Content marketing: time to rebuild trust

by Martin MacConnol – Dec 15, 2020

Our latest piece of annual research on trends for digital and print content is in, and it makes for interesting reading – especially for those planning content marketing campaigns in 2021.

Overall, the biggest headline is the impact events of 2020 have had on trust. The data this year shows that across all the media we measured, from magazines to blogs, newsstand to branded content, trust has taken a bashing.

It’s the third year we’ve run the research with our partner Delineate, and in 2019 we saw a distinct uplift in trust by around 10 percentage points for every channel measured. In 2020 though, that rise has been eroded by an average of 4 percentage points for digital channels and 5 for print. The biggest digital loser for trust were social channels: the content we get from our friends and connections.

Of course, it’s not hard to see why: Covid seems to have accelerated growth in ‘fake news’, and given how important the pandemic is to all our lives, the damage is clear. Add to that social platforms having to put warnings on content from global leaders (AKA Donald Trump) and you create an environment where trust is hard to win.

For brands, this means a key challenge in 2021 will be restoring trust – creating and distributing content that gives audiences confidence in the brand producing it.

Again, the research, which took place in September and involved a survey of more than 2,000 UK people aged over 18, is clear on what makes content trustworthy. Supporting evidence which suggests accuracy and a factual basis for the claims made is key. Behind that comes a sense of impartiality and the credibility of the website or publication the consumer is reading. Brands need to invest in more than soundbites to win public trust, and they need to take a step back from just pushing products.

If trust is a challenge, the good news for companies looking to harness content marketing in 2021 is that audiences want it. 62% of consumers are keen to engage with branded content more than once a month. Wealth and age are key factors in determining this appetite. 36% of people on a high income are keen to engage more than several times a week, while that falls to 17% for the lowest income band. Again 34% of 18-24-year-olds are keen to engage weekly or more, compared to only 13% of those over 65.

Perhaps strangely, the popularity of print as a medium persists. 44% of consumers say they still prefer to engage with content in print, while only 29% prefer digital channels. Again, age is a factor: those aged 34 and under are more likely to prefer digital (41% to 34%), whereas the over 55s strongly prefer paper (55% to 21%). So: if you are planning a content campaign getting the channel mix right is vital. Print may be more expensive, but it is likely to be more persuasive for older demographics.

Strangely, when you dig into the detail of why people prefer print to paper there is little logical evidence for it. On nearly all criteria, from inspiration to fact-checking, digital scores more highly. Only as a medium for relaxing and unwinding is print strongly ahead by 34% to 28%. The implication is that print still makes more of an emotional connection with audiences than digital. If brands want to boost engagement through their digital channels this is something they need to take note of.

The research also shows what sort of content moves audiences to engage and to purchase. There is now a bundle of attributes that brands need to be on top of in their content marketing. At the top of the pile (74% each), audiences said the content which is most likely to make them buy something is that which is both informative about the brand and problem solving for an issue they are facing. And in a media-saturated world, audiences also want you to tell them something new (71%) and give them something which is creative (66%).

Behind that though, the research shows that the issue of social purpose is rising more to the fore in consumers’ minds. It’s not hard to see why: regulators and big investors are driving corporates to show more care for the planet around them. But beyond that we see evidence of more and more people wanting the companies they do business with to work ethically for a planetary good. In our research, 58% of millennials said they would be more likely to purchase from a brand that provides content that looks at social responsibility. Even in the oldest age group, of the 65s and over, that number dropped to only 46%. It is clear. People care about how brands behave: content marketers take note.

You can download a copy of the research or contact me for more information We recently presented the research at webinar with our research partner, Delineate. Again if you would like a recording of that presentation, I would be delighted to help.

Published Dec 15, 2020

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