For content marketers, few things seem certain at the end of the year.
Politicking around budgets and Q1 hiring is one. Last-minute requests for help with a holiday campaign are another. And you can always count on new-year forecasts starting around the time everyone dusts off their ugly holiday sweaters — and often, those predictions feel just as ironic and cliched.
But for content marketers, they can be more pragmatic than just fodder for pre-Zoom conversations and email chains. We marketers live and die by the whims of two groups of people: our idealized audience and the product leaders behind the almighty algorithms at the search and social media platforms we rely on to distribute content.
So to help you get ahead of both, here are my top six content marketing predictions for 2022.
6 Content Marketing Predictions for 2022
- Employees’ personal brands become a distribution asset for corporate channels.
- B2B digital communities gain traction among the early majority.
- LinkedIn cannibalizes popular blogging strategies.
- Audience acquisition blossoms across B2B.
- Entertainment joins data as a new content differentiator.
- MQL continues its demise.
Employees’ Personal Brands Become a Distribution Asset for Corporate Channels
What’s better than a single content-distribution channel (like a corporate profile) per platform? Ten or even 100.
The decline of organic reach on social media is well documented. And increasingly, as Hootsuite reports, “studies show that potential customers trust employees more than journalists, advertisers and CEOs.” Luckily, we may be in the apex of the Creator Economy — where individuals (like employees) can share their expertise and personal brand more easily than ever and build the engagement brands have struggled to do organically for the last couple of years. We’ve been doing it on social media, of course, but now we also can build relationships with prospects through new channels like Substack, Patreon, Clubhouse, Loom and a dozen other VC-backed tools that launched while I was writing this piece.
Some have already invested in this. Think: SparkToro and Rand Fishkin, Drift and Dave Gearhardt, Databox and John Bonini, a16z and Andrew Chen, and OMERS Venture and Chrissy Farr, the digital health journalist turned VC.
In 2022, more forward-thinking brands will tap into this opportunity, decentralizing their content strategy to empower and spotlight their in-house experts more than ever. It expands a brand’s reach, taps into personal networks and builds more trust than a logo.
B2B Digital Communities Gain Traction Among the Early Majority
The often-shared data point on brand content exposure — that prospects usually consume X pieces of content before starting the sales cycle — forgets something significant: To expose those prospects to the content they do consume, content marketers have to create multiples of it, which is expensive and time consuming.
Generally, only a single-digit percentage of organic posts reach the audience. Search can take weeks or months to yield results. And even if you’re a brand with a story no one else has, email click-through rates make it hard to reliably move prospects through the funnel. Unsurprisingly, customer acquisition costs through content are rising, and some report they are on par with acquisition costs through paid channels.
In 2022, platform exhaustion, rising costs and an appetite for more voices will spur brands’ experimentation with creating their own digital community via collaboration tools like Slack or, believe it or not, LinkedIn. Provided brands can recruit enough of the right prospects and thought leaders to build a sustainable network effect, they can generate engagement volumes and intensity that no longer seems possible on social media (and gain some intimate market research at the same time).
LinkedIn Cannibalizes Popular Blogging Strategies
Over the last few years, LinkedIn has looked…different.
Longform posts with haiku-like formatting have been gaining traction. And it’s no longer SDRs sharing pseudo-sensitive broetry memoirs. Now CEOs and founders are. Product visionaries are. Even progressive brands are.
These will increase in 2022. LinkedIn has already publicized that it values dwell time, which longer posts encourage. And Google continues to eat into many brands’ organic traffic, contributing to fewer brands reporting strong results from their blog strategy, as Orbit Media Studio reported.
As a result, brands without sizable SEO share-of-voice or a loyal newsletter or blog readership will wonder whether publishing eight to 12 times a month makes sense anymore and will start to use LinkedIn almost as a stand-in blog.
Audience Acquisition Blossoms Across B2B
Buying a publication for its audience and its data isn’t a new strategy. Johnson and Johnson bought Baby Center. Neil Patel bought the popular analytics blog Kissmetrics. HubSpot bought The Hustle. Stripe bought IndieHackers. Robinhood bought MarketSnacks.
But the practice seems to be gaining traction among B2B brands looking to compete with category heavyweights or amass more customer insights. And for good reason. In today’s attention economy, focus is fragmented, making it harder for brands to hold an audience and nurture it. Not to mention the fact that platforms’ ever-changing algorithms and pay-for-play strategies are wreaking havoc on the ability of up-and-coming brands to build an audience engaged for the long term.
The difference for B2B brands in 2022 is that every company with a marketing team is apparently now a media company. Brands interested in buying an audience rather than building one have more acquisition targets, like Substack newsletters, than ever before.
The question I’m most interested in: Who in healthcare buys a media company, and which media company is it?
Entertainment Joins Data as a New Content Differentiator
Data may be the new oil, but nowadays it seems as though every B2B brand has its own oil field.
Nearly every content library has a “state of the industry” report: an ebook (with pie and bar charts!) that gets previewed in a webinar, promoted in a campaign cycle and later broken into numerous blog posts. Without in-depth, almost academic analysis or a differentiated content strategy built around data, though, data seems like a commodity.
Perhaps that’s a sign that we’re moving from the educate-the-audience era to the entertain-the-audience era — comparable to what arose in traditional advertising more than half a century ago. As Databox marketing leader John Bonini writes about SEO-driven “how-to” content: “You’re not HubSpot in 2014. Don’t try to mimic that content strategy.”
In 2022, more B2B brands will buy into this new era. To differentiate, they will tap into B2C and entertainment formats for their content, including broader, more dramatic narratives, Hollywood-like trailers, and even video games. Employees’ personal brands, like actors’ personal brands, will play a role in this, too.
MQL Continues Its Demise
This isn’t a bold prediction, but it may be a popular one: As form fatigue continues and lead management and engagement tech evolves, marketing-qualified leads will decline in importance in 2022.
Generating MQLs is a common objective among B2B content marketers. But search “marketing-qualified lead,” and a majority of the related searches at the bottom of the results page are questions: “What are marketing-qualified leads?” Or, “How do you calculate marketing-qualified leads?” And perhaps most damning, “What should your sales team do with marketing-qualified leads?”
In other words, many increasingly question (or even reject) the value of MQLs, viewing them as an antiquated metric from when marketing and sales were less aligned. Some companies are trying to solve that. For example, the “conversational marketing” startup Drift still uses “The MQL is Dead” ebook as a primary lead-generation magnet.
How Many Wins? How Many Whiffs? 2022 Will Tell Us.
Of course, I could whiff on all these predictions.
Longform content like white papers may see a revival. Blogs may strengthen their position in content-marketing strategy. B2B brands may pass on communities because of the maintenance required. And brands may tilt toward sales-driven, feature-focused messaging, as product-led growth dominates go-to-market strategies.
But something seems to be shifting among audiences and within the content marketing function. Perhaps it’s because of the new tech that’s available — or the new generation of decision makers with buying influence moving up in organizations.
We’ll have to wait and see. That’s one more certainty we content marketers can count on at the end of each year.