If we’ve learned anything about content marketing during our decade in business, it’s that the industry is constantly evolving. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen the content marketing space grow in prominence and complexity. And that only accelerated in the face of a global pandemic.
In 2020, it seemed like the world came to a halt. Travel stalled, office workers went home, and businesses tightened their spending on efforts like marketing. But as humans have always done, we adapted, and life slowly moved forward. Despite the pandemic persisting throughout 2020, 2021, and beyond, the marketing space has still seen growth and evolution.
In fact, 43% of marketers say their 2021 budgets were higher than 2020, and two-thirds of this group expect increases in the 2022 budget as well. And marketing budgets aren’t the only areas of growth. In the 2021 edition of our annual “State of Digital Media” report, we found that 93% of editors planned to publish the same amount of guest content or more in 2021, and 38% of journalists and contributors planned to feature or quote more industry experts and companies in their content.
The content marketing industry is clearly a powerhouse that shows no signs of slowing down. Read on to explore some more changes we saw in the content marketing space as we closed out 2021 and entered 2022, as well as the lessons we’re applying to our 2022 content marketing strategy.
How Content Marketing Evolved in 2021
2021 was a year of growth and change for our company. We celebrated 10 years in business, our team grew by 16 fantastic content marketing pros, nine of our team members worked hard to earn promotions, we began sponsoring “The Growth League” podcast, and we helped our clients achieve many content marketing wins. But beyond that, we saw some other interesting changes:
• Priorities are shifting to favor measurable results.
First, we saw a shift in what services clients and prospects were looking for. In 2021, we saw a 30% increase in clients signing on for our SEO and reporting services. This was a really important growth point for us because we are passionate about utilizing content marketing to drive measurable results. This growth has shown us that companies are putting more value on the tangible results that can be seen from their marketing efforts.
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• Time is an even higher barrier to content creation.
Second, we reaffirmed that time continues to be a key reason businesses are not prioritizing content marketing. According to Content Marketing Institute, 67% of marketers reported that their content marketing team was asked to do more with the same resources (or fewer) last year. Despite small marketing teams being crunched for time, it’s imperative that companies make content marketing a priority.
Expert content is a key to producing valuable, engaging marketing assets that convert. At Influence & Co., we try to address this time issue by applying strategies that save our clients time, including our knowledge sharing and content creation processes. And in 2021, we put an emphasis on “content batching” to save clients even more time while continuing to deliver results. Content batching is an approach that allows us to gather a wealth of insights from our clients on a topic and then utilize that large “batch” of expertise to create multiple pieces of content at once. This could be a series of blog posts, or it could be a diverse set of content assets, such as a guest post, a whitepaper, a blog post, and an infographic.
• Standing out for the right reasons has never been more important.
With remote and hybrid work still being the norm, companies have continued to focus on email as a key tool for engaging with leads. This has resulted in a lot of noise in people’s inboxes, so companies have had to get crafty to cut through the clutter. But by crafty, I don’t mean spammy. Using a “shock” factor to induce someone to open your email might work, but be warned: If you don’t deliver on what your subject line promises and your recipients realize you’ve tricked them, they will associate your company with a negative experience. That’s why we prioritize education in our emails.
In our inbound outreach emails, we put a big emphasis on highlighting how Influence & Co. can help and why we are the experts — but this is after we’ve educated leads on content marketing. We’ve found that by doing this, we can create an authentic relationship with leads in which they see us as the expert, so when they’re ready for content marketing services, we are top of mind. As a result of this educational, relational approach, our inbound outreach emails achieved a 40% open rate in Q4 2021.
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• The value of earned media has continued to grow.
This isn’t new to 2021, but this trend has continued to grow over the past year.
Our client Sarah Hawley from Growmotely put it well:
And the value of earned media goes beyond the thought leadership aspect of being featured in publications. Throughout the past year, we’ve seen companies taking that earned media and utilizing it among their networks to educate and drive more partner and client referrals. For example, at Influence & Co., we put all of our partners into an educational email sequence to keep our company top of mind while educating them on wins we’ve had as a company and sharing helpful resources we’ve created that their networks might find valuable. As a result of this approach, 43.5% of our sales in 2021 came about because of partner and client referrals.
3 New Strategies We’re Applying to Our 2022 Content Strategy
Now that 2022 is underway, we’ve done some reflecting on the past year and have outlined what we want our content strategy to look like in this new year. Here are three ways we’re applying our learnings from 2021 and using them to execute on a stronger content marketing strategy in 2022:
1. We’re using a scorecard to measure content marketing results.
In light of the fact that content marketing strategies are becoming more and more results-driven, our internal marketing team uses a scorecard to continually monitor performance and measure content marketing results.
In full transparency, the scorecard is not a method that Influence & Co. coined. We borrow this approach from EOS Worldwide. An EOS scorecard serves as a business’s version of predictive data. It can give you a snapshot of what’s happening in your organization, and it allows you to be proactive in your decision-making and strategies.
2. We’re diversifying our lead sources.
Again, creating a measurable impact through content marketing was a big focus in 2021 and will continue to be a focus in 2022. And one of the most common content marketing metrics for success is the number of leads generated. Because qualified leads are notoriously difficult to secure, we will be diversifying where our leads are coming from.
Between 2018 and 2021, we saw the majority of our leads coming from inbound sources. But we know it’s important to diversify where our leads are coming from in the event that a lead source becomes disrupted (i.e., we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket). To help with this in 2022, we moved our partnership department into our marketing department. While the focus of our partnerships remains the same (to drive qualified referrals), by placing our partnerships division under marketing, there are now more resources that can be utilized to educate our partners, and we have the opportunity to do more mutually beneficial activities with partners (such as webinars) that drive leads for both businesses.
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3. We’re reevaluating our paid lead generation strategy.
As I mentioned before, we have historically seen more success with our inbound strategies driving more qualified leads than paid opportunities such as social ads and sponsored webinars. But while we haven’t been able to replicate the success we’ve seen from inbound on the paid side, we’re not ready to discount the value of paid approaches — we just need to find the paid opportunities that align best with our goals and maximize our content marketing efforts.
For example, something we will be looking to test in 2022 is the use of retargeting. For Influence & Co., our goal of content marketing and inbound is to drive qualified leads to our website. We’ll be testing to see whether retargeting these qualified leads increases the number of those leads who ultimately end up becoming sales-qualified. Stay tuned to find out what we learn!
Content marketing is in a constant state of change, and that won’t stop any time soon. I hope you walk away from this post with some fresh insight about how content marketing has evolved and some ideas for ways you can make your strategy even more effective in 2022.