2024 content marketing trends include evolution of GenAI, first-party data reliance

By Sean Stanleigh

The Globe and Mail

Toronto, Canada


I used the phrase “general mayhem” with my team in late 2023 to describe a particularly wild work day, but it could just as easily have applied to the year. Economic uncertainty, wars, climate anxiety, political unrest, and technological advancements combined to impact society on a global scale — on personal and professional levels.

I’ve often said change is constant, and the ability to adapt is no longer an option — it’s a necessity. In 2023, the pace of change was faster than ever, and it’s showing no signs of letting up in 2024.

Just as content marketers get caught up on 2023 trends, they find themselves jumping into the next hottest thing. In 2024, they can expect to continue to integrate GenAI into their work as well as reintegrate brand awareness strategies across their content.
Just as content marketers get caught up on 2023 trends, they find themselves jumping into the next hottest thing. In 2024, they can expect to continue to integrate GenAI into their work as well as reintegrate brand awareness strategies across their content.

What does this have to do with content marketing? Plenty, because where the world goes, we go. Let’s start with a look back at our predictions for 2023, followed by a look ahead to what to expect in the coming year.

2023: The year that was

Short-form video domination

TikTok, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts: Three platforms that make it easy to go down rabbit holes and stay there.

What’s the secret? Short, punchy videos that are easily digestible and highly relevant, thanks to remarkable levels of curation and personalisation. Viewers often find themselves wondering how “the machines” appear to be able to anticipate what they like before they even realise it’s what they like.

In 2023, brands recognised the need to have a steady presence in the short-form video space, and the key to success was to create platform-specific work that capitalised on trends, not just to post cut-downs of standard videos.

That said, the pendulum started to swing back toward high-quality production for creators and brands looking to stand out from the lo-fi masses. An interesting side note: There were late-year attempts to stream long-form TV series and movies by breaking them down into short clips.

ChatGPT gets put to use

The generative AI poster child made its big promotional splash in late 2022, but 2023 was the year marketers actually started using it, rather than simply having fun with it.

There were some notable exceptions  BuzzFeed announcing it would use the tool for content creation in the live environment  but for the most part marketers learned to look past the hype, put boundaries around implementation, and do a lot of test-and-tries.

It came in handy for research and idea generation, social media posts, e-mail marketing, and other regular tasks, as long as its pitfalls and limitations were recognised and adjusted before any material became public-facing. There were some notable exceptions.

Consideration to conversion

It was a year of inflation, rising interest rates and cost-of-living increases, and while “recession” never moved from whispers to reality, companies tightened their marketing budgets in response. With smaller spends came a greater focus on conversion in order to maximise returns on investment.

Content marketing is not a conversion tactic, but there are ways to drive leads if you keep it subtle and relevant. A good reference point is a “buy” button at the end of a book or a movie review. When might the audience expect a purchase or a call-to-action prompt in the storytelling? What should it look like? How should it read? This was the year to find out.

Who could you trust?

In Canada, Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, went into effect at the end of December 2023, but months prior to implementation, Meta removed content by Canadian news outlets from its platforms. The move was in response to federal regulations requiring big tech companies, primarily Meta and Google, to pay media organisations to use their work. (Google came to terms with the government before the end of 2023.)

With people increasingly using social media as their primary information sources, 2023 was the year it became even more difficult to separate trustworthy stories from misleading or inaccurate ones. Content marketers did well to err on the side of truth.

One bright spot is that affected Canadian media outlets continued to have access to advertising features on Meta for revenue-focused initiatives such as content marketing, or to pay to promote themselves.

Era of engagement

In the beginning, it was all about “reach.” For content marketers this year, the key word shifted to “engagement.” It wasn’t just about chasing clicks but aiming to boost time spent, in whatever formats you chose to use. The more time an audience spends with your content, the more face time they have with your brand.

A committed viewer is a better prospect than a thousand fly-bys.

All marketers will tell you they use data to make decisions. The quality of that data is of the utmost importance when it comes to time spent. What factors are taken into account? Do you produce your own content? How do you measure time spent? Do you hire vendors to produce and measure your content? What metrics platforms do they use? How do those platforms measure time spent? Hold your vendors to account, and make sure any comparisons are apples to apples.

2024: The year that will be

The evolution of generative AI

It’s the year ChatGPT stops hogging the spotlight.

Yes, it’s diversifying into new features such as chatbots, image generation, and voice functionality, but there will be a flood of new entrants to the generative AI space, piling on to those that have already launched. Venture capitalists are racing to fund the latest and greatest.

The biggest change for marketers will be the move from experimentation to implementation, as the tools get more sophisticated, the legal implications are ironed out, and the time- and cost-saving measures become impossible to ignore. Never mind the creative possibilities, particularly around video.

It means 2024 will also bring a flood of AI-produced content, and human-centered storytelling (whether it leverages AI or not) will be essential for marketers in order to stand out.

Social media splinters

It’s been fragmenting for a few years, but thanks to heightened concerns around privacy, firehoses of rage-machine updates, and what’s being billed as the biggest election year in history, 2024 is when we’ll see the end of the age of predominantly public posts.

It’s hard to stay connected with your friends and family when you’re constantly pulled into virtual gladiator rings. As my colleague Jessica Robinson aptly put it: “Group chats are the new social” as users cut out the noise and take their interactions private.

There are two challenges for content marketers: First, how to reach all these fragmented communities. Second, how to achieve consideration on closed mass platforms such as TikTok, which are designed to keep people engaged on their sites for as long as possible — which means keeping them off yours.

That transitions us nicely into the next prediction …

Brand awareness stages a comeback

If 2023 was about conversion, 2024 will be the year companies recognise they abandoned brand awareness at their peril. There’s a reason marketing fundamentals continue to work year in and year out: Full-funnel, always-on campaigns deliver the best results.

To grow a business, you need potential customers to know about it. Straight-to-conversion is a cost-saving measure, as noted earlier, but awareness and consideration are crucial to building trust and positioning brands as leaders in their respective industries. They’re designed for any company that wants to play the long game instead of being flashes in the pan. Content marketing is designed to achieve both.

First-party data is paramount

After years of delays, Google has finally started deprecating cookies, starting with 1% of its users. It may not sound like much as a percentage, but we’re talking about 30 million people. The aim is to balance user safety and privacy.

This creates a challenges for advertiser business models. Essentially, individual targeting is becoming tougher with a transition to broad category topics. Layer on a user shift to ChatGPT, TikTok, and other non-traditional search platforms, and it all adds up to the need to focus on first-party data.

On the plus side, marketers cannot argue they haven’t had time to prepare. Keep your audience informed through content, newsletters, events, and other means. Collect information. Drill down on personalisation.

Apple realises its new Vision

“The era of spatial computing is here,” reads the tagline on an Apple press release announcing that Vision Pro headsets will be available for pre-orders in the United States on January 19, 2024.

Yes, we’ve seen this movie before, with Virtual Reality (VR) making lists just like this one for at least the past 10 years. (As my colleague Katherine Scarrow points out, “Tim Cook is trying to make this a thing and kind of distance it from the language of VR.”)

The difference is Apple and its uncanny ability to predict future product demands. Vision Pros look like slick ski goggles, and, unlike VR hardware, users can see the physical spaces in front of them, while using their eyes, hands, and voices as primary interfaces with experiential content.

It sounds like the Vision Pro also provides a more compelling experience than the current iteration of the metaverse, with apps related to productivity, collaboration, and, of course, gaming and entertainment.

Where will advertising and content marketing fit in? The only way to know is to try it out.

About Sean Stanleigh

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