Jan 10, 2023
The turmoil that followed billionaire Elon Musk’s October takeover of Twitter, disrupting the experiences of users and advertisers, was the exclamation point on a year defined by huge societal and economic shifts. Where those trends move, content marketing follows. The only constant in 2022 was change.Regular story themes across sectors included the effects of inflation and rising interest rates. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced advertisers to take the pulse of their marketing efforts and make adjustments in timing, tone and approach. The pandemic was “forgotten” but not gone, and the return of seasonal flu and other viruses continued to impact companies and consumers.What were the key content-marketing movers in 2022, and what can we expect from 2023? (If you’re interested in how my 2022 predictions worked out, you can view them here.)
THE YEAR THAT WAS
Most mask mandates and other COVID-19-related restrictions were dropped across Canada in the first quarter of 2022. The country’s longest-lasting requirements applied to travel, and they ended in October of last year. Is the pandemic over? No. Are most people acting like it’s over? Yes. The latter was reflected in content marketing campaigns, which took the pulse of the populace, recognized society had reached the point of COVID fatigue, and applied language accordingly. Rather than using the words “COVID” or “pandemic,” phrases shifted to “a challenging few years” or “as Canadians began to spend less time at home.”
So, after a challenging few years, restrictions were lifted (see what I did there?). Advertisers and marketers could return to their offices full time. Back in the day, the Globe Content Studio team would accompany sales colleagues to client and agency meetings on a weekly basis. In 2022, we could count on one (maybe two) pairs of hands the number of in-person pitch meetings that took place. The ability was there, the people more often were not. Hybrid work became the norm, not the exception, and virtual meetings remained the dominant choice, even as live events made a comeback (more on that below). To hear my thoughts on the hybrid work approach, check out this podcast interview with future of work and ethical recruiting advocate Rachelle Enns.
It was the year of action matching talk. Companies recognized they would be called out for saying they supported diversity, equity and inclusion, while failing to show concrete examples of progress. In 2022, not only did they insist their marketing efforts showcase diversity, they produced content marketing that outlined the steps they took in hiring, promoting and supporting internal transformation. It was part of a broader mandate to include potential employees in the mix of target audiences for campaigns.
Story first, format second is one of Globe Content Studio’s core ‘rules.’ Rather than saying “let’s do a video series,” our starting point for any content outline is ideating the story before determining how to tell it. But as campaign complexity increased over the past year, a wider variety of formats were required for single projects. That’s where collisions between design, text, photography, audio and other elements needed to deliver more layered approaches. Here’s one example, particularly appropriate because it touched on the five senses.
“Join us in shaping the future of technology,” reads the tagline on the OpenAI home page. It could just as easily have read “join us in shaping the future of content.” At the end of 2022, the company dropped a bomb: ChatGPT, a language model that uses a dialogue format to provide detailed automated responses to human questions. Basically, write something and ChatGPT will write you back. It’s too early to say what it means for content creation over the long term, but one thing’s for certain, it’s the start of something big. Check out some examples here. How creatives respond in the next year will be interesting to observe as artificial intelligence further penetrates marketing and advertising.
THE YEAR THAT WILL BE
Creators versus influencers
First of all, credit to my colleague Jessica Robinson, who first pointed this distinction out to me using the example of MrBeast, and I’ve been leaning on it ever since. On Aug. 4, 2022, at the American Dream mall in New Jersey, an estimated 10,000 people showed up for the opening of the first physical MrBeast Burger location. The burgers were not the top draw. It was MrBeast, the most-subscribed individual creator on YouTube. What does this have to do with content marketing? Influencers promote themselves, first and foremost. Creators make content. The best influencers build audiences. The best creators build brands. Place your bet accordingly.
As mentioned earlier, live events made a comeback in 2022. This year brands are going to recognize that while live is great, a challenging few years (see what I did there?) taught them the value of virtual audiences who can join (and pay) from anywhere. Yes folks, 2023 will usher us into an era of hybrid events. Virtual fatigue is real, and that fact will continue to sustain live productions. Hybrid requires more planning and effort, but the potential rewards will make it worthwhile. The trick will be balancing who’s in the room with who’s not. How can you engage the virtual audience and make it feel included?
Social media diversification
When Elon Musk took over Twitter, reports stated that advertisers fled the platform. Hate speech and misinformation were alleged to have increased, leading to brand safety concerns, threatening the source of 90 per cent of the platform’s revenue. Meta has notoriously been faced with accusations of promoting inflammatory content and misinformation. What’s a marketer to do? There are three pillars of content marketing: ideation, creation and distribution, and all three are equally important. Which means 2023 will be the year of alternatives. If brand safety is a concern, as it would be for most companies, how can content distribution be diversified? SEM, YouTube, Pinterest and Reddit are all worthy of test-and-tries, if you have yet to give them a significant whirl.
Metrics and time spent
“Digital marketers have been ruled by page views since the early days of the Internet. Reach was the goal. The more impressions, the more click-throughs. The more click-throughs, the greater the chances of landing customers. With the emergence and growth of content marketing, engagement has become increasingly important, and time spent is the leading indicator.” That’s a quote from my recent blog post on the topic of metrics, co-authored by my colleagues Shazia Khan and Jason Ainsworth. Here’s where we see this going: Brands will increasingly scrutinize not only the amount of time spent on their content, but how their teams, whether internal or external, arrived at those numbers. Then they’ll want harmonization of measurement models across vendors. Companies and their agency partners need to be ready for the scrutiny.
“Gawker came back with real Gen Z energy, I love it,” Globe Content Studio interactive designer Aashish Arora wrote in one of our internal Slack threads after reading this story on the publication’s rebirth and redesign. The resurrection of the content, six years after the site was shut down, turned out to be less interesting than its bold new look. Design is part of a brand’s personality, which requires a degree of consistency, but it also needs to adhere to the latest and greatest principles. This will be the year the ambition of the design matches the ambition of the content it supports for companies that strive to stay fresh. Done right, it will attract more eyeballs and more attention.
It’s been delayed before, it could be delayed again, but as it stands, Google says it will phase out third-party cookies on Chrome by 2024. That makes 2023 the year to prepare.Gen Z uses TikTok more than Google for search. Authentic, short-form videos tailor-made for the platform that can be shared or repurposed elsewhere will be more must-have than nice-to-have.Speaking of must-haves, podcasts continue to increase in number and popularity, almost to the point of table stakes, but measurement remains stubbornly difficult, and effective promotion and audience building is still a challenge for new and recent entrants. Those who crack the codes will be justly rewarded.
Sean Stanleigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org