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Eyes wide open: 7 experts weigh in on the top content challenges marketers will face in 2021

As much of an illusion as it may have been, many of us had high hopes the clock would strike midnight on January 1st and everything would magically go back to normal. The pandemic would be over, the world would unite and we could go about our business.

But alas, no amount of wishful optimism was going to bring us back to our pre-2020 life. Despite its many challenges, 2020 brought silver linings. We’ve adapted, found virtual ways to (somewhat) replace in-person interactions, invested in creating great client experiences and made inclusivity an essential business pillar.

2021 will—and has already—bring forth its own set of challenges. We’ve called upon some of the top leaders in content marketing to give brands and marketers some insights to successfully navigate the challenges we’ll all likely face in the year ahead. 

A. Lee Judge

Co-Founder & CMO, Content Monsta

The biggest challenge for marketers in 2021 will be to meet the digital challenge of replacing in-person events. Content marketers will gain more attention while also gaining more responsibility in showing business results of their efforts.

Ann Handley

Chief Content Officer & Co-Founder, MarketingProfs

1. Staying creative when every day is the same and kids and spouses are underfoot and what’s a weekend…? Marketing is about perspective. And that’s hard to get right now.

2. Nurturing essential connections with others (internally, externally). Marketing is a relationship game.

3. Wearing pants is going to feel punitive. Like we’ve sentenced our legs to Leg Prison.

4. I personally will find it hard to resume the grind of travel. In 2021. Or ever. I mean, I know you said “the biggest challenge marketers will face” and not “Ann will face.” But now I’m on a roll.

5. And finally: When kids go back to school and activities resume and we have busy, robust social lives again… which might happen in 2021 (?), it’ll be a challenge to not spend as much time with our families. In a weird way, I think we’ll miss these days when we all were at home together.

Chris Penn

Co-Founder & Chief Data Scientist, Trust Insights

This is the new normal. There is no going back. There will not be a time in the next couple of years when you can freely go to a conference with no precautions and hug people and do all those things you used to do. We have to adapt to the situation and realize that people feel cooped up and are experiencing extreme Zoom fatigue.

The biggest challenge for marketers in 2021 is making sure you’re ready to change how you do a few things. You have to regularly pay attention to your data and be prepared to change when the data says it’s time to change. Don’t sit there and hope things will get better; if you’ve got a trend going in a specific direction, you have to be ready to pivot. You also have to have scenario plans in place. What’s the best-case scenario, the worst-case scenario and what happens if you don’t change what you’re doing right now.

Ashley Zeckman

Vice President, Inprela

2021 will be the year that marketers must put their marketing where their mouth is and make it very clear what they do and do not stand for. Those that don’t will quickly find that customers and prospects are leaving them in favor of brands that align with their core values.

With trust in business practices and values will be more critical than ever, now is the opportunity to identify, engage and align with trusted partners or influencers to meet your audience where they’re at. Recent research has found that just over 20% of B2B brands engage influencers, which means that now is the time to seize the opportunity to partner with individuals and brands that your audience knows and trusts.

Ardath Albee

CEO & B2B Marketing Strategist, Marketing Interactions

The biggest challenge will be focusing on creating experiences instead of random acts of marketing. As digital becomes primary, static content and lackluster interactions will not produce the results they need. But it’s more than that. Marketing and sales need to work together for the sake of giving buyers what they want – regardless of what stage of buying they’re in. With more buyers wanting self-serve research when solving a problem, not only do we need to give it to them, but we need to wake up to the fact that they want distance because engaging with vendors just hinders their efforts. It’s time to fix this. Marketing can play a big role in leading this initiative.

Sara Payne

President, Inprela Communications

Long-term content planning will be challenging this year because things are still evolving at such a rapid pace—and brands need to be on top of the change in order to be relevant. This may be the new norm. We may never go back to the days where we have the luxury of planning content a full quarter in advance. It may be more realistic to plan content in 8-10 week sprints. 2021 is about building agility and adaptability into our teams to be able to build content strategies and the content itself on the fly. Think and act like a journalist. We have to very quickly plan, build, launch, adapt—repeat. The pace will be exhausting, but we have an opportunity to see enhanced performance simply as a result of being much more plugged into the timely, relevant needs of our customers.

Michael Brenner

CEO, Marketing Insider Group

We reap what we sow. The marketers who panicked in 2020 and didn’t take the opportunity to fight for the strategic value of marketing will likely see their budgets and teams cut to the bone. Wherever marketing is seen as an expense and tactical, it will be a battle for survival. BUT, we are seeing our clients thriving because they took 2020 as an opportunity to re-define marketing. 2021 will be a banner year for marketers who focus on organically attracting relevant traffic to your owned media (your website).

Moving Forward

Thank you to all of our experts for sharing your insights into the top challenges marketers will face in 2021!

We’re curious to know, what do you predict will change in marketing in the coming year? And will it be temporary or long-lasting?

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