Content marketing has seen a lot of changes in the last decade.

In particular, social media has had a profound impact on the digital landscape, reflected in the increasing number of platforms – and features on those platforms – that marketers have to grapple with.

There has also been a key focus on the transparency of branded content in recent years, brought about by fake news, undeclared social ads and fake follower counts. This has caused some consumers to question the trustworthiness of what’s presented, and brands are proactively responding to reassure their customers.

With a higher demand for authentic and engaging images, videos, copy and other digital assets comes the increased importance of content marketing, and the need to know where it might be headed.

So, let’s get into it. Here are some content marketing trends for 2020.

(And remember to check out Econsultancy’s Content Strategy Best Practice Guide, B2B Content Marketing Best Practice Guide, and Fast Track Content Strategy and Editorial Planning training course.)

Activism

There are many reasons to be an activist in a personal capacity. From environmental issues to political turmoil, more and more people are ensuring their voices are heard.

This has had a knock-on impact on what consumers expect from brands when it comes to social responsibility. According to DoSomething Strategic: ‘66% of young consumers say that a brand’s association with a social cause or platform positively impacts their overall impression of a brand; and 58% say this association is also a positive driver of their likelihood to purchase that brand’.

In this study, brands particularly associated with cause platforms were Fenty Beauty, Dove, Nike, LUSH, Aerie and The Body Shop (among others).

Dove’s self esteem project

As issues such as the environment become more prominent over time, we can expect companies to take further positive action to tackle these matters during 2020 and beyond. As a result, they are likely to be looked upon more favourably by consumers over similar competitors in their industries.

Brands must ensure, however, that the cause they adopt aligns well with their identities, and their action can be evidenced, otherwise they may come off as ingenuine or ‘jumping on the bandwagon’.

User-Generated Content

Faked content is inescapable on the internet, and as a result, the public is becoming increasingly wary of the brands they buy into. Anything that could be deemed superficial, however well-intended, runs the risk of deterring customers from interacting with it.

Including User Generated Content (UGC) in maintaining a sense of authenticity by way of using past shoppers’ genuine experiences to convince others to convert. Indeed, a report from BusinessWire in February revealed that 79% of consumers find UGC highly impactful on their decision to purchase. Furthermore, retailers in almost every industry reported that their conversion rates improved when UGC was visible on their websites.

But, in the past few years, this has gone way beyond the odd five-star review on a product page. UGC has presented itself in many different ways, permeated itself into numerous marketing channels, and is set to continue to do so well into the next decade.

Examples include:

  • Customer reviews – although consumers must be wary of the ease in which reviews can be manipulated.
  • Testimonial videos
  • Guest blog posts
  • Case studies
  • Regramming customer Instagram stories and organic posts (e.g. ‘the top 5 things we’ve been tagged in this week’)
  • Retweeting and replying to customer queries (and complaints!)
  • Asking questions of your social audiences and displaying the responses
  • Reposting competition entries
  • Letting user-generated feedback guide your brand’s future content

One brand currently making strides in this field is Depop, which has built a trusting community by combining UGC content (designed to sell clothing and accessories) with social elements like messaging functionality. Here, users can showcase wares, have private conversations with other sellers and discover new trends and looks, with no immediate pressure to purchase anything.

Speaking at Festival of Marketing in October, its Head of Digital Marketing, Yoann Pavy, explained that Depop champions this community and authenticity by sharing content that has already been created by its users.

As marketing channels continue to evolve, further ways of incorporating UGC will no doubt emerge, helping to solidify trustworthy connections between consumers and brands.

​Six new and creative examples of user-generated content

Short-form, vertical video

Short-form video seems to have made every list of marketing predictions for the last five years, if not longer. So, you might be asking why it’s being featured again as we’re about to enter 2020.

Marketers are well aware of the popularity of video. Spurred on by the launch of Snapchat (2011), Instagram Stories (2016) and TikTok (2016), short-form video has been going from strength to strength over much of the past decade, particularly among these brands’ core Millennial and Gen Z audiences.

Earlier this year, Instagram announced that it was introducing ‘reels’, which is only available in Brazil at the time of writing, but will no doubt become Instagram users’ next obsession when it’s rolled out to the rest of the world.

Reels combines all of Instagram’s most popular features and, similarly to TikTok, allows users to make clips set to music (up to 15-second long). Reels users can then share their creations as Stories.

The release of Reels and additional video editing capabilities like ‘create mode’, and AR filters, as well as the heightening popularity of TikTok, proves users’ high demand for video features.

Early-adopters of vertical video seem to have particular success when it comes to engagement. In September, NFL announced a two-year content partnership with TikTok, which has only appeared on the social radar very recently in the West. Since then, its official account has accrued 1.8 million followers and 45 million total likes on its uploads, which include videos of fan reactions, hilarious touchdown celebrations and highlights from recent games.

All in all, short-form video is becoming an incredibly popular method of communicating with friends, family and followers and adds a much more personal touch than simple text, or even static images. Brands like NFL that already utilise vertical video must step up their creativity as further editing capabilities become available throughout various channels, while brands that haven’t already done so must follow suit and heed this trend in order to remain relatable.

Reactive content

In a culture of 24/7 news cycles, unending online discussion and viral media, it’s more difficult than ever for brands to keep up with what’s popular among their consumers. Reactive content, while challenging to produce in a practical sense, is a fantastic way to tap into trending topics and conversations in near-enough real time.

It’s proving ever more popular with the public. The results for brands that participate in this form of marketing often pay off, yielding increased interaction on social (especially if it has a humorous edge).

Recently, fast food restaurants seemed to master the concept of reactive content, offering up these witty responses to some of the most popular online discussions:

While not all brands will have the resources required– an in-house team or an embedded agency would be needed to react and achieve speedy sign-off – it is certainly worth exploring for 2020. After all, standing out amongst the noisy digital landscape is becoming progressively more challenging.

Podcasts

In September this year, Ofcom reported that one in every eight people in the UK listens to podcasts on a weekly basis – a 24% increase since 2018. On average, these people listen to around 7 different podcasts during any given week. This sharply growing trend was upheld by Spotify, which stated, following its Spotify Wrapped event, ‘our podcast audience has grown by more than 50% since the start of the year. We’ve also seen a 39% increase in podcast hours consumed by listeners quarter over quarter.’

While they’re undoubtedly the most popular, podcasts hosted by celebrities aren’t the only ones gaining traction. Indeed, it’s becoming more and more common for retail brands to get in on the action.

Those brands which have ventured into this relatively new channel have leveraged it to boost brand identity and to provide tips, advice and discussion around topics relevant to their sectors. Sometimes these can be wide ranging, while others can be incredibly niche (McDonald’s released a three-part podcast about its controversial Szechuan sauce, for example).

As the popularity of podcasts shows no sign of slowing, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing more brands dip their toe into this medium to reach additional audiences.

Interactivity and gamification

The attention span of most consumers is narrowing thanks to information overload and a fast-paced digital culture.

That doesn’t mean brands aren’t trying to challenge this statistic. Engaging content such as games, polls and interactive video can draw and hold attention more effectively than a simple non-interactive advert.

In conjunction with its ‘100 years of great value’ marketing campaign, Tesco recently launched a festive lo-fi game called Delivery Dash just in time to remind people to do their Christmas ‘big shops’. Available through Facebook, users play as a Tesco delivery driver picking up groceries and delivering them to customers while the surrounding environment cycles between various eras (such as the 1970s and 1950s).

Players can invite Facebook friends to challenge them, and there’s even a leaderboard so you can see how you’re scoring compared to global competitors.

While this particular example hasn’t necessarily blown up the internet, it’s gained a fair amount of attention and will no doubt become more popular as people wind down for the Christmas holidays.

With the likes of Cosmopolitan and Disney also offering creative interactive videos and games, brands can reinforce their identities, gain awareness and boost engagement all the while injecting a little bit of fun. The opportunity to go viral with standout content like this is appealing, and will certainly drive brands to further unleash their creativity going into 2020.

Employee advocacy

Despite it being a less common form of content, instances of employee advocacy can be beneficial to the overall voice and impression of a company.

Brands are slowly beginning to showcase and celebrate their staff, as well as encouraging them to share their own experiences as employees, adding depth and personality to their marketing. It can also help drive talent acquisition, too.

This year there have been some cracking examples from companies like John Lewis, Starbucks and LUSH, suggesting that more prominent customer-facing brands will join in with this strategy in the coming years.

It is interesting to note that retail giant Amazon failed miserably at creating ‘ambassadors’ from a pool of its staff in response to reports of employee mistreatment and poor pay. Most of these ambassadors have deleted their accounts following viral ridicule from the online community. Twitter users observed that employees’ tweets sounded like they were being ‘forced to read a note at gunpoint’, as well as sounding suspiciously similar in tone despite originating from different accounts. Notwithstanding Amazon’s failed attempts, this growing trend of brands including employee advocacy in their marketing strategies will likely continue as long as issues of transparency and purpose are at the forefront of the consumer consciousness.

Five brands using employee advocacy to drive talent acquisition

Memes

Not everything a company posts on its social media platforms has to be painstakingly thought out. Like reactive marketing, memes are an example of great content produced mostly on-the-fly and can be personalised to fit the context of your brand with relatively little effort.

While it’s not the most sophisticated content, uploading and sharing memes to official social channels can prove effective at engaging your audience – providing it matches a brand’s tone of voice. Often, the relatable perspective and viral tendency of popular memes make companies appear more down-to-earth, friendly and relatable.

In 2019, we saw fashion labels, food and beverage brands and even political parties adopting the approach, showing that they can ultimately be adapted to just about any purpose or industry.

Memes are one of the defining characteristics of digital media this past decade, and there’s no sign of them disappearing as we enter the next.

What other content marketing trends do you think will be key for 2020? Let us know in the comments below!

(And remember to check out Econsultancy’s Content Strategy Best Practice Guide, B2B Content Marketing Best Practice Guide, and Fast Track Content Strategy and Editorial Planning training course.)