COVID-19 has undoubtedly shifted the way nearly every business has been forced to operate over the past 8-12 months. It is a pandemic that has impacted every country around the world and every business has been touched by the affects of COVID-19 in some form or other.
The impact on marketing activity has also been significant, especially for businesses that previously relied on face-to-face tactics such as conferences, trade shows, and exhibits. For most, marketing budgets have had to shift. Whether that’s from trade shows to paid, from paid to SEO or from print to digital, it’s likely that most businesses will have made budget revisions in light of the impact of COVID-19.
One area that continues to grow is investment in content marketing. In a study conducted by the Content Marketing Institute, 59% of respondents expected their content marketing budget to increase in 2020 compared to 2019. Given the impact of COVID-19, we would expect this to be even more significant as we head into 2021.
In a digital world that is currently saturated with content, it would not necessarily seem logical to suggest that a business should invest more time and resources into creating more content, however that’s exactly what we would do.
Digital has become more competitive
One of the direct results of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the online space has become far more competitive. With many countries facing lockdowns or varying degrees, many businesses with physical stores were forced to make a quick shift to the online space in order to keep their business afloat and this has significantly increased the competition online across a number of sectors.
Of course, those businesses that were already established in the online space will continue to perform well, however with new competition comes new challenges. People are consuming content online at a rate previously unheard of. According to Contently, the average B2B buyer consumes five pieces of content on average before they even talk to a sales rep and 17 pieces of content over the course of the sales lifecycle.
That is a remarkable amount of content to consume as part of the purchase decision making process.
Then you read that 79% of those buyers report that content provided by sales rep is extremely influential in their decision to buy and you realise that content can make or break your business when it comes to getting a sale across the line.
These are some key signals that point to the significance content marketing is playing, both now, and as we head into 2021 so let’s take a look at some of the key areas you should be focussing on in 2021 with your content marketing.
Top of the Funnel – Blogs and Infographics
In the same Content Marketing Institute study, they found that B2C marketers focussed most of their time on top of the funnel content. In total, 43% of respondents said that they focussed most of their time on generating interest and awareness in their brand and products and this is something we expect to grow in 2021.
Blogs and infographics are the main tactics used to get people into the top of the sales funnel and can often also represent the ‘cheapest’ option when it comes to content marketing tactics. If you have an in-house writer or are comfortable writing yourself, blog writing is a matter of time rather than financial outlay. Infographics can be more expensive as there is usually a design cost involved, however design tools like Canva which offer free packages have enabled the in-house creation of high-quality graphics.
Our strategy when creating blog posts or infographics has always been to focus on quality over quantity. Make sure you carry out your keyword research and look at the terms that are likely to drive the most relevant visitors to your website.
The most successful blog posts and infographics we have created have included original research that answer a key question or set of questions that our target audience is asking. If you have the time and resource, look at the questions people are asking in your sector and look to answer these in a way that is unique and insightful.
Mid-Funnel – Case Studies and Product Videos
Once you have engaged with a new prospective customer with content at the top of the funnel, it’s important to back this up and give them the opportunity for further engagement with your business.
This might traditionally be a phase where in-person events such as conferences or trade shows would play a bigger role, however with that option extremely limited in most countries around the world right now, you have to think about how you can replicate that experience in the digital space.
We have found that two key pieces of content marketing in the mid-funnel stage include case studies and product videos.
A case study is like a long review and we know how powerful reviews can be in helping customers to make up their mind about a purchase. Use your case studies to showcase the challenges faced by your customer, how your product/service helped to overcome those challenges and the results of using your product/service. Whilst you can’t talk directly, face-to-face, with your prospective customers, a case study can go a long way to showcasing the results you have already achieved with existing customers.
Video is a great way to showcase not only your products/services, but also your staff and the people behind your business. People love to put a face to a name and understand exactly who it is they are dealing with – it feels a lot more genuine in terms of an experience. Video content also helps to build trust with your audience. When they can see your product in action, in a real-life situation, it helps them to understand more about the quality of the product and what they could expect if they were to make a purchase. A very powerful tool in building customer trust.
Respondents in the Content Marketing Institute study found that social media content and in-person events, along with newsletters were also popular content marketing tactics in the mid-funnel phase of the customer buyer journey:
Conversion – Email Newsletters and Webinars
As we move towards the bottom of the conversion funnel, content marketers turn to email newsletter and webinars to make the final push towards conversion. As we can see from the graphic above, in-person events also feature strongly towards the bottom of the funnel, however we expect this to change heading into 2021 and webinars are a great alternative to conferences and live events.
A webinar can fill content marketers with dread. We’ve all seen the bad ones, and this can be enough to put you off, however, when done well, a webinar is a powerful addition to your content marketing strategy.
A good webinar should surprise your audience. Build up your event through your relevant channels – email, social, your website etc and tease out snippets of the content that you will be including in your webinar. Then you need to make sure you deliver. Whether that’s a surprise guest, an exclusive download or a limited time offer for attendees, always deliver something that takes your audience by surprise.
Emails newsletters are more of a staple tactic and are actually used at all stages of the customer journey (if you have good segmenting of your database, you can actively target people at different stages of the funnel).
People that sign up for your newsletter have already provided positive feedback towards your business. They liked something enough to submit their details and to hear more from you. Don’t abuse that trust they have placed in you.
Your email marketing needs to be consistent and add value to your customers and prospective customers. Capture their attention, build their trust, and deliver content direct to their inboxes that excites, educates, and entertains them.
Email marketing is a key element of content marketing and 79% of respondents to the Content Marketing Institute study reported using Email as a distribution channel for content. It’s a great way to push out blogs, webinars, video content and more so plays a hugely important roll in the content marketing mix. Here are the most popular content marketing channels from 2019:
Content marketing is set to grow as we head into 2021 and face new challenges that have been born out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our recommendation would be to invest more of your time and resources into content marketing and take the time to understand the tactics that are most suited to your audience – whether that’s videos, blogs, webinars, social media, email, or something different.
About the Author: Gavin Hirst is a Brit working abroad. He is a copywriter, SEO and content marketing expert working for one of Auckland’s leading SEO agencies, Digital Hothouse in New Zealand. Outside of work, Gavin is a keen golfer and is passionate about the outdoors – hence the move to NZ! Connect with Gavin on LinkedIn or with Digital Hothouse on Twitter and keep up to date with all the latest digital marketing news and trends in NZ and across the world.