It might seem odd to admit that in our first trend piece, we’re going to be shying away from predicting any trends. But after reviewing more than 20 reports from all around the world we felt there was very little that hasn’t already been covered. And it’s debatable whether these things are genuine trends anyway.
So instead, we’ve decided to share our observations on some consistent themes that we believe modern marketers need to consider as they approach the next decade – and we have tried to link these back to the actions that brands might take in response. In our eyes, now is a perfect opportunity to start fresh or recalibrate, as the world leans into the next era of storytelling.
The mindful movement isn’t isolated to lycra-clad hipsters at urban yoga studios and meditation retreats. Great content marketing is 'slow' – that means it's focused, considered and meaningful.
While it's every marketer's goal to create a community and connect with the people who share their organisation's values, content marketing is often lumped into the same tactical bucket as social media and ecommerce. Instead, it's a separate, long-term brand building strategy that deserves its own focus.
In the past decade we have seen a significant shift away from brands that lead with purpose and influence, to brands built on scale and efficiency. From 2020 onwards, we think it’s important to pause and reflect, to be truly present and aware of the experiences we’re creating and ask ourselves “what value does this add for our customers and society at large?”
- Content for good: One of the biggest brand trends in many 2020 trend reports is a return to purpose-driven marketing. This idea that doing good is good for business isn’t new, but from 2020 onwards it’s about to become a lot more commonplace.
It will be important for brands to strike a balance and be authentic though; we’ve all seen what can happen when a business latches onto a cultural movement for profit (Pepsi anyone?). An Edelman survey reported that for consumers to believe there is a commitment to the cause, the product, customer experience and purpose must align – not just the communications. Like many brand-level trends, we think this will trickle down to 'content for good'. There will be space for more truth-telling and genuine journalism that helps powerful and confronting stories rise to the surface. We touched briefly on the importance of promoting diverse stories in an article by one of our editors, Georgia Lejeune.
- A human touch: As we all search for deeper connections and a sense of meaning, we anticipate there will be a massive rise in events, and other interactive or offline content marketing, that brings together likeminded people and creates a sense of place in the physical environment. Brands that enable connections between peers, especially for advice and support or co-creation, are set to benefit and develop some strong relationships.
There’s one word that will make the content marketing world go around in the next decade: data. At last count, content marketers have over 5,000 tools, technologies and distribution platforms
to fuel their campaigns and publishing programs – there is simply no excuse for being irrelevant.
But simplicity will be key. Doing less but better helps customers have more memorable experiences, but it also makes it easier to track relevant interactions so your brand can be present during meaningful moments. For most brands, it has been hard to deliver fully on personalisation, so content marketers are increasingly returning to the idea of being there in shared moments of truth.
- Data-driven content: Nothing will help you remain relevant more than understanding user intent and leveraging insights from search (language and voice). Instead of selling people on features and benefits, brands that empathise with the mode people are in and the task they are trying to complete will be able to craft genuinely helpful content. Determining the difference between someone keen to locate relevant information (looking for answers to “why” or “how” questions, for example) compared to someone seeking to make a purchase (using language like “compare”, “deals”, “buy” and “discounts”) helps prioritise content development and design better journeys.
- Niche and international audiences: The very nature of brand publishing and content marketing involves crafting content with a specific person in mind. We think the next decade will see brands truly embrace this idea by prioritising key segments of the market instead of building mega-platforms that attempt to speak to everyone.
Likewise, we anticipate that even more brands will cast their minds offshore, particularly to China. WeChat is becoming more commonplace for Australian-based brands looking to connect with local expats and inbound tourists – at last count there were over 3 million people on WeChat in Australia. While travel, pharmacological and luxury brands are already using the platform, we expect other industries to start taking it up.
A recent focus on technology and efficiency has created a beige sea of sameness in communications and experiences within many categories. No matter who you fly with, what hotel you book, what mapping service you use to get from A to B, what rideshare service you take to get around town, or what clothing store you shop at, within category experiences are often almost identical. Where’s the wow factor that makes a brand stand out or gets people talking? We seem to have lost our way and forgotten the importance of creativity and brand storytelling.
- Re-balancing short- and long-term marketing: WARC, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) agree on one thing – creativity builds brands, drives effectiveness and is essential to growth in the long-term. Peter Field and Les Binet’s 2013 thought piece 'The long and short of it', which focuses on the danger of a short-term campaign mindset over a long-term mentality, has never been more relevant. We’ve taken a marketing campaign mentality to content and brand publishing and have spent very little effort thinking about the end game.
The brands that will win in the next decade will have a solid strategic plan, a clear vision for the next five years or more, and a commitment to be always on. They will make decisions about the short-term based on how it helps them get to their long-term goal so that every action has a cumulative impact.
- Embracing new ways to earn attention: How many people have told you “we are in the attention economy”? Well, they are right. However, I don’t think shortening attention spans is the reason so many brands struggle to build an audience. If people can sit down and binge watch a Netflix series in a single weekend or listen to 20- or 30-minute podcast episodes but tune out traditional marketing, then they're not suffering from a lack of attention, they're suffering from a lack of interest.
The fact is that we’re appreciating content less because there is so much poor-quality content out there. You could argue that there are perfect conditions right now to zig when everyone else zags. All you have to do to earn attention is be interesting. And not interesting from the perspective of your sales or customer service team, but interesting from the perspective of your customer. Don’t rely on rational push messaging (in fact, shift to a more emotional approach in your advertising and marketing communications). Add depth to your communications mix by developing engaging content with a clear story and embracing new media formats.
We think savvy marketers will increase their investment in video content on YouTube as it shifts away from being a repository to a dedicated brand content platform, although TikTok and IGTV will be popular too. Next to this is the rise and rise of brand podcasting, which means it’s becoming harder to make a 'hit'.
Many argue that we’re living in a post-truth era thanks to an erosion of trust and accountability across brands, governments and other institutions. Considering over the last year we’ve seen an explosion of deep fakes, and more privacy and data scandals than you can count on one hand, you might be excused for thinking we’re living in a science fiction movie. As we wrap our heads around new and evolving legislation and start thinking about our responsibility to our customers, it’s clear that there is a real need for transparency.
- Transparency breeds trust: We are desperate to personalise experiences but that shouldn’t come at the expense of being creepy and seeking more data from users and customers than is genuinely necessary. Be sure that you ask for information in contextual moments, disclose exactly how it will be stored and used, and make it easy for people to request that it be destroyed or no longer utilised.
You’ll also need to make sure you’re adhering to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements if you have customers in Europe, and following laws and legislation within Australia including the Privacy Act and Spam Act. Beyond how we treat individual data is how we repurpose or publish content curated from across the web and social media. Be sure to seek formal permission from authors, musicians, illustrators, photographers or videographers (and any other creative) before you share content on your own media, and make sure you negotiate the terms of how the content can be used too. By seeking permission, and being clear about how something will be shared, you will be much more credible and trustworthy.
- Truth-telling and fact-checking: The internet is a wonderful creation but by democratising access to information we’ve seen an explosion in content creation and its dissemination via social networks. On one hand this is a good thing: it means many voices can be heard and a lot of different perspectives can be shared. The flip side of this is the ease at which people can create false and misleading content known as misinformation.
The trouble with misinformation is that it is very challenging to communicate the truth after the fact and course correct a message, particularly when it has been amplified at scale to the general public. To combat this, we all need to accept our shared responsibility by fact-checking sources and quotes, commissioning experts and representatives from reputable sources, and doing our due diligence before engaging agencies, partners, freelancers and suppliers.
In summary, the key takeaway I’d like to land is the need for us to be conscious content marketers. Done well, great content marketing and brand publishing can build strong brands, breed influence and nurture reputation as much as it can deliver leads or encourage retention. But it needs a clear vision, deep commitment to storytelling and for us to consider everything we do through the lens of purpose, context, creativity and integrity.
Kate Thompson is strategy director at Hardie Grant Media. To win her over bring craft beer, coffee or both.
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