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7 marketing trends to notice in 2021 - Ep #25

As we are quickly approaching the second half of the year, it is time to revisit your goals and your marketing plan.

In this episode, I will share 7 marketing trends you should notice sooner rather than later so you can start building the most relevant of them into your plan for the rest of this year and beyond.

Let’s face it.

One of the things we lost in 2020 was the belief that creating detailed plans makes sense. Everything changed a million times for many business owners and many had to pivot and reinvent their business completely to survive. To others, the uncertainty was more a matter of building into flexibility to the existing business model.

However, the fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed. And some trends in the marketing area are rooted way back before the pandemic.

But there are also new trends - not necessarily related to the pandemic at all - that will inevitably influence how you can attract your audience and convert them into customers and eventually ambassadors for your brand.

Let’s dive into the 7 marketing trends to notice in 2021 and that are especially relevant if you are an online course creator or educator!

#1 Authentic leadership vs. Authentic branding

Authentic branding has been on the marketing menu for a while.
In fact, authenticity is key to your business success, especially online.

Authenticity is a precondition for developing trustful relationships and the need to show up unpolished and transparent about who you are is fuelled by a basic human desire to relate and find a tribe to belong to - with everything we are.

If you want to understand this part deeper, go grab my book Marketing made human on Amazon. It comes in paperback, hardback, or ebook.

You can also listen to episode 23 with Luria Petrucci about how to make your ‘flaws’ your strength and part of how you stand out. To me there is no doubt, brand clarity implies including these less desired parts of ourselves and not hiding them. After all, that’s what makes us interesting, right?

However, being authentic is not enough.

In chaotic times, we need leaders to show the way more than ever. We need authentic and active leadership from those ahead of us on the path to our desired destination or future. We expect authenticity. That is a given to gain our trust. But to become somebody’s favorite guide, you need to demonstrate active leadership.

Content has to be packaged in a way that drives the audience forward to what they want to achieve - and it has to be presented by a leader people can relate to and who helps them overcome whatever roadblocks they are facing.

Authenticity is not about sharing everything that happens in your personal life. It’s about being true to who you are, where you come from, and about using your baggage and professional journey to lead the way to the desired destination - helping people avoid the same mistakes.

They don’t want you to be perfect. They also can’t relate to you if they think you are simply BETTER than them at whatever you do. They can relate if you also had to overcome obstacles to get where you are.

In 2021, authenticity goes beyond honesty and transparency. It goes beyond building or protecting your brand. It includes showing thought leadership. That means also showing HOW you figure things out, who you learn from, and coming up with novel solutions or solutions explained in a new way.

You are not only an industry or niche leader to them in the sense that you have significant and superior knowledge in your field. People also want to know that you are also on a journey with struggles, new skills needed, and new habits to implement. They want to see you not only as an expert but as a person who can teach them how to think, learn and manage whatever journey your business is about.

So how do you do this?

Well, one way is to identify roadblocks you overcame and situations you learned important lessons from. Turn them into interesting and compelling stories to use in your marketing. Another way is to share when there is something you are not sure how to handle in your business. There is a fine line here though and you should be careful not to confuse your audience. But industries and niches change. Social norms change. Pandemics happen. Laws change. Economies change. Events that force you to deal with unforeseen issues and require you to find new ways. And many of them do not only impact your business. They impact your audience as well and they look to you for leadership.

The concept of thought leadership is now new. The novelty here is that thought leadership is no longer a label reserved for the top 1% in an industry defined by how widely known the person is or how big of an audience they have. If you educate people or guide people to a desired destination, they want to trust you will not only share what you know but also how you conduct business and what you do to develop your thoughts further. They want to know about your network, habits, etc.

Demonstrating thought leadership is very closely related to building your credibility or with a fancy word, your clout. But it implies a different kind of transparency and willingness to jump first even when it’s risky. If you want followers, be known as a leader willing to jump first and share how it felt.

Ok - Moving on to the next trend:

#2 Community driven visibility

Social Media Platforms are increasingly supporting community marketing. This is good news if you love organic growth. The algorithms that determine who will see your content - and how many will see your content, are incentivized by people's active engagement in communities. To put it in simple terms: If a person likes a post on your Facebook page it is considered significantly less important than if the person enters your group and posts something or responds to somebody else's posts in the group. Why? Because Facebook is smart enough to know that people want to engage with other people. Not brands. People.

In fact, this is where the social part of social media went. To groups. Social media are no longer about being connected with friends but about being part of communities with shared interests. Platforms prioritize community content in the news feeds. Sharing not only happens when somebody shares one of your posts. Effective sharing happens indirectly through the algorithm.

When people engage in a form where they take part in creating the content via comments and new posts, the algorithm learns that people find this interesting and start showing it to more people. Visibility strategies, therefore, have to be rooted in initiating conversations.

In other words, your marketing strategy needs to include conversational content.

3# Event-based marketing

Live streaming has been favored by the algorithm for a while now. Live streams offer a place to have real conversations with like-minded people in real-time and live streams that has engagement, can have significant organic reach provided you are streaming from your page and not a closed private group. People want to be part of something and engage in real conversations about topics of interest.

I am sure you from time to time have notifications of someone you follow going live - but if it’s someone you REALLY follow and you want to participate, it can be quite inconvenient not being able to adjust your plans in good time to make it possible to participate. 

During the pandemic live streaming honed in on creating event experiences and this will probably continue going forward. Making your live stream an event will allow you to invite friends and people who liked your page, your group members, your email list, etc. With a compelling name for the event and maybe some existing guests - maybe even some who will bring their own audiences - you have set yourself up for a good chance, the platform algorithm will kick in and help you to more visibility.

#4 Content clusters over keywords

This is more of a technical trend that many are not aware of but should pay attention to.
Search engines are no longer solely focused on ranking content through specific keywords but seek to identify authorities on topics related to the keywords.

This means that in order to show up on search results pages you should narrow the field of your evergreen content and select a specific cluster you want to rank for and cover as much of that as possible. A cluster is a set of content pieces that are related to each other.

A winning content marketing strategy will be creating and maintaining fewer pieces of high quality, evergreen educational content and complementing them with a large number of bite-sized content pieces that are easy to consume and can spark interest for the overall topic.

This taps directly into differentiation and brand positioning but also allows you to be more productive in your content creation repurposing and how you can cross-promote your content in an omnichannel marketing strategy. 

Let me explain that in more plain language: You can become the go-to person for content when it comes to a few VERY specific topics. And because you focus more time on just a few solid pieces, it will be easier for you to continue to update and build ranking for those - a task that is often ignored by your competitors. Finally, in many cases, since you laid such a good foundation expressing your opinions and take on the chosen topics, it will be much easier to outsource the creation of lots of smaller content pieces. If you are a visual learner, you can see this a bit like an octopus: there are a set of arms - your small content pieces - that are all attached to the head (your core content pieces). It is the totality that creates the image of a fascinating and capable creature - or in this case …..authority. You.

# 5 Growth of FOMO content

This one is easy. FOMO content is content you risk missing out on because it disappears and is no longer available. Or it can be missing out on being part of something other people are part of. FOMO - Fear of missing out.

Marketers have for ages used FOMO strategies like social proof (your friends have it too), urgency (you can only get this bonus or this price today), and carts closing between launches or restaurants you need to know someone to get access to. The trend we are discussing here is related to increased consumption of limited-time content.

There are two points I want to make here:

First, FOMO is not only related to content that will actually physically disappear in the sense that it is taken off the platform, like Stories on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. It also includes content that is often consumed only via Explore feeds, like when you explore Instagram Reels from random content creators - or spend an entire Sunday watching TikToks.

The content people consume on these platforms does not necessarily have any real purpose and the people consuming it may not necessarily have any intention of building a relationship with the content creator. The content can be educational or conversational but quite often the purpose is simply to be entertained and be ‘part of the gang’ by being able to talk ABOUT the content.

This brings me to the second point; People spend a SIGNIFICANT amount of time on these platforms. And even though their intent may not be to follow specific people or get educated, there is a good chance lots of new people may come across your content and actually BE interested. How does that happen? Because the algorithms are super smart and quickly learn which videos the viewer likes and spend time watching and then start pushing that type of content in front of people with a similar profile.

The newest addition to the FOMO family is Clubhouse which we will come to in a minute. Again we see, like with Reels, Snapchat, TikTok, and Stories that early adopters are building huge followings on these platforms in a very short amount of time.

It no longer has to be our friends we follow on social media but content creators we find entertaining. And we don’t want to miss out on their content, especially not if it’s easily consumed or can be consumed while doing something else. And over time… like in any other relationship we spend time on, we build trust and a desire to learn more. It is that simple that increased consumption time drives reach and brand awareness. And if you are smart about how you are using them, you can drive conversions as well. Even if conversions take more time this may very well be outweighed by the reach you can get.

# 6 Intimate content formats

Now I briefly mentioned Clubhouse. Clubhouse is an audio-only new platform. A place for conversations moderated by participants. I mentioned it in the last section about FOMO-content because Clubhouse is real-time only. Imagine a conference center with several conference rooms with different presentations happening on stage. You can enter any room you like or even create your own for your invited audience or complete strangers to enter. Nothing is recorded - when it’s over, it’s over.

I mention Clubhouse again in this section because it also is part of another big trend happening.  Intimate content formats like video and audio win over written formats. The attention span for reading long articles and blog posts is just not what it used to be. Unless you have created some high-quality, in-depth content like the one we talked about in the Cluster strategy.

We will see more audio-based platforms like Clubhouse. Audio has grown a LOT over the last years. Audiobooks are selling like crazy, Podcast consumption - and production - is skyrocketing and Clubhouse has become wildly popular.

On a side note, the creators used a FOMO-strategy to create desire and waitlists to get onto the platform which at the time of this recording still by invitation only. You need to know someone who is on the platform that will invite you. It was also only for iPhone users which even made people who had sworn by their children’s life they would never buy an Apple product to give in and get an iPhone, often wildly protesting all the way to and from the Apple store. They did not want to miss out.

Ok back to the audio format. In my opinion, audio is one of the most intimate formats. Excluding visual expressions forces us to listen. Really listen. Furthermore, audio formats have the ability to fill out the spaces during the day where reading or watching videos is not possible. Like when you are cleaning the house or waiting for your dentist appointment.

Technically, search engines are now listening to audio and will look for keywords not only in your podcast description but also in the audio itself. You can easily send voice messages which are perceived as a lot more personal by the receiver. Or write your book simply speaking it to a Google Doc. Or control your home devices using your voice. Technology has caught up with how we humans have communicated since the beginning of time - speaking to each other without having to put on make-up first or adjust the light or find good camera angles. Audio is easy to produce, easy to consume - and it can do magic to how intimate the experience of your content is.

But audio is not the only intimate format that is trending. Short-form video and live conversational video will continue to grow because it is so much more effective for relationship building.

In terms of live video, we will see two things happening:

  1. There will be fewer long monologue live video ‘presentations’ with only superficial conversation intent happening. By that, I mean for example asking questions with the sole purpose of priming the algorithm and no intent of LISTENING to the audience.
    If people are not part of a conversation, they prefer pre-recorded content with a timestamped overview of what is being talked about when so they can optimize their time. People expect LIVE to be an invitation to have a conversation. If it’s not, they tune out.
  2. In contrast, people love the informal format in LIFE-streams. Not live but life. Jumping on live to just share a thought or show some behind the scene is one of the most efficient tools in your 2021 toolbox because it taps into both authenticity, making yourself available, and is in line with a friend-to-friend behavior. Do LIFE-streams from your stories so you do not clutter your page or profile. LIFE streams don’t need much planning. You should be more deliberate in your content choices on your page or profile.

# 7 Message-based marketing

Alright. Trend number 7 you should consider for your marketing strategy is about personalized conversations. Or message-based marketing.

I want to address 3 strategies here you may wanna look into; DM’s, Bots, and SMS.

  1. DMs.
    For the past decade, we have been taught to avoid spending too much time in 1:1 conversations unless they were with highly qualified leads. So why would you want to consider a Direct Message strategy? Because that’s what friends do. They talk to each other. And if you keep talking to your audience in a way that has relationship building and engagement as a purpose - and you should - people will want to connect directly with you. Instead of avoiding that, you should embrace the opportunity to connect to the individuals.

    You can be smart about it and prepare helpful content to provide as a response to the most common questions you get in the DM’s. To save time and as a tool to get people to come closer to your business - moving from your social media following to becoming email subscribers.

  2. Bots
    The next one is chatbots. Chatbots are automated conversations that unfold in different ways depending on the responses given by the person messaging you. This is a big topic so for today, I will refer you to episode 13 and episode 24 to learn more about bots.

  3. SMS
    Text messaging is rapidly growing - depending on which market you are in. In my experience, people often worry about asking people for their phone number on an opt-in because they assume it will decrease the opt-in rate and a part of their audience doesn’t want to give out that information. My opinion is you should respect that - but there are many ways to offer SMS as an option.

    In my business, I offer webinar registrants to receive a reminder via SMS a few hours before the webinar goes live. I probably should test if my opt-in rate would be higher without this option - but I feel pretty comfortable knowing my show-up rate is significantly above industry average or what can be expected. More than 90% of registrants choose to receive the SMS - and they respond both before and after the webinar via SMS offering me the opportunity to learn a lot more about my audience - and convert a good amount of respondents into paying customers through the conversations happening there.

Ok, friend. That was a lot of information. Let’s just recap the 7 trends, I recommend you notice for your 2021 and beyond.

    1. Authentic leadership vs. Authentic branding
    2. Community driven visibility
    3. Event-based marketing
    4. Content clusters over keywords
    5. Growth of FOMO content
    6. Intimate content formats
    7. Message-based marketing

 There you have it. I hope you find inspiration to create some amazing marketing strategies. As always, I am happy to discuss this further with you.

If you are not yet a member of the Course Creators Cafe on Facebook, please come join us and let us get to know you. Jump into the show notes to find the link to the group - or go to malenebendtsen.com/podcast to find the page for this episode.

See you there!

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