think a lot of brands are going to start doing.

AS: We have Marissa here who says empathy is a big theme. The challenge is for marketers and business leaders to figure out what that means for their organization

I think it was Michele Linn. She had an interesting prediction where it was one-on-one conversations are going to be more important than ever. I don’t know why that really struck me. Whether it’s your customer, you know just one-on-one conversations with people I think that can really help with the empathy piece of it as well.

SS: I agree. The fact is a lot of people who wouldn’t normally get on camera to have a conversation have been forced to this year, right? It’s changed everybody’s comfort level. It has caused all of us to sort of crave that interaction even more.

Like I love being able to look at you in the eyes and talk to you. You too, JK. It’s great despite probably some exhausting meetings people are going through. But just to have this ability and for people who wouldn’t normally feel comfortable with a camera in front of them are a lot more comfortable now where it’s okay for us to be unscripted. It’s okay to be unpolished. It’s all fine, you know. We’re just more human this way.

JK: Absolutely.

AS: A couple of other people commented on the video aspect of it. I think it was A. Lee Judge who called it reality content. Now we all have our threshold for lo-fi content. We accept it more now. Everyone keeps talking about “Let’s do video. Let’s do video.” And I always say just start. Everyone’s always afraid. But grab your phone and just do it like. Now is the perfect time. People will accept it now more than ever. You still need to like think  a little bit so it’s not just a boring interview. But if you have an idea, this is the time to try it for sure.

So Stephanie, I noticed you didn’t have any predictions included in the post. What do you see happening in your crystal ball? I hope it’s better than everybody else’s this year for next year.

SS: Well, my crystal ball has been in the shop. Head of Editorial Kim Moutsos asked when she was finalizing the article, “Hey do you want to include one?” Since my byline was on it, since I was the one doing the asking for many, many people to contribute, I just decided I was going to let the community be the hero of the story in this case and not necessarily me. I am full of ideas and predictions and could chat all day about it.

But you know, if we look at the intro of the piece where we say ‘21 will be perfectly imperfect. That’s really it. That’s how it’s going to be. It’s going to be perfectly imperfect.

While we all hope that the world will be safer, that we get back to some kind of normal routine or what we used to consider normal, the fact is it isn’t necessarily going to be smooth or easy or even guaranteed for that matter. So I think we need to accept perfectly imperfect.

Obviously, you know planning matters. We have to plan. We have to have our strategy documents. We have to have our budgets. But we know now that things can change without our control at all and keep changing and keep changing. I think it’s made us all that much more adaptive, and that’s how we need to keep looking at ‘21.

AS: Yes. A viewer says you can only have empathy through authenticity. That’s a very good point.

Jesse says he loves your style, dude to JK.

JK: Thank you!

AS: We’re all discussing how we need our own special hats. 

So we had so many awesome, thoughtful responses for our article. Is there anything, any specific predictions – I’ll start with you, JK – anyone or a couple or something that stuck out for you?

JK: Sure. It’s so funny you mentioned him, but A. Lee Judge because that was the one that really stuck out to me. A. Lee Judge and Alex Cheeseman, they both had very similar predictions about almost Gonzo style content. How things are going to be a little bit more, when it comes to video content, it could be a little bit more unpolished, uncut, unedited but quick to the point, an immediate connection with their audience via video.

I think that’s going to be a pretty big factor in 2021 because it goes right back to the authentic and empathy thing. You can make a connection and let people see that you don’t have to have a highly produced video or an edited down video for a certain amount of time. It could be 30 seconds of you just saying, “Hey, this is my thought for the day,” or “Hey, this is some really good content or content idea that I had,” and getting it directly to you and to your audience. I think that is going to be a major factor in 2021.

AS: Yes, going to some of our comments here. Arlene says authenticity really seems to be the theme going into 2021. She’s heard this brought up a lot. This is kind of interesting. Sherry says, “I think we need to add more insights for audiences regarding where our markets are and how COVID has impacted them.” I think that’s also a very important point as well

So Stephanie, do you have any particular predictions that stuck out for you?

SS:  So, there were so many great ones. It’s kind of like you’re asking me to pick my favorite child or something, and that’s really hard! But a few really stuck out to me. MJ DePalma from Microsoft, she talked all about marketing with purpose.

I think ultimately what JK was saying and some of the predictions that stood out to him and what a lot of us are saying is that it really comes down to building trust. That’s what her prediction was about. If you are marketing with a purpose, and you are letting not just your CEOs take the lead on that but to educate your entire company about what that means for your organization, whatever it may be, whatever your purpose might be. And what I really liked about her prediction is that she says it basically will turn content marketers into “story doing” and not just storytelling.

If you’re going to talk the talk, then also walk it and do. Do these things that you’re telling stories about. So I love that “story doing” instead of just storytelling. That one really stood out.

There were a few more around that theme of social responsibility, purposeful writing and that sort of thing that I know really hit home for a lot of companies.

AS: Absolutely. Again, everyone, if you have questions or comments feel free to leave them for us. We love to hear from you guys.

One of the one of the predictions I think is also probably on top of mind for a lot of people is the fact – Robert Rose I think said this – content marketers are going to be expected to do a lot more this year. Stephanie you manage a team of people. How do you think that’s going to play out?

SS: I think as we’ve seen traditional advertising continue to decline, it really has put more pressure on content marketers. And believe me, many of them are rising to the occasion. I said this in a blog a few months back. Content marketing really is poised to be a shining star in all of what we’re dealing with because this is our opportunity to connect with audiences, to build a relationship with audiences, to create fun, entertaining, educational, whatever it might be content in multiple forms. And I think there is going to be an expectation that that content has to be amazing. Mediocre content will not cut it in this quickly growing digital world that we’ve all found ourselves in.

All of that was kind of happening even before COVID, and the pandemic really accelerated it. So now we have an expectation to meet, and I think people will look to brands with the same kind of lens that they look to when making their own personal purchases, for example. So our marketing’s got to be great. It’s got to stand out.

AS: Other comments here. “Yes I think trust and authenticity are particularly important when our audiences are feeling vulnerable due to COVID, the economy, racial tensions, etc.”

As Rob says, along those lines, “Marketing and context, in context of biological and racial pandemics – meeting people where they are emotionally. So I think that really resonates with a lot of people.

This has been a really great discussion today with you guys. Thank you so much for joining us. Stephanie will actually be talking even more predictions tomorrow on our #CMWorld Twitter chat. We have a Twitter chat every Tuesday at noon. If you’ve never joined in on that, we have a really awesome community who shares some really great insights and experiences.

You can see more of this article that we publish with these great predictions on our website contentmarketinginstitute.com

Thanks to everyone who joined us from everywhere all over the world. We really appreciate it. We hope you have a great rest of the year. We’ll see you all back here in 2021!

This is our last livestream of the year. We predict we’ll be back in 2021 with more live shows. We have several planned including our weekly series, Ask the CMI Team, where a different member of our team will answer your questions on various subjects. If you have a topic suggestion, we want to hear from you. Let us know in the comment


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