Marketing Report Reveals Common Challenges and Expectations for 2021 and Beyond

By Laura Hampton, Impression on

No one ever said 2021 was going to be easy. Between Brexit, the pandemic and the changing global economy, there’s a plethora of opportunities for us to be more challenged than ever before.

But at the same time, content marketers must recognise the many opportunities this year and beyond will bring. In a new marketing report study called The Marketing Census by London based marketing agency Impression, many of the common challenges we all face have been explored, alongside insights into how changing consumer behaviour and the growth of online are set to propel us forward in the coming months and years.

Reflecting on 2020

2020 was an odd one, to say the very least! From a marketing perspective, the need to be agile and adapt strategies was propelled to the fore and those who excelled were inevitably those who were able to pivot quickly – whether that be in the marketing messages they shared, the products they sold or the audiences they targeted.

Reflecting on the year as a whole, the marketing report shows that 40% of businesses experienced turnover growth in 2020 – a positive sign. The sectors reporting the highest instances of growth were software/technology, retail and, encouragingly, marketing.

In terms of immediate Covid-19 impact, though the ramifications of the pandemic cannot and should not be underplayed, from a business revenue perspective, 1 in 3 businesses said they experienced growth. Recognition that growth is possible, even in uncertain times, has to play a part in marketing strategies moving forward.

And speaking of growth, it is online far more than offline marketing that has driven growth in 2020, according to the Census, with nearly 9 in 10 marketers citing it as their most successful investment. Specifically, organic social media, followed by search engine optimisation (SEO) were given by 2 in 5 and 1 in 5 marketers respectively as their most successful online channels.

For those experiencing business growth, or seeking personal growth, there was good news too in that marketing teams grew in 2020 for just under 1 in 3 businesses – representing a growing investment in marketing, in spite of challenging times. Now, perhaps more than ever, marketers need to be able to speak to their audience if their businesses are to grow.

Woman checking marketing report

Investing in marketing skills in 2021

With a light now visible at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, positivity in terms of revenue projections is rife, according to the Marketing Census, with just under 9 in 10 businesses expecting to grow their revenue in 2021.

The most positive outlook comes from those in manufacturing, marketing, professional services and construction – potentially as a reflection of the fact those businesses have been able to continue working through the pandemic.

Those in hospitality, charity and publishing were the least optimistic, having the highest proportions of responses to the negative, but in spite of that, even they expect growth in at least 66% of cases.

From a marketing perspective, both Covid-19 and Brexit will present challenges and undoubtedly, the ability to pivot and be agile that we’ve honed over the past year will stand us in good stead as we progress through this one.

The topic of recruitment also came up in the Census report, with more businesses expecting recruitment to be a challenge in 2021 than did in 2020 as typically bricks and mortar stores increase their need to move to and develop their online offering. Of course, while this represents a challenge, it also represents an opportunity – where those of us who are able to invest in our own skills and train up the next generation of content marketers will be in a very strong position.

Paid media and the evolution of content marketing

One of the key findings of the marketing report in looking at 2021 is the rise in marketers who expect paid media to be their most successful marketing, compared to those who reported it to be in 2020.

Paid media – including PPC, Shopping, Programmatic, Display, YouTube etc – was cited as the most successful channel by just over 7% of respondents for 2020, while 1 in 3 marketers expects it to be the most successful in 2021.

What this presents to us as content marketers is a real opportunity to further our value by focusing on funnel development. One of the core benefits of an investment in content marketing is that it has the ability to start and continue conversations with our potential customer base – meaning that investments in solution driven marketing and an understanding of the marketing funnel can really benefit the impact of our work.

In terms of how paid media can progress this, content marketers, arguably now more than ever before, have the chance to capitalise on our ability to progress customer journeys by integrating with paid media.

For example, a potential customer visits our website to digest our content. Maybe they see it first through social media, perhaps it was optimised for search, and maybe we even did some paid promotion to get it in front of people in the first place.

The challenge with this is that, while that interaction has value, there are no guarantees that the visitor will progress through the funnel to conversion – especially if the content we create is intended to reach prospects at the top of the funnel, i.e. the awareness stage of their journey.

In this way, we have the opportunity to use paid media to help nudge those visitors further through their journey. As an example of this in practice, let’s say we create a piece of content which helps to raise awareness of a problem that our product/service will ultimately solve. This is where we might use data capture – in the form of encouraging social follows, email subscriptions or simple cookie capture – to facilitate target advertising messages thereafter. The visitors to our content can be reached thereafter with more of our content that increases their understanding, then desire, for what we have to sell/promote.

Recognising the value of content beyond rankings

Something else that is apparent from the Marketing Census is that the way marketers judge the success of content campaigns is changing.

In 2020, the requirement for content to rank for organic search was considered much more important than in 2021 – with the number of marketers stating organic rankings as a core KPI declining by 40% year on year.

Conversely, the prevalence of marketers judging success on metrics such as audience engagement has increased by 9% – suggesting that compelling content which drives longer time on page, lower bounce rates and a greater conversion rate is more important than ever.

That’s not to say that the rankablity of our content is to be ignored, as it would be a missed opportunity not to ensure the content we produce has the best chance of being found through search engines like Google. But the purpose of that content goes much deeper; in order to create that compelling content that truly engages and resonates with our audience, we must invest, now more than ever, in a deep and detailed understanding of that audience – from what problems they face to what drives their decisions to the format of content that best suits their needs.

This is a topic explored in more detail by the digital PR team at Impression through their podcast OutSpeech, where Ferrero and Thorntons digital lead John Alexander Rowley explores the role of top-of-funnel content in driving business growth.

Content marketing in 2021 and beyond

There’s no arguing the fact that this year will come with its challenges. But as shown by the Marketing Census, it also presents opportunities for us, as content marketers, to evolve our craft and further prove our value.

With nearly 2 in 3 businesses stating their marketing budget will increase in 2021, there’s scope for us, as marketers, to be investing more in top of funnel activities, such as content marketing. The greater the need to shop online, the more comfortable audiences get with the online world and the savvier they become to the tactics that, previously, would have worked well. Poor quality content, crafted with the sole purpose of ranking on Google, just won’t cut it, while our focus on great customer experience (further propelled by the upcoming Core Web Vitals update) will push us to be more audience-centric, and more integrated, than ever before.

To read the full Marketing Census Report and its findings, visit

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