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B2C Content Marketers, Get Ready for More Responsibility in 2021 [New Research]

Editor’s note: We’ve updated our research study for 2023.

Spoiler alert to 2021: We’re not going to wake up to a “new normal” in February, March, or any time thereafter. We’re already here.

The pandemic simply accelerated the fundamental changes already underway, as the B2C Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2021 report, produced by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, shows.

By some estimates, consumer digital behavior jumped ahead five years in just eight weeks. The events of 2020 hit the warp-speed button on the disruption scale.

For B2C marketers, the imperative to develop direct, digital relationships with customers has become a whole heck of a lot more important.

For #B2C marketers, the imperative to develop direct, digital relationships with customers has become a whole heck of a lot more important, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #research Click To Tweet

The events of 2020 also prompted an acceleration of B2C brands developing in-house capabilities to develop content and digital experiences to drive those direct relationships with consumers. At the end of March 2020, an Association of National Advertisers survey found 55% of its members expected their in-house agency to be the most important resource for producing creative and ads post-COVID-19. Another 42% responded “other internal teams.”

An @ANAmarketers #survey found 55% of its members expected their in-house agency to be the most important resource for producing creative and ads post-COVID-19 via @mp_joemandese @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

And it’s a safe bet those “other internal teams” are content teams. In a 2018 version of the same study, ANA found 78% of their members of launched agency offerings in-house. And “content marketing” was the top “specialty service” offered, with 75% of respondents building in-house teams for the approach.

I’m seeing more B2C companies in-source many elements of content creation, production, and management, particularly within larger organizations. And this move to in-house services fuels a broader evolution to building a more creative and media-fluent resource for the business.

In 2021, it’s not enough for content marketers to understand how to create blogs, infographics, or other creative media assets. They also need to understand how content operations work at scale. That means understanding technology, governance, and content structure so that it can be reused, repackaged, and leveraged across silos.

Content marketers need to understand how #content operations work at scale, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. #research Click To Tweet

Content marketers who have skill and knowledge beyond how to create powerful content will be ready to evolve and lead that charge.

New B2C content marketing research

In July, we surveyed content marketers about the new complexity the pandemic brought to content marketing. At the same time, we also asked about ongoing categories, including:

  • Content creation and distribution
  • Metrics and goals
  • Budgets and spending

The results that caught my eye have everything to do with B2C marketers continuing the fight despite the unprecedented hurdles of remote work and a challenged economy.

Quick response

Most B2C marketers think their organization made quick and effective pandemic-related changes and expect those changes to stay in effect for the foreseeable future.

A chart showing B2C marketers' opinions about changes their organization made to content marketing in response to the pandemic.

80% of marketers say their pandemic-related #ContentMarketing changes were effective via @CMIContent 2021 #B2C #research. Click To Tweet

When we looked at the changes, unsurprisingly, the largest number of marketers reports revising their content targeting and messaging strategy. Additionally, more than half of B2C marketers (54%) adjusted their editorial calendar.

As you might guess, we noted more use of virtual events and livestreaming video – two ways marketers can get in front of digital audiences quickly. And 48% say their companies have established online communities, another way to get and stay in front of digital audiences.

Interestingly, few B2C marketers revisited their customer/buyer personas (18%) or changed their content marketing metrics (13%) in response to the pandemic. These results indicate marketers were working quickly to pivot existing processes and strategies and when and where to publish it rather than to alter foundational strategies.

Only 13% of B2C marketers changed their #ContentMarketing metrics in response to the pandemic, @CMIContent 2021 #B2C #research. Click To Tweet

That behavior translated into interesting discoveries about the overall impact of the pandemic on the B2C content marketing strategy. Only 26% of respondents say the pandemic had a major impact on their B2C content marketing strategy.

26% of #B2C marketers say the pandemic had a major impact on their #ContentMarketing strategy, @CMIContent 2021 #research. Click To Tweet

However, more than half (51%) report both short- and long-term adjustments to their B2C content marketing strategy as a result of the pandemic. This finding suggests more long-term, foundational changes may be on the way for 2021.

A pie chart showing the nature of adjustments made to B2C content marketing strategy as a result of the pandemic.

Hints of long-term changes

The growing and expanded responsibilities of content practitioners combined with the in-sourcing and more consumer-facing digital experience trends point to one looming long-term change: audiences and data.

The availability of customer data is going to become an incredibly precious commodity this year. As we saw in this year’s research, credibility and trust are huge goals for content marketing. You need the data to know where and how to be trustworthy, but you need to be trustworthy to get the data. If that sounds like a Catch-22, that’s because it is. But delivering value to audiences before they become customers is the way out of it.

If you’re looking for measurability, no other foundational element will be as important as connecting your content marketing experiences and gaining a 360-degree view of the audience you are engaging. This includes, of course, the data that customers willingly, trustingly, and emotionally give to you as part of that program.

This is what some analysts are calling “zero-party data.” But, as we have for the last decade, we just call it building an audience.

Download CMI’s 2021 B2C content marketing research to further understand the effect of the pandemic and to plan for what’s next.

 Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute