Content Marketing World 2021 Roundup: How Content Marketing Has Changed

Published: Nov 12, 2021
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Content Marketing World is one of the largest marketing events of the year. Content Marketing Institute assembles the best content marketers from around the world to give their insights on the market, changes, and how we can improve our marketing strategies.

CMW 2021 was a return to form, as both virtual and live visitors took part in dozens of sessions, workshops, and presentations, all designed to take your content marketing to the next level. We’ve compiled some key takeaways from the conference. Read on to find out what advice stood out to us the most at CMW 2021 and why we’re excited to go back next year.

Content Marketing Post Pandemic

The most significant thing CMW 2021 discussed is how we should approach content marketing after the pandemic. The previous year and a half rocked the world with a global pandemic that saw people take significant losses. People were isolated, jobs changed, and everyday life became dramatically different for everyone.

88% of marketers changed their content strategy since the pandemic.

- Jay Baer

In response, people learned to adapt. We created quarantine pods with our closest friends. We taught our grandparents how to finally use Zoom to speak with them at a distance. We set up weekly game nights with our friends, rekindled old friendships, and discovered new hobbies.

During this time, content marketing changed as well. People wanted to speak with other people, not brands.

Today, people are returning to a new normal. They’re going back to bars and restaurants, catching up with friends, choosing new career paths, traveling, and seeking to really enjoy life.

As content marketers, we have to connect with our audience on a deeper level. As you’ll see from the following takeaways, that’s what this conference was all about.

Personalization Is the Key to Growth

Customers seek content made for them. 49% of marketers say they struggle with personalization and relevance. According to Uberflip co-founder Randy Frisch, the days have passed when just including someone’s name in an email was enough to get them to convert. When your content is tailored to your reader, it encourages them to read further, open your email, and engage with your brand.

I write each issue (newsletter) like a letter to a friend, and I want them to be delighted by my letter.

- Ann Handley

Whenever you create copy, keep a specific audience in mind. Now is the time to think about your buyer persona. Really evaluate who your buyers are, what their problems may be, and how your product or service is able to help them. Structure and personalize your content with that knowledge in mind, and you’ll be sure to see positive results in your marketing strategy.

Ways to Personalize Content for Your Audience

Lee Judge, Co-Founder of Content Monsta, provided valuable insights on how to create original content that feels familiar to your audience:

  • Speak the language of your audience. Talk about the things relevant to your audience, show them you care about their interests.
  • Start with something familiar. Connect with your audience using something they recognize and can attach themselves to.
  • Mix in your angle. Put in your personality and style to make your content unique and stand out.

Effective Content Writers Are Storytellers

Content has to keep a user engaged, but how do you do that? The secret is storytelling. Humans are natural storytellers, and taking advantage of that is one of the best ways to make your content more engaging.

Our brains are hardwired for stories.

- Joe Lazauskas, Head of Marketing at Contently

Stories add context and value to your product. Create a narrative around what you’re trying to sell and include your audience in it.

If your product solves a problem, tell a story around that problem, and explore how your story solves that problem.

This approach applies to all forms of content, from blogs and articles to social media posts and newsletters.

How to Craft a Better Story for Your Audience

Best-selling author and speaker, Ann Handley, provides the perfect framework for creating compelling stories. It shows just how anyone can take their product and present it in a way that engages with their audience:

  • Start your story with your product. (Once upon a time)
  • Explain what your product can do. (Introduce your product to your audience)
  • Bring in the conflict. (What detractors say about your product)
  • But one day. (Why is your product significant now?)
  • Which means. (Bring your audience into the story.)
  • To help. (Introduce their character to your product and how it can help.)
  • And that matters because. (Show how together, the two can overcome a problem.)
  • Which brings it all together. (A happily ever after.)

Build Trust With Your Customers Through More Authentic Content

Authenticity is a valuable and often overlooked part of the content marketing strategy. People are constantly assailed by brands and marketing campaigns pushing them to purchase a product or service.

As a result, trust in brands and companies has dwindled. In fact, Lee Odden, CEO of Top Rank Marketing, points out that 65% of people have no trust in ads. So, what do people trust? Other people.

Behind every piece of content is a person.

- Gina Balarin, Founder of Verballistics

Creating authentic content can be far more valuable than any well-optimized and researched piece of content. The constant pressure to buy is alienating consumers, but it also gives content marketers the opportunity to create authentic content that speaks to their target market. People want to be spoken to by another person.

Customers must feel to convert.

- Jill Grozalsky Roberson, Product Marketing Director at Sitecore

The pandemic has shown the effectiveness of genuine content. Businesses that pivoted toward people, engaging with others on a more personal level, saw significant growth in trust and community.

How to Create Authentic Content and Build Trust with Your Buyers

Shafqat Islam, CEO of Welcome, shared some useful concepts to keep in mind to ensure your content is authentic and personal:

  • Treat customers the way you’d like to be treated. 70% of the customer’s journey is based on how they feel.
  • Show empathy and create the right content for your customers. Take time to understand them and their emotional journey.
  • Tailor content to your customers, make it feel as if you’re speaking directly to them.

Be Radically Relevant and Your Customers Will Respond

Nearly 75% of customers get frustrated when info isn’t tailored directly to them. The trick isn’t to sell your audience on a product but to connect in their preferred manner. The key to effective content is tailoring it to your audience through speaking directly to them.

To get customers’ attention, you have to be radically relevant.

- Jay Baer

In 2021, total marketing messages were expected to increase by 40%. That’s even more competition in a market where people are returning to a new normal. To make your message stand out from all the other noise, don’t be louder, be more direct.

The Three Keys to Relevant Content

Jay Baer, the founder of Convince and Convert, presented the three keys for how to become relevant with your content:

  • Create the right message. Don’t be broad, deliver a message that’s useful to a particular customer at a specific point in their journey.
  • Use the right messenger. People trust messages from brands the least and from fellow customers to most. Find creative ways to deliver your message through different groups of people.
  • Use the right modality. The right modality differs based on generation, audience, and other factors. Don’t apply one modal to your message, use however many is needed to reach your audience.

Self-Service: Give Buyers More Control for Better Results

The self-service model is quickly becoming a preference for both buyers and sellers. 75% of buyers and sellers say they prefer digital self-serve and remote engagement over face-to-face interactions. This sentiment has only increased after pandemic lockdowns.

Buyers want to completely control the sales process before they are forced to engage with someone.

- Marcus Sheridan

It’s our job as content marketers to make the buying experience as seamless as possible. 77% of B2B buyers say buying is either very difficult or complex. When the overwhelming majority say the preferred method of buying digitally is difficult or complex, something has to change. Our job is no longer to sell a product to a customer but to empower them to make a decision and serve themselves.

Measuring Your Self-Service System’s Usefulness

Megan Gilhooly, Sr. Director of Self-Help and Content Strategy of Reltio, came up with an excellent checklist to measure your self-service platform’s usefulness:

  • Functionality. Perceived reliability, ease of use, responsiveness.
  • Convenience.  Accessibility, in the right place at the right time.
  • Enjoyment. Perceived enjoyment while using SST and from the outcomes.
  • Security. Perceived risk of fraud, loss of data, privacy.
  • Assurance. Confidence in the competence of the SST provider.
  • Design. UI design as well as the design of the overall SST system.
  • Customization. Ability to adapt to meet the individual customers’ needs and historic transactions.

Create the Best Answer Ecosystem with Your Content

When people have a question, they immediately go to search engines to find the answer. There’s a reason why search engine optimization is a core tenant of any content marketing strategy. Being the number one search result for a question means you’re an authority on that subject, it builds trust with potential customers. But there is more to being the best answer for your audience.

Being the best answer is about providing relevant, comprehensive, optimized content for findability and credibility.

- Lee Odden, CEO and Co-Founder of Top Rank Marketing.

Search results are only one part of the equation. Only 50% of people believe what they find in search engines. On top of that, 65% of people don’t trust ads at all. To build trust, you need to go beyond optimized content and connect with people your audience already trusts. Reach out to industry influencers and connect with people knowledgeable on the subject. Use quotes from leaders in the industry to substantiate your claims.

Using EAT: Expertise, Authority, and Trust to Dominate Search

Lee Odden’s presentation at CMW gave the blueprint on how to establish EAT for your content. Some of the key points he mentioned included:

  • Build expertise, authority, and trust in optimized content by collaborating with industry influencers for your keywords.
  • Determine what your brand is the best answer for. Are you easily findable? Are you credible?
  • Effective EAT means using the right content with the right influencer at the right part of the sales funnel.

Other Key Takeaways from CMW

There are so many things our team at wanted to mention from CMW 2021. There were many long nights and heated debates over what key takeaways to include. While we weren’t about to do a deep dive on all the presentations, we did want to include a few key takeaways that stood out to us from other presenters.

Jeff Coyle - Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of MarketMuse

The buyer journey isn’t linear. Marketers create content to try to be where our audience is when they’re ready. Our job is to help lead people to the next buy cycle.

Ashley Guttuso - Director of Marketing at Simple Focus Software & Dennis Shiao - Founder of Attention Retention

Email is a community builder. The purpose of an email is to build trust between the recipient and your brand. Act like a media company, build trust with credible content, and put the “letter” back in “newsletter.”

Jonathan Crossfield - Speaker, Writer, Storyteller

The goal of B2B content is for it to be read, watched, consumed, and persuade someone to do something. Appealing to emotions, such as humor, through creative ideas serves a useful purpose for B2B content.

Kate Bradley Chernis - Founder and CEO of Lately

Confidence is everything. It’s not what you write, but how you write it. Remove words in your copy that undercut your certainty, such as need, think, just probably, maybe, possibly.

How We Can Improve Our Content Strategies

Content marketing has changed, just as it did 20, 10, and even one year ago. Our job as marketers is to always adapt to this changing landscape and come up with new, better strategies.

The pandemic showed us nothing is certain and we must always be willing to think outside the box. Content marketing is more than just targeting keywords and bombarding our audience with emails. It was a reminder that we are all people and should be treated as such.

Content Marketing World 2021 brought leaders in the industry together to give eye-opening insights on how we can better serve our audience. Our team at is looking forward to what next year will bring.


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