Hard-won content marketing lessons from across Europe this year

What a year! We asked WeContent speakers and friends what they’ve learned about content marketing over the last twelve months, and where they think our industry is heading next. 

Periods of living life under lockdown affected most of us in Europe during 2021, and we’ve all spent more time than ever before online. Content has been centre stage. We’ve appreciated the value of great content for ourselves, and have recognised new opportunities in the work we do for our clients. 

Let’s draw a collective breath at the end of a challenging year, and share what we’ve learned. 

What’s the biggest lesson you learned about content marketing in 2021?

Carlijn Postma, Netherlands: Content is now the only way to reach our audiences

In 2021 even more brands and organizations realised that, to survive everything that’s been thrown at them in the last two years, they are dependent on content marketing. 

Lockdown travel restrictions have limited the physical movement of our audiences. Content is all we have to reach them. That means that every brand, every organization must think about their story and the content they need to get that story out. 

This has been the catalyst to kickstart content marketing at all levels of business this year. Let’s create more great stories as we go! 

>> Carlijn Postma is a writer, speaker and content marketing strategist. Founder of the Post and author of Binge Marketing

Koen Denolf, Ghent, Belgium: The job of explaining content marketing isn’t finished

The biggest lesson I’ve learned about content marketing this year is that we – as content marketers – have to make greater efforts to explain and keep explaining the philosophy and mechanics of content marketing. 

These last 2 years we have seen a real breakthrough for content marketing in Belgium, which means a bigger seat around the table, more people involved and bigger budgets. With that comes bigger responsibilities. 

Many marketers keep struggling with thinking from their customer’s point of view – there is still a lot of me me me content. Content also has to shift from merely delivering support as a production unit to being a strategic asset. That means getting it in front of the line, where strategic decisions are being made and not something that is being added in the end. And finally we must urge clients to define clear objectives and set up a workflow where all content is scrutinised and evaluated to meet these needs. 

Content marketing done right is not as easy as it seems, big ad and PR agencies have learned that by now and are on the hunt to take over content agencies. We have a chance to be bigger than they are. But with that comes a big responsibility. If we want to play in the big league – and I believe we can and should – we have to be more Ted Lasso to turn around our fortunes. 

>> Koen Denolf is Strategist & Managing Partner @ The Fat Lady. Spreading the good word of content marketing as an author, a keynote speaker, columnist, teacher and part of the Custo content marketing association board. 

Jon Burkhart, London, UK: Stay curious

The pandemic has introduced content marketers to new ways of coping and communicating and creating this year. We’re all doing it differently now. And some folk are thriving with this new but constantly changing way of helping brands grow. 

I’ve always hated the term ‘normal,’ and the brands I’ve learned from most this year know that their fans hate it too. They’re looking to learn how to stand out, and they’re up for different ways to learn how to do this — for themselves and for their customers. 

This makes me nervous as I must continually innovate to find new ways of inspiring marketers, but I’m up for the challenge. Man, I’ve made tons of mistakes this year, but I’m always learning and growing. 

More than ever before, I’m seeking feedback early and often. And I’m injecting myself with Ted Lasso levels of curiosity and positivity (check out “Ted Lasso darts”). This injection is coming from communities like my lovely WeContent and You Are The Media. And this will increase in 2022 if we stay curious. 

>> Jon Burkhart is a keynote speaker and marketing guy at TBC Global. Constantly curious at heart, he helps brands grow through quick and clever content.

Marvin Jacobs, Amsterdam, Netherlands: We are in an audio revolution

The biggest insight I had over the past year is that there is still an enormous potential of possibilities within the domain of audio, which brands and organizations only use to a limited extent. 

Worldwide, we are in an audio revolution. In almost every market you can see similar developments, where we spend more and more time listening, while our screen time stagnates. However, the lion’s share of advertisers’ media budgets still goes towards visually-driven content. 

Audio is a powerful tool to make a valuable connection with audiences. With a well-crafted podcast, you can easily hold your attention for 20 or 30 minutes. No tv-commercial or social media post can compete with that. The insight about this discrepancy between advertising budget and media time spent, stimulates me to explain in even more places how brands can use audio in a valuable way.

>> Marvin Jacobs is a podcast and audio expert, creative director and founder of the audio agency Airborne. 

Simon Swan, London, UK: It’s time for internal education

Educating your business on the role of content starts with understanding your business, its vision and goals it aims to be achieving. The role of a content approach is not essential for every business and that’s fine! But if it is, it’s important you diagnose your market, your business, the competitor landscape and identify why you and your team believe content has a role to play as part of the wider marketing mix

Practical steps you need to formulate is getting comfortable with the stakeholders and decision makers within your business, as it’s an investment channel and you need to ensure you’re accountable and can justify the spends required. Also how is it all going to be measured and monitored towards the business goal/s? As a content marketer it’s important you can articulate the value in business language and narrative otherwise the danger will be it will be left as a tactical instrument with little buy in and support.

>> Simon Swan is a CIM certified marketing practitioner, with an extensive career spanning private and public sector organisations.

Jon Mowat, Bristol, UK: Content hubs, not social media

Owning a space in which you can hold conversations with prospects, away from the unowned territory of social media is vital for conversions and retention. The real success stories in 2021 came when marketing teams moved content into brand owned spaces. Doing this gives teams hard metrics, detailed data collection and the ability to track real conversions into sales. 

The best examples of brands doing this are those that have created content hubs, a digital destination where brands can hold a detailed conversation with their audiences. 

>> Jon Mowat is one of Europe’s leading video strategy experts and founder of award-winning content marketing agency, Hurricane.

Sabina Varga, Bucharest, Romania: Move out of your content zone

Move. I realized this year that we get stuck – myself included – in our old ways. We do it all again and again: the same strategy and editorial calendar template, the tactics we’ve used with many clients, the quotes we know have impact in a presentation, the tools that have become our second nature. 

There’s a reason we repeat. It works, and it probably works well. But does it work great? And will it work forever? No. I’ve been hosting a podcast for 3 years and recently I did a series of interviews at an event. Just yesterday I watched a younger girl’s vlog on the same event. I felt “wow, here’s a totally different way of doing things. I need to try it”. I’m not going to do the exact same thing, but apply some techniques to my own work. It might prove useless or it might take me to the next level. 

My point is, even if what you’re doing in content marketing works, don’t get stuck and don’t resist change. Challenge yourself to improve and try new things. Move out of your content zone. It’s the only way forward.

>> Sabina Varga is a content marketer at WeContent and the host of Zest, a podcast about writing in all shapes and forms.

Sonja Nisson and Sharon Tanton, Bristol, UK: Experiment with educational content

The need for valuable content has never been greater. We’ve cried out for clear messages, great stories and digital platforms that work. Communication has been so vital through the pandemic, and it hasn’t all been good in the UK. It’s been frustrating to be on the receiving end of bad communication, especially when you can see ways that it could have been so much better!

A lesson from this year which we can see gathering pace next year and beyond is the importance of creating good educational content. Governments, organizations, brands, businesses, and individuals are recognizing the need for content that teaches people something new. Making knowledge and expertise entertaining and accessible, so that learning sticks, feels like something that content marketers can naturally lean into. Now’s a good time to be a content marketer.

And finally we’ve relearned the importance of just doing the work. Creating great content takes consistent effort. Words are the most powerful and flexible tool at your disposal, but they don’t appear by magic! You’ve got to find a way to write through all the uncertainty, and keep putting one word in front of another. A personal lesson for us at the School of Valuable Content is the power of our Content Writing Group. It’s been brilliant seeing people gain their writing confidence and share some truly valuable content with the world.

>> Sonja and Sharon are co-authors of the Valuable Content Marketing book. They run The School of Valuable Content.

Cor Hospes, Amsterdam, Netherlands: It’s time to reflect on our profession   

It stands still. The content marketing profession is standing still. Caught between ignorance and impatience. Meanwhile, experts watch motionless as the advertising world takes off with content and content marketing. And that kidnap results in short-lived campaigns that have little to do with the original idea of ​​content marketing. After all, you want to build trust with content, with your stories. 

Want to strengthen relationships with your audience. Want to build a loyal group of fans? But that whole original idea of ​​creating content seems to have evaporated. What remains is a jumble of job descriptions from content marketers, content specialists and content strategists. Look at the vacancies on LinkedIn. In one, you’re a social media expert. In another, a copywriter with a loupe for keywords, and in yet another company they are mainly looking for someone with web technical and data skills. 

It is therefore high time that we, as specialists, use this standstill to reflect on the profession. It also took years before we all came to a clear description of marketing. Only then did it come to full fruition.

>> Cor Hospes is Founder & Strategist at Merkjournalisten, the Content Marketing Agency. He’s a writer, speaker and a content & storytelling coach.

Doug Kessler, London, UK: Content is for brand building too

I keep learning that content isn’t just for demand generation. It’s essential for that, of course, but it also has huge potential for brand building—and very few companies use it for that.

My favourite brand content is stuff with only brand building as a goal. So instead of mixing brand in with the other goals, do content whose only job is to celebrate a core belief of the company. That freedom can lead to some really resonant brand content. I wish more companies did it.

I’m 100% convinced this kind of thing creates a tailwind for all your demand generation efforts even if it doesn’t show up in the superficial dashboards (stick with it: the deeper attribution models should show the impact!).

>> Doug Kessler is co-founder and creative director of London and New York-based B2B content marketing agency, Velocity Partners, and a copywriter at heart. 

Jason Miller, London, UK: Just. Keep. Trying. 

If you know that your content is great, but it’s not getting the traction it deserves, give it another chance or several. If you are creating remarkable, data-driven, evidence-based, helpful, and relevant content, but you feel that the engagement isn’t there, try again.

By changing the title, testing the copy messaging, and creating multiple creatives, you can release your masterpiece out into the world over and over again until you see what gets traction and engagement, then double down with paid to help it scale. 

In the words of the great Steven Tyler (singer of one of the greatest rock bands ever, Aerosmith), “We believed that anything worth doing was worth overdoing.” Although I don’t believe he was referring to content marketing, his advice has been my mantra over the last year.

>> Jason Miller is Director of Marketing at CreativeX, Rock n Roll Photographer and blogger at www.RocknRollCocktail.com 

Hard-won but hopeful content lessons to take into the new year

What a year indeed. Not an easy one for any of us, but most certainly a catalyst for fresh thinking in the business and content marketing realm, right across the continent.

Our commentators have reflected on a year of brave experimentation: innovations in educational content, content marketing for brand building as well as for generating demand; fresh ways to engage our audiences, such as audio and content hubs; and a pressing need to do more to explain our profession and to reflect on where we are now. 

There’s so much potential for content marketing to help organisations deliver change, or brands tell better stories, or businesses to create communities. And it feels bigger than ever this year. On the other side, we as content creators have been more isolated than ever before. Like every other industry on the planet, we’ve had to figure out new ways of working to meet new challenges in a shifting landscape.

It IS a good time to be a content marketer, and there’s plenty to keep us busy. Stay hopeful, keep experimenting – and, just like Ted Lasso (who gets more than one mention here) stay curious! 

Wishing you a happy and healthy end to a crazy year.

See you in the new year at WeContent Festival 2022, where you can hit refresh and get unstuck, at a beautiful outdoor location near Bucharest, Romania. Super early bird tickets are available for a limited time only. Get yours now!


Keep up with content news and events

More pieces like this

Share This