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2020 Content Marketing: What’s Clear and What Needs to Be in Focus

If hindsight is 20/20, then this article offers both hindsight and foresight.

We asked the speakers for Content Marketing World 2019 to put on their 2020 content marketing glasses and tell us where marketers are passing the vision test – and what’s still blurry. Here’s what 26 of them had to say.

Seeing 20/20: Content creation

Blurry: Use of content winners

We blog. We all get that part right. We write and publish articles. We promote through social media and email marketing. But a lot of us need better focus on the winners.

If we published 50 articles, which did best? Have we tripled down on that topic? Did we stick with that theme and go deeper? If we just take our top performing article and make it a video, infographic, guest post, guide, and influencer interview, we’ll see better results than if we just published another article. Andy Crestodina, co-founder, chief marketing officer, Orbit Media

Seeing 20/20: Quality over quantity

Blurry: Doing too much at once

We’re getting good at dialing in the audience focus. We’ve finally all agreed to quality trumps quantity, but we’re still trying to do too much all at once. As content marketing gets more established, we can’t get away with cobbled together operations or haphazard processes. – Andrea Fryrear, Agile marketing coach and trainer, co-founder, AgileSherpas

Seeing 20/20: Content is the direction

Blurry: Content as a one-off campaign

It is clear for everybody that content is the way – every brand needs it. What is blurry is that content is still considered by many as a one-off campaign. Content is not a one-off thing where you can reap the fruits after the campaign ends. Content marketing is an ongoing effort with long-term results – it’s like a pyramid – the next stone is supported by the previous and in order to reach the top you need to build it up all the way through, stone by stone. – Leslie Carruthers, CEO, The Search Guru

#Content is not a one-off thing with fruits reaped when the campaign ends, says @thesearchguru. #CMWorld Share on X

Seeing 20/20: Audience focus

Blurry: Content to move people through a journey

I think content marketers are getting better at thinking about their audiences versus their brand, but we still have work to do in stringing together all our content into journeys that actively move prospects through the funnel. – Zari Venhaus, director, corporate marketing communications, Eaton

Seeing 20/20: Personas

Blurry: Real people

For years, marketers have heeded the battle cry, “audience first!” At the surface level, many marketers I know approach their content with an audience-first mentality and arm themselves with personas.

While this is a good first step, how well do marketers really know those they want to serve with their content. Are they having phone conversations or meeting people for coffee to see how people’s perceptions are evolving or do they rely on perceptions from years ago? Understanding your audience is a never-ending exercise that requires marketers to get out of their comfort zone and talk to those they want to help. Michele Linn, head of strategy, Mantis Research 

Seeing 20/20: Relationship-building

Blurry: Need for going viral

People understand (for the most part) that content needs to build a relationship. People still think going viral is the answer, and it’s not. Your content has to move the needle for YOUR business, not just a vanity metric that doesn’t speak to what you’re really trying to accomplish. – Ahava Leibtag, president, Aha Media Group

Seeing 20/20: Audience and format variety

Blurry: Purpose of content

Sharp vision seems to be around the need to create content in various forms for people to respond to and all the various forms that can take. What’s still blurry is why you’re creating that content in the first place – what you want it to DO. – Tamsen Webster, founder and chief message strategist, Find The Red Thread

What’s still blurry in #contentmarketing industry? What marketers want the content to DO. @tamadear #CMWorld Share on X

Seeing 20/20: Acting like publishers

Blurry: Acting like innovators

Businesses have taken up the charge to become publishers. What content marketers are failing at is innovation. They must become masters of the art of identifying how a content product will make such a difference in people’s lives that they will bond to it as a product …

The design thinking underlying social innovation supplies exactly what content marketers are missing. And as an industry, we are utterly blurry on how to do this. We are still too caught up in how to write better headlines, how to work with SEO, how to work with various formats of content, and many other table stakes aspects of content than about what the product is supposed to be in the first place. – Carlos Abler, leader of content marketing strategy, 3M

Seeing 20/20: Localizing in key markets

Blurry: Localizing in more diverse markets

Content marketers have gone global into key new markets with laser vision, translating, localizing, and trans-creating content. But the next phase of global content will be more challenging as companies expand into the next tier of less developed markets.

“Going global” was clearer for Western marketers in the European Union and Latin America than it is in China and the Middle East. That’s where the vision gets blurry, because these markets are relatively more culturally diverse, requiring more significant content localization. At the end of the day, relevance is the barrier to access in these markets. Annalisa Nash Fernandez, intercultural strategist, Because Culture

Seeing 20/20: Visual appeal

Blurry: Authenticity

Almost all content marketers have the visual appeal of their content down pat. And it’s quite easy to do so, as in 2019 we seem to live in an “uppercase block font” or “handwritten script font” world. What’s still blurry are authentic messages, brand promises, and reasons to believe. – Christine Michel Carter, creator of Mompreneur and Me 

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Seeing 20/20: Video value

Blurry: Video done well

Marketers have grasped the video aspect of content marketing, but few do it well. I’ve seen several videos and ads where the first 10 to 15 seconds don’t capture my attention, leaving me ready to click “skip ad.” Marketers need to remember that capturing their audience’s attention in the first three to five seconds is imperative to content success. – Jason Schemmel, Twitch streamer and digital marketer, GSDChat

Seeing 20/20: Visual storytelling

Blurry: Heroes of stories

Content marketers are getting better at creating visually stimulating content and video that connects them to their audience. I think most content marketers still struggle with storytelling where the reader/viewer is the hero. – Michaela Alexis, LinkedIn speaker, trainer, and co-author of Think Video

Content marketers still struggle with #storytelling where the reader is the hero, says @mickalexis. #CMWorld Share on X

Seeing 20/20: Lots of great content

Blurry: Digestible chunks

There’s so much great information out there – brands know what they have. It’s a matter of synthesizing that information in digestible chunks and providing a cadence for when the information is disseminated via a content calendar to ensure messages resonate with our target more often. – Kathy Button Bell, senior vice president, chief marketing officer, Emerson

Seeing 20/20: Bond building

Blurry: AI and tech role in bond building

I believe that content marketers no longer doubt the value of content marketing and are clear-eyed on its role in building a bond with the audience. Blurry is the role of AI (artificial intelligence) and other new tech platforms and its impact on the relationship with the audience. – Jacquie Chakirelis, director of marketing, Great Lakes Science Center

Seeing 20/20: Content structure for UX

Blurry: Integration of new tech

Creating content that is easy to consume on mobile devices and treating content as part of UX is being done well. The blurry part is how to incorporate AI, AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality), and other new technologies into overall content marketing efforts. – Pam Didner, B2B marketing consultant; author, Effective Sales Enablement 

Seeing 20/20: New concepts

Blurry: Integration of new concepts

I think the concept is there, but newish media formats are still a little blurry. Podcasts. Video. AI. Merging of media platforms. Marketers are still trying to finesse how to navigate all of the existing platforms and media with emerging ones. – Kiley Peters, owner and CEO, Brainchild Studios 

Seeing 20/20: Data need

Blurry: Inspiration over information

Marketers know we need data and yet we’re still hung up on vanity metrics and often the wrong ones. Yes, we need to understand metrics; I’d like to focus far more on breaking the status quo: more experiments, more humor (of course), more content that says, “Hey we get your life as a person and not just a customer because you don’t exist to buy our stuff.” I want us to focus more on inspiration over information. I see pockets of hope; let’s bust that door wide open and no apologizing for it. A metrics-above-all mentality keeps us from experimenting more. And CMOs need to support and reward more experimentation. It can be small and then scale what works – it’s got to happen. – Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder, Keeping it Human

A metrics-above-all mentality keeps #content marketers from experimenting, says @kathyklotzguest. #CMWorld Share on X

Seeing 20/20: No need for frenetic

Blurry: Chasing page one

Content marketers are figuring out the frequency puzzle. The frenetic early days of content marketing when we were publishing everywhere all the time is over. I’m seeing a lot less content but what’s out there is better than ever.

As for blurry, we’re still chasing the SEO promise of page one results. Every new version of the Google algorithm is more entrenched in the pursuit of original content for search results, Despite this, content marketers are reluctant to dispense with SEO spend. I see too many organizations afraid to back away from a pure SEO strategy and too many service providers using veiled threats to keep their customers renewing even though the results are questionable. Sarah Mitchell, founder, Typeset

Seeing 20/20: Aligning content with customers

Blurry: Aligning measurement with content

Sharp vision is that marketers are developing content that aligns with their customers, their needs, their objectives, and where they are along their customer journey. Blurry is spending and doing more without being able to measure the results, no vision into their customers, and scratching their heads and wondering why they are not getting the desired results. – Carlos Hidalgo, CEO, VisumCx

More fuzzy vision

Some CMWorld speakers aren’t seeing sharply what the content marketing industry is doing perfectly, but they opted to share their fuzzy views.

Blurry: Organizational fit

Attribution, especially for consumer marketers. How to achieve good organizational fit for content marketing inside companies and marketing departments, especially for B2B marketers. – George Stenitzer, founder and chief content officer, Crystal Clear Communications 

Blurry: Staffing roles

Division of labor in content creation is always blurry. Who comes up with the idea? Who produces each element? Do you use an agency or attempt it in-house? How long should it take? What’s it worth? What’s the goal: awareness, opinions, or behavior? – Adam Ritchie, principal, Adam Ritchie Brand Direction

Division of labor in #content creation is always blurry, says @aritchbrand. #CMWorld Share on X

Blurry: Content as series

Blurry is the value of episodic or series-based content that hammers at a key theme. Jeff Leo Herrmann, president, Madison, Michigan & Market

Blurry: Internal understanding

There are still many organizations that do not get content marketing, so we still have some internal selling and proving to do … If we stay focused on our guiding light – to educate real people on how to solve a real problem – it’s amazing the impact content marketing can have across the entire organization. As content marketers, we have a responsibility to execute well and then share those results throughout the organization. We need to get better at “marketing our marketing,” meaning we need to do great work and then remember to share those results throughout the organization. It’s not enough to simply do great work. – Peg Miller, senior vice president, marketing, Agility Recovery 

Blurry: Multicultural marketing audiences

Content marketers need to embrace multicultural marketing. It is simply NOT optional. Your audience is not one size fits all. Nielsen reports that “consumers of color are making considerable contributions to the overall market – in some cases representing more than 50% of the overall spending in key product categories.”

Forbes says, “according to The Coca-Cola Company and Mass Mutual, a group of 40 million 50-plus American women represent over $15 trillion in purchasing power and are the healthiest, wealthiest, and most active generation in history.” You must invest in understanding how your specific audience thinks about the topics related to the products you sell so you can create content that resonates and inspires them. – Sydni Craig-Hart, CEO, Smart Simple Marketing

Blurry: Don’t know who and why

A lack of purpose, not having spent enough time upfront on answering the who and the why questions before jumping into content creation. – Achinta Mitra, president, Tiecas Inc.

Blurry: Everything

There’s no such thing as perfect vision. 20/20 is a myth in marketing. The most successful marketers will understand that everything they see is blurry because most of the real sales signal is invisible to us – it’s happening behind the anonymity of Google searches, freely available digital content, and the private side of social networks and in dark social places like email, text, phone, and face to face … If that doesn’t make things blurry, I don’t know what does. – Tom Martin, president, Converse Digital

Everything is blurry because most of the real sales signal is invisible to us. @TomMartin #CMWorld Share on X

Look more clearly 2020

While no one views something exactly like another, these content marketing experts illuminate what the content marketing industry is seeing – and not seeing well. Now, it’s your turn to reflect to see how many of the blurry (and sharp) visions are visible in your brand’s content marketing program. And if you really use the glasses to focus this year, you’ll start 2020 with the value of both hindsight and foresight.

Let these and dozens of other experts help you see more clearly how to improve your content marketing skills and programs. Register today to attend Content Marketing World Sept. 3-6. Use code CMIBLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute