Every year, digital publications give re-birth to the compulsory “top trends” for pretty much every topic, content notwithstanding.
I get excited.
I enjoy finding out what’s new in content marketing.
The sad thing is, most of the articles go on to list the very same trends involving content types and strategies they have been listing for years with minor variations.
Sure, new content formats don't come around easily, but that’s not exactly what frustrates me so much. It’s the lazy, repetitive “this year, video takes the spotlight because it’s XY% percent more effective than the written word” imparted in a tone that dares to imply you have not been reading the same sentence for the last decade with only slightly updated stats.
I mean, we are better than this. Aren’t we?
The trends aren’t really about the WHAT but rather the HOW. In other words, simply saying what is trending (content format) and why (stats) isn’t really going to help anybody—not in any impactful way anyway.
So, it’s time for me to end the rant—however satisfying it may be—and tell you that I decided to make my very own list of content marketing trends. Or maybe I should just call it a list of observations? Perhaps that’s more accurate. My hope is that thanks to this list you’ll pause, reflect or even reconsider… Maybe find a seed of an idea, a trigger that will inspire your content marketing choices and strategies for the better.
Focus on Positive Content Experience
I know I gave a huge speech, and now I’m starting my list with something as vague as a content experience.
The web, especially everything related to marketing, seems to revolve around the word “experience.” Customer experience, user experience, buyer experience, conversational experience, messaging experience… It’s all part of the experience economy. You have heard and read the word so many times, it’s becoming an invisible cliché you are more likely to mock than take seriously. However, if something becomes so loud it’s obnoxious, there’s always a grain of truth under all the noise.
Focusing on experience works.
Before you jump to conclusions, let me just say, in content marketing, “great experience” doesn’t translate into taking your audience for the ride of their lives and changing life as they know it.
This trend isn’t so much about budgets and strokes of creative genius as it’s about honesty—the simple action of giving what you promised.
This shouldn’t be hard, should it? Yet, here we are talking about it like it’s rocket science.
Yaag Ganesh, Director of Marketing at Avoma, host of the renowned ABM Conversations Podcast and author of multiple marketing books, puts good content experience at the center of all his work. According to him, every content you produce carries experience factors centered around value, trust, objectivity, and expectations.
One of his favorite examples of bad content experience is when a brand or tool compares itself to its competitors: “Let's say somebody came into that blog and instantly realized that, ‘Hey, they've just written a couple of paragraphs about these two, and then started to talk about their product.’ It's a very bad experience! [...] That is not what they came into the blog for.”
Creating an expectation of answering an issue but (quite purposefully) failing to deliver the promised value, you are devaluating the experience and outright butchering your chances at trust and capturing attention.
According to Yaag, creating good content experience comes down to a simple chain reaction: “You make a promise; you live by the promise. You earn the trust so that whenever somebody has a question on the lines that are in your ballpark, they are going to definitely come back and look at you. Or, at least seek you for answers for that. Sometimes you might have an answer. Sometimes you might not, but at least you've earned their trust, and you can always say you don’t know when you don’t know.”
In other words, good experience is a new way to say “stop being salesy.”
And Yaag is not the only one betting on trust and value.
Other top content marketers share and act according to the same ideology, though they might not call it content experience.
For instance, Amanda Natividad, the VP of Marketing at SparkToro, believes their successful webinar series (with a weekly attendance of several hundreds) is thriving because the focus is on the experience, the value: “Rand and I take turns presenting. Sometimes we have a guest presenter where we really just present on something related to marketing strategy. And then, along the way, if it makes sense, we incorporate how somebody would use SparkToro to improve that strategy. So we really want to make sure that it's an event series that's valuable to any marketer of all levels, where they can learn something, where they don't have to use SparkToro to learn from it.”
Bypass Search Volume as Content Idea Generator
Keywords and their search volume inform and drive a great percentage of content creation. It’s understandable. Google rankings continue to have a huge impact on organic traffic, so ensuring you are there for the key industry keywords is important.
However, SEO is not as straightforward as it used to be, creating a number of problems no content marketer should ignore. While playing by the SEO rules is okay, making content with only ranking and revenue in mind usually leads to sacrificing quality, value, trust… The experience factors mentioned at the beginning of the article. Marketer Gaetano DiNardi sums up the issue quite accurately: “You have now a situation in so many industries where everything has been over-optimized to the point where it's optimized in excess, and you cannot really find the information that you need in some cases.” Zeroing on SEO can very easily seduce you from the righteous path of good content experience. Hence, Google is losing trust, and many people are turning to communities and forums like Reddit instead to find answers to their questions.
So, generating ideas solely based on search volume isn’t as reliable or as rewarding as it once was.
Another problem with search volume is the volume itself. Ideas worth discussing that are interesting to your customers, or broader audiences, aren’t necessarily the most searched. Even worse, people talk and ask about the same problem or idea in many different ways. Thus, at one point, search volumes leave you hanging.
Where to find the ideas, then?
I wish I had something groundbreaking to say at this point. Instead, the trending tactic that seems to be the way to go is listening to your customers, community members, colleagues, etc.
For Amanda Natividad, not relying on SEO is almost required by the nature of SparkToro. The tool focuses on helping brands find their audiences and “hangouts” so they are not so reliant on SEO for organic exposure. There actually isn’t a keyword for that: “We're calling it audience research [...], but it's not a commonly searched-for term. People aren't saying how to do audience research. They're just not searching for that. So because of that, we're not creating an SEO-driven strategy that's around all of these problems.” Instead, she focuses on taking the approach that turns the spotlight on the value it can possibly offer: “How can we write about and talk about the things related to marketing we find interesting, we find novel… that help people think differently, that present problems in a different way. How can we create content that we just genuinely think is good and interesting?”
Michelle Goodall, the Chief Marketing Officer at Guild, cannot imagine content creation without communities: “With a community, you can gain insights around what your prospects, clients, audiences, stakeholders actually want from you, what content and events and information they need from you and you can then create and deliver that, but also you can do that collectively and collaboratively.” In her playbook, content and community work in tandem from idea to distribution and engagement.
Yaag Ganesh, on the other hand, often goes straight to the source: “I use our own product Avoma to listen to a prospect’s call or customer’s call between [...] customer success person and them and try to get a glimpse of the kind of questions that these guys are asking on a daily basis.” According to him, it’s the best way to dig out content ideas that actually matter. If they happen to be represented by a keyword with a good search volume, great! If not, it doesn’t make them any less valuable.
Capitalize on Sources of Influence
Speaking of loosening your ties with SEO, I can’t not mention Rand Fishkin’s “sources of influence.”
Having started with SEOmozblog in 2004, later launching Moz, the consulting company, and lastly, becoming CEO & Co-Founder of SEOmoz, makes him a bit of an SEO legend. So, coming from him, the phrase “the golden age of SEO is over” is particularly impactful.
Today, Rand is the CEO of SparkToro and no longer considers SEO to be the best and easiest way to get organic exposure. Instead, he advocates for the aforementioned “sources of influence” strategy. It’s quite fascinating because the concept is incredibly—to express it eloquently—”Duh!”
Once again, it’s all about going back to basics.
Rand explains: “Pauline, she's my grandmother. She lived in New Jersey, and she read the New York Times religiously [...]. In particular, she would read the theater reviews. Now, if I went to see a play in New York, or musical or something, and I loved it, I'd come back to Alma, [and tell her] “You need to go to see this play! It was fantastic.” And you know what she'd always say? — “I read about it in the New York Times; they didn't like it.” — She didn't trust her own grandson over the New York, right? She had her source of influence that she trusted and believed. And that was it!”
Consumers, you included, behave the same way today. Maybe our trusted sources of influence have different formats but the nature of our behavior is very much the same. We buy products, visit places and follow the advice:
- recommended in publications we trust;
- talked about by experts/influencers we trust;
- featured at events and conferences we trust.
The intrinsic reflex to listen to our trusted source is there regardless of our age.
It worked for SparkToro. If you remove branded search, the website gets virtually no organic traffic whatsoever and yet hundreds of signups show up every single day. Why? “Because in the marketing universe of webinars that people attend and YouTube channels that they watch and blogs that they read and social media accounts that they follow and you know, email newsletters that they subscribe to and podcasts that they listen to [...] SparkToro is talked about in all of those places. And because of that, it spreads through. Not quite what I call word of mouth, but sort of word of influential sources.”
This rising trend can be considered both a content creation and distribution tactic, depending on how you look at it. Consider what type of content you need to create, and what kind of topics you need to talk about to appear on channels your target audience trusts? Maybe creating content for other (e.g., through podcast participation) channels might, at times, be more powerful than doing it for yourself.
Entertain the Idea of TikTok for B2B
TikTok has been, inadvertently, sneaking into the consciousness of B2B content marketers. In that consciousness, it either exists as a huge NO-NO or a giant YES. Some believe it’s the future others ignore its existence.
So, does it work?
I’m not sure about that. But I’m sure it does belong on this list.
However you might be against it, there’s something there, and that something might be useful to some people. Are you one of them?
For instance, SparkToro scratched TikTok from their possible sources of influence.
But their experience isn’t all-affirming and absolute. It’s just one in many and so, don’t shelf the idea just yet. Some B2B brands and marketers found success with TikTok; the truly important question is how.
For instance, SEMrush doesn’t shy away from the platform but, at the same time, doesn’t approach it like any of the other social channels. Olga Andrienko, a VP of Brand Marketing at SEMrush explains that in TikTok, they found a channel where their tool can become people’s “gateway drug” to marketing. Instead of trying to target marketers who come to TikTok to chill, they focus on creating a name for themselves among the future generation of marketers “who are students, people who are willing to change their career and then start something they haven't started before. And we want to be this entry point for everybody who wants to get to know how to market. This means that we need to be closer to people who just who are struggling to understand what marketing is, how to optimize for Google, how to work on social, and how to create content.”
Even with this strategy, they haven’t succeeded right off the bat. Their three key learnings from several attempts included
- TikTok is a consumer channel, not a creator channel. 98% of people on TikTok have never published one video. Most of the audience consumes the content.
- You have to be a success from the start. If the account doesn’t pick up within three weeks, you need to create a new one because the algorithm already thinks that that account is irrelevant.
- Entertainment wins the day. TikTok's audience loves to be entertained, so taking yourself too seriously won’t help you. SEMrush team takes silly search queries and has standup comedians create a funny sketch inspired by them.
If TikTok marketing sounds like an intriguing possibility, you should check out the work of Todd Clouser, Senior Brand Marketing Manager at Refine Labs and another B2B-Tok pioneer. He considers it to be his personal mission to use the TikTok content to demonstrate how much it can help you grow as well as create more demand on Linkedin. Well, mission accomplished!
In January 2022, Ted started repurposing TikTok content on LinkedIn on a regular basis and went from 1600 followers to almost 7000 in the course of two months. He attributes his TikTok success to the content pillar strategy, which he observed and adapted from the most popular accounts. It helped him understand that TikTok’s algorithm works very well at “feeding you content at the content level and not the account level,” and so having different series (pillars) within one channel is completely fine.
In fact, that’s part of his mantra for those who want to get started on TikTok, observe and learn before you start creating. After that, it’s all about keeping an eye on the trends and good old experimentation! If you are curious about his step-by-step process, dive into Todd’s podcast episode devoted to the TikTok theme, it’s packed with useful advice.
Repurpose, Repurpose, Repurpose
As far as content marketing trends go, this one is pretty ancient. Yet, it not only deserves to be here every single year, but it also needs to be because it’s the one that’s the most underestimated and ignored.
I really don’t know why.
If you are thinking, “Well, I refresh my content every year…” let me stop you right there. That’s not what repurposing is. That’s just plain old maintenance. Dusting the spaces among the lines to make sure there are no broken links, the info is still accurate, and the new updated publication date smells of roses, so Google knows you did your duty to the God of Rank and may recover your original place among its devotees.
Repurposing is all about creating something, then picking it apart and giving the bits and pieces a whole new life.
Mark Huber, Head of Brand and Product Marketing at Metadata, knows a thing or two about how to do it right. Though his interview on Ungated Marketing focused on successfully running a virtual event, to me personally, the key takeaway from that episode was his statement: “We repurposed every single possible ounce of content from this event. So much so that we could have stopped everything else that we were doing, and we would still have about five months' worth of content.” In fact, the amount of content to be repurposed was one of the key success metrics for the event.
If you want an example closer to home, take this article. It draws deeply on the content from our Ungated Marketing podcast. We produced 24 episodes of interviews with marketing experts and, based on those episodes, wrote unique pieces of content that work as stand-alone articles and yet, we still barely touched the surface. The podcast required a lot of research, time, effort, and coordination, more than anything else we have put on there. But now that season one is over, we are sitting on a mountain of knowledge waiting to broken down and reshaped into something like an article about top content trends.
This, if the content is all you care about, you don’t need to go from episode to episode fishing for information tidbits; all you need is here, right in front of you.
Repurposing content helps balance your resources. It also makes decisions about bigger and more demanding projects easier. After all, knowing an event, podcast, webinar series, or a huge research paper will supply you with content for months to come puts your resource spending into perspective.
In other words, if you spend so much time and effort on something, don’t let it fall into oblivion.
Permissionless co-marketing is not something new, but it wasn’t much of a talked-about strategy perse until Amanda Natividad coined it together with her friend Corey Haines, the founder of marketing resource and community Swipe Files, on his podcast, Everything Is Marketing.
So, what exactly is permissionless co-marketing?
Amanda explains: “Permissionless co-marketing is essentially the act of shouting out brands, people, companies, that are good examples of what you are talking about; And doing so with the intention of building goodwill, providing great examples, and potentially, maybe, setting the foundation for potential future formal collaborations.”
The reason the strategy was up until now hiding in the shadows is that it goes against the status quo of digital marketing, which usually follows “something for something.” Giving out freebies isn’t particularly welcome in a world where everyone competes for attention.
But I believe Amanda is onto something. Giving someone a shoutout because they deserve it is a powerful way to show your own objectivity as well as confidence. Citing your sources is also the right thing to do. After all, if you avoid naming relevant brands, you are likely to come across as overly self-promotional or, even worse, untrustworthy. Also, if you don’t mention others, they are also likely never going to mention you. As Corey quoted: “Permissionless co-marketing is having a ‘give first’ approach to the way that you interact with people you eventually want to collaborate with in the future.”
When you offer recognition to brands who share the same audience but are not necessarily your direct competitors, you are showing that you are paying attention to the market, to the trends and your openness to collaboration just makes you stronger.
The takeaway for all this is old news. Your content is not about you, it’s about your audience, and permissionless co-marketing keeps this mantra at heart. If this got your attention, be sure to check out Amanda’s article on the topic.
Embracing the Interactive & Conversational
Interactive content is another of the many recurring trends and it can’t miss here either. Though maybe my reasons for mentioning it are a bit different. I’m not going to say “marketers agree…” or “studies show…” because you already know that. Of course, an interactive content piece will be more engaging than a static one. Interaction is the base of all human communication.
I included it on this list because interactive content and the concept of content marketing interactions, in general, are changing. You have your polls, quizzes, and interactive infographics but, building on the foundation of every previous trend I’ve mentioned, I wanted to focus on the human side of it all.
Audiences flock to interactive content that invites action and conversation not just because they want to play an active role but also because it feels like the other side is really there, really listening.
Think about interactive content as an opportunity to talk, listen and have some fun. You can go with a quiz or a chatbot or even something as simple as a thread on social or a forum. The important thing is to create a space for the interaction to take place.
A couple of years back, our product team created a virtual chatbot-driven escape room as a team building activity to bring us together during quarantine. It was so much fun we decided to turn it into a campaign that introduces new chatbot builder features used in its creation. It’s been our most successful Product Hunt campaign because interaction invited more interaction, more conversation.
Still, fueling audience-brand interaction doesn’t require anything quite so elaborate.
Dave Harland, a copywriter also known as The Word Men, has a devoted following because his content constantly invites and incites interaction, getting people to react and engage with just a few words on his Linkedin profile. One piece of advice Dave shared in his interview really stuck with me: “Write ‘you’ more than ‘I’ or ‘we.’ [Often] you see, certainly on LinkedIn ‘I'm delighted to announce…’ ‘We're delighted to reveal…’ Like, no one cares, mate! You just tell me what's in it for me. [...] If you're, announcing some award that you've won, you say ‘We're delighted to announce we've just won this award.’ No one's reading that as much as if you flip it on its head and say ‘You'll be pleased to know you're now part of an award-winning company of dadadada.’ So you’re inviting them in a little bit more. You start the conversation.”
In this sense, keeping conversation and interactivity in mind when creating any type of content can help you make better choices, the ones that are more likely to resonate with your audience. Whether you are writing a chatbot script, social post, blog article, or recording a video—keep interaction at the forefront.
To Wrap it Up
So this is my list of observations. I’m sure there are plenty of other trends I missed, but these are the ones that I had a chance to observe and witness in action.
All in all, I feel like the content is coming back to us, humans. The central trend is all about stepping away from the shortcuts, rolling up sleeves and doing the hard work—taking the time to listen, research, and ensure there’s real value.
Looks like content is becoming about people again. Don’t be left behind!