Opinion

Content Marketing Trends in 2020: What do the insights of 12 experts AND the latest research tell us?

By James Tennant
Issue No. 08 The Content One
November 2019

8 Min Read

tic tac toe

“Content marketing is the only marketing that’s left.” Seth Godin’s wise words (now spoken over 11 years ago, by the way) only look more prophetic with each passing year and, as we move into 2020, greater numbers of companies are seeing the light and embracing a content marketing strategy (I know, what took them so long, right?). 

However, as each new year comes around so do new content marketing trends and strategies. Audiences find new platforms to consume content in new formats, and us content marketers and business owners are supposed to keep up with it all - easier said than done.

In this article we’re going to share some opinions on how content marketing trends and strategies may evolve in 2020, as well as some industry statistics courtesy of the CMI B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report and the Orbit Media Blogging Statistics, Data and Trends research.

Experts like Andy Crestodina, Robert Rose, Doug Kessler, Pam Didner, Stephanie Stahl and more share their thoughts below, so read on, merry content marketer, we’ve got your back.

James Tennant

Founder of Converge
Twitter: @JamesConverge

It’s evolution and not revolution for content marketing as we move into 2020, but what does that mean? 

We’ll see more and more companies adopting the ‘less is more’ philosophy and spending more time crafting fewer, but more valuable and more relevant pieces of content. It’s no longer an effective strategy to just produce content for the sake of it - it hasn’t been for a long, long time. Instead, your content needs to be really good, absolutely stuffed with value, and promoted properly to generate the results you want to see. 

Companies will work much harder to track ROI from their content marketing, and that means having a documented strategy, setting KPIs, implementing tracking links, goals and a healthy dose of Google Analytics among other things to understand what’s working and what’s not, and keep improving content if it’s the latter.  

We’ll also see more brands producing video and audio content as both continue to increase in popularity as ways to consume content. However, much like the world of blogging when it was in its infancy, video content, in particular, is going through its own “make it for the sake of it” crisis right now. 

To make sure you’re not going to fall into that crowd, ensure you’re creating something valuable and engaging before you hit record, otherwise, you’re going to waste a lot of time and money.

So, nothing radically different from years past in terms of content format, just more time spent on the details, the KPIs, research and analytics to ensure your content is as good as it can possibly be. Because that’s the only way it’s going to win. 

Stat: 83% of the top-performing companies track content marketing KPIs

Doug Kessler

Creative Director & Co-Founder of Velocity
Twitter: @dougkessler

The content marketing revolution is over. And we won. This is how marketing is done. The struggle is now to be so consistently great at it that people subscribe to your stuff.

For our clients, we're spending a lot of energy on crafting a central idea—we call it the Galvanizing Story—that knits all the different content and channels and activities together. Sometimes it looks like category creation. Other times it's evangelizing a world view.

But the end game is to start a movement.

I'd ask any B2B marketer today: "What's your movement? What are you asking people to join? And how does your content strategy serve that goal?"

Stat: 69% of the most successful B2B marketers have a documented content marketing strategy

Robert Rose

Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
Twitter: @Robert_Rose

Content Marketing is, as ever, in a constant state of transition. It is the nature of content that we are constantly evolving the ways we communicate to our audiences. I think the biggest change we see is that “content” (as a concept) is now not just being seen through the tactical lens of “how do we fill the top of the funnel with more traffic/leads/shoppers?”

Rather, what we’re seeing is that businesses are recognizing that the entire business needs to communicate in a more effective way. So, teams, processes, and technologies are being developed and “content” is becoming a more strategic operation full stop.

In most companies today, creating, managing, optimizing and distributing content is assigned to individuals within various teams. This “siloed” approach is (from our research) the biggest challenge that businesses have today.  

As businesses start to create operational models for how content can be operationalized, the idea of “content marketing” expands and becomes part of the fabric of how a company communicates with its audiences. Some might see this as an expansion of content marketing, and some may see it as content marketing fading as a discrete practice.  

I think this matters less, as the overall trend is that content (our owned media platforms) – and a business’s ability to create value with it – becomes an increasingly important part of the overall business strategy.

Stat: Only 36% of B2B marketers created content for the mid and late-funnel stage.

Michael Consagra

Content Strategy Director at Mediacom
Twitter: @michaelconsagra

A continued theme at this year’s Cannes Lions was ‘the importance of creativity’ in the advertising industry. Possibly an unsurprising statement to hear reverberating from the ‘International Festival of Creativity’. 

However, a more surprising conversation gaining airtime was the significant decline in the effectiveness of the work that was being awarded. So prominent in fact that it was featured heavily in the trades too. But what does this mean for content in 2020?

Given that 82% of branded content is seen by an audience of fewer than 1,000 people, brands should put serious consideration into whether the content they put out there is gaining enough attention to shift brand and business metrics. 

And given 73.6% of statistics are made up, they should also ask more questions of even their most trusted advisors. When money is being spent, performance matters and brands have the right to challenge creative ideas. Yes, creative is important, but if your creativity lands in the woods and no one is around to see it, did it even happen?

Stat: The top 5 metrics B2B marketers track to measure content performance are email engagement (90%), website traffic (88%), website engagement (86%), social media analytics (83%), and conversions (78%)

Pam Didner

Content Marketing at Pamdidner.com
Twitter: @PamDidner

As video and audio consumption continues to increase, brands need to evaluate their content strategies to balance the editorials with a mix of different content formats. Also, it's very different writing for video and audio scripts than for long-form blogs. 

For the same content title, marketers need to determine different writing formats. How to scale the same content titles to different formats will present challenges to content marketers in terms of prioritization, resource, and budget allocation.

Stat: 46% of B2B marketers expect their content marketing budget to increase in 2020.

Dennis Shiao

Marketing Consultant for hire and Organiser of Content Meetup
Twitter: @dshiao

Take the "marketing" out of "content marketing" and let's face it: the competition for content is fierce. When creating content, you're up against the direct competitors of your business. In the search engines, you're up against the other articles ranking higher than you for your target keywords or key phrases.

Thinking broader, you're up against whatever is popular on television, YouTube, Instagram Stories and TikTok. If you're looking to reach millennials or Gen Z, do you even stand a chance?

Unless you call it a day and ride off into the sunset, you need to keep trying. In 2020, I want to discover new and unique approaches to my content. On Google, it's said that 15% of all searches have never been searched before.

One approach is to say: how can you satisfy the next 15% of first-time-ever searches? Perhaps you need to predict the future, imagining what people will search on tomorrow. Or something like that.

Another approach is to create content that's never been seen before. It's less search-focused and more wow-focused. You can use unique-ness to attract attention and gain a following. Whatever approach you take, best wishes. The competition is scary.

Note: The least common blogging tactics are the most effective.

Jay Acunzo

Founder of Marketing Showrunners
Twitter: @jayacunzo

Content marketing was once a way to grab attention. That was the marketing mandate even for non-content-based forms of marketing. But today, that's necessary yet insufficient to succeed. Marketing's mandate has changed. It's no longer enough to grab attention. We need to hold it. Great teams understand that marketing isn't about who arrives. It's about who stays. Fortunately, we already have at our disposal the world's best vehicle for holding attention -- we just need to incorporate it into our marketing as a central focal point. It's called a show. 

An original series is expressly built to keep people engaged over time. Unlike one-off pieces of content, shows are solely built to retain audiences, not merely generate fleeting traffic. As a result, we're seeing the rise of the showrunner among brands: marketers who are responsible for the creation, management, and success of original series built by their brands. Companies ranging from truly massive market leaders (e.g. Samsung, Bank of America, Adobe, Salesforce, Gucci), to large and beloved orgs (e.g. YETI Coolers, Trader Joe's, Zendesk) to small companies (even my single-location barbershop in Massachusetts!) are launching podcasts and video shows. In doing so, they're revealing their shift from trying to grab attention to genuinely holding it, from brand "awareness" to brand affinity. 

This movement is gaining steam, such that some companies are even launching entire show networks. These again range from large global players, like Shopify and Mailchimp, to startups like the SaaS analytics platform ProfitWell. In addition, some tech companies are building products solely for marketers who make shows, including Wistia in video and Casted in podcasting.

Today's best marketers are looking to hold attention, not merely grab it. In doing so, they don't grow any one stage of the funnel. They straighten the entire damn thing. That's the power of a passionate audience who sticks around, and the word of mouth we experience as a result.

Stat: 54% of bloggers believe it's getting hard to get readers to engage with their content (share, subscribe or stay on their website).

Andy Crestodina

Co-Founder of Orbit Media
Twitter: @Crestodina

2019 was harder than 2018. And 2020 is going to be harder yet. The B2B marketers that win are doing two things well right now:

  • Building high-quality content (original research if possible)
  • Building relationships with influencers (editors and columnists especially)

Together, these combine into the durable advantages that the lead gen marketer needs. There is a straight line from these two elements to consistent lead generation. 

In 2020 we'll be doubling down on video ...again. That means streaming our monthly in-house event (Wine & Web will become Wine & Webinar) and also doing social media videos to promote more of our high-value content. Finally, we'll clean up our YouTube channel and work harder on our custom thumbnails. They make all the difference.

Stat: 41% of bloggers who use video content report strong results.

Neil Hancock

Head of Marketing at Hive
Twitter: @NeilMHancock

Content marketing, like all forms of marketing, needs to evolve to meet the changing needs and habits of the target consumer, and this has led in the last couple of years to a trend of making content short and snappy. We have constantly been told that our target audience is time-poor and that people’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.  

I’m sure you’ve read the ‘average attention span is less than 8 seconds’ and ‘getting shorter every year’. Although I understand how people have come to those conclusions, I believe the statistics are misleading, which is resulting in brands focusing on developing the wrong types of content.

Consumers have so much choice and access to content nowadays, they know they can afford to miss something that doesn’t immediately grab them as there is lots of content to explore.  However, when they find something they like, they are actually spending longer engaging with this content, and nothing highlights this more than Netflix, with on average every user spending 71 minutes every day engaging with their content.  So, once a consumer finds some content they are engaged with they actually ‘binge-watch’ this content, highlighting a much longer attention span than the 8 seconds widely reported.

My belief is that we will see a lot more brands creating less content, but making it higher quality and ‘binge-worthy’, in an aim to take advantage of the loyalty the ’Netflix culture’ is creating.  Brands will still create short and snappy content (or adverts), but they’ll use this to attention-grab, and drive users towards “feature-length” content. This can be seen already today, with brands like Wistia launching their ‘Brandwagon’ series and Estrella Damm, the Spanish beer, that have created a series of short films, with one starring Peter Dinklage.

Stat: 84% of the most successful B2B marketers use content marketing to build loyalty with their customers.

Brooke Sellas

Founder & CEO of B Squared Media
Twitter: @BrookeSellas

As we look to 2020 and beyond, something that’s really giving us pause (and excitement!) is bots. Not just on the brand side, but on the consumer side, too. If you think about the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) into our everyday lives, you can start to see where this is going. We have conversations with Siri, Alexa, and Google on the regular; we’re using bots more frequently to schedule our appointments and handle mundane tasks. When 5G becomes the norm, that means bots talking to bots (like self-driving cars).

Studies show that most consumers want the convenience factor of self-serve AI – but they also want a human available the minute things get confusing. For content, this means we’re taking a two-pronged approach to our AI-driven content marketing future: 

  1. Our branded bot(s) needs to be able to interact with consumers and/or their bots and perform the tasks they’re looking for
  2. We need to keep a human at the center of our intelligent tools loop, or as we call it, stay focused on human-centered AI

I know this sounds very futuristic and far off... maybe even scary. The point is the future is HERE. And we marketers must get on board to remain relevant.

If you’re just starting out with AI, try building your own chatbots first. Your first conversation flows should aim to answer your frequently asked questions (FAQs). For instance, a financial brand client of ours is constantly using humans to field questions like:

  • “What are your hours today?”
  • “Are you open on Saturday?”
  • “What’s my account number?”

With chatbots, we can free up human capital by creating a bot to answer those questions, and we’re saving time AND money because AI can answer the FAQs 24/7 with 100% accuracy. Now our humans can focus on more complicated issues, like building stronger relationships with our community.

And this is only one tiny example of how AI will impact content marketing!

Stat: The top 3 technologies B2B organisations use to assist them with content marketing are analytics tools (86%), email marketing software (85%), and social media publishing/analytics tools.

Nathan Collier

Founder of The Content Marketing Lounge
Twitter: @cmloungenathan

I've really seen content marketing mature over the last couple of years, and I think that trend will continue. It's all about business goals now. Everything we do has to move us toward business targets, or we'll get our funding cancelled by the higher-ups — for good reason! 

Personally, my focus will continue to be the development of cohesive strategies. I want to define the business goals we're trying to achieve (leads, signups, sales, etc.), design strategies to move us toward meeting those goals, and develop and maintain reporting systems to keep track of progress along the way.

Stat: 95% of the most successful B2B marketers use metrics to measure content performance.

Stephanie Stahl

General Manager at Content Marketing Institute
Twitter: @EditorStahl

Content marketing continues to grow and mature. The fact is, it is no longer mysterious. Nor is it just another bright, shiny new object to try out. It’s a proven and strategic discipline for marketers and it has helped so many brands, agencies, and others successfully build and retain audiences. 

But even those who feel they have mastered the art and the science of content marketing know this is no time to get stagnant. Appreciating a loyal audience – whether they be subscribers, followers, listeners, watchers – means always looking for fresh ways to educate and entertain.

Just as there is with traditional advertising, there’s a lot of content noise out there. Content marketers must continue to evolve with amazing storytelling in places where their audience wants to hang out with them (in person, digitally, or in print). The top three content formats based on our 2020 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks survey are social media, blog posts, and email newsletters, but in-person events and video are close behind.

So, in the coming year, we’ll certainly see a lot of experimentation with new formats (especially video) as marketers look for new ways to reach audiences and we’ll see a concerted effort to improve content so that it is more amazing, more unique, more approachable, and more human.

Stat: 88% of the most successful B2B marketers prioritise the audience's informational needs over their sales/promotional messages (compared to only 50% of the least successful).

Conclusion: What can we learn from this article? 

  • Be the best. According to Backlinko, the number one result in Google’s organic search results has an average CTR of 31.7%, which is the highest, by far, of all results. The average CTR of results on page 2 drops drastically. In fact, only 0.78% of Google searchers clicked on something from the second page. 

    What does this tell us? Essentially, if you’re not going to attempt to create the best content for your targeted keyword/keyphrase, then don’t bother creating any at all. Put your efforts into writing fewer, but better pieces of content. Aim for that number one spot and keep tweaking your content until you get there.

  • Tell a story. Audiences want to engage with brands and feel like they’re a part of something bigger. So how are you going to add that human element to your content? How will you ensure your content tells a story your audience can feel connected to? How will you inspire their loyalty? It’s not purely about analytics and SEO - this stuff is important too. 

  • Aim lower. While most content marketers are producing top-of-the-funnel content, it’s time to start creating content aimed at the middle and late stages of the funnel. Rather than creating simply to build awareness, look to create content that works harder to convert middle and late-funnel prospects, as well as provide post-sale support and advice. 

  • AI augmentation. The evolution of AI is something most businesses are going to be keeping an eye on, but content marketers need to do this as well. Consider how AI might be able to help your company when it comes to your content marketing - such as answering commonly asked questions - but without de-humanising your brand and communications. Essentially, think about how can AI augment your content marketing, rather than replace it.

  • Be seen, be heard. Video and audio content continues to grow in popularity as a content format for audiences.  An estimated 90 million Americans (32%) listen to podcasts on a monthly basis, and most of them are drawn from younger, more educated and higher-earning demographics (according to musicoomph). And that audience is growing every year - up 6% between 2018 and 2019. The greater number of smart speakers appearing in homes around the world will likely play a big part in the continued growth of podcast popularity.

    This year, 87% of people said they’d like to see more video from brands. That was up from 85% in 2018, so give your audience what they want! It’s time to look at more than just the written word when it comes to creating content. But don’t just create video and audio content for the sake of it. The same rules apply to these formats as they do to blog posts and email newsletters - quality over quantity.

  • Predict the future. In the challenging and competitive world of content marketing, we’re all looking for a way to break through the noise and reach the top of the rankings. One way (one of the most difficult, admittedly), could be to try and figure out what people might be searching for in the future, rather than now, and create content that targets those keywords and phrases. 

    This way you’re unlikely to be up against the same level of competition, and higher rankings could be easier to achieve. Look for upcoming trends in your industry and try to plant your flag first. There’s a certain amount of gambling involved in this one, but get it right and you could be onto a big winner.

  • Create a show or series. Grabbing attention is great. Holding it is amazing. Rather than producing one-off pieces of content targeting various keywords and phrases, it could be time to look at creating a series of content, or a show, to both grab and (crucially) hold your audience’s attention.

It doesn’t end here. Here’s what you should do next. 

You reached the end! Thanks ever so much for taking the time to read this article on content marketing trends in 2020. We sincerely hope you found it useful.

If you enjoyed this article, we think you’d like these too:

  1. How to up your content distribution game with these 9 top tips from top content marketers
  2. The 3 drivers of attention that will help your content marketing fuel brand growth
  3. Learn from these 9 content marketing strategies used by industry leaders

Thank you so much for reading this article. If you found it insightful or valuable in any way, we’d love, love, love it if you could share it with your colleagues and networks on Twitter - just remember to include us (@ConvergeToday) so we can say a proper thank you!

Until next time.