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‘Tis the season to start planning for Q1. The most wonderful time of year, when your already-packed calendar is inundated with meetings on “2021 Strategy” and “Upcoming Q1-Q2 Planning.” Believe me, I feel your pain, I am going through it, too.

This year has proved to be particularly difficult for planning because, well, nothing really went as planned. Typically, marketers and business owners can reflect on our successes and failures to build a strategy for the next year. While that may be difficult, considering all the “pivoting” we did this year, we do have a few ideas for you to add to your list.

Without further ado, here are the top content marketing trends small businesses should try out in 2021.

Related: Get the top 2022 digital marketing trends here.

1. Create Content Clusters for Ultimate Topic Authority

Anyone who has written for me, with me, or been subject to one of my content marketing planning sessions knows that I *hate* publishing blogs for no reason. And if that reason is, “We haven’t published a blog post in a while,” that’s not really a reason.

A trend that I think everyone needs to jump on, immediately, is creating content clusters (also referred to as topic clusters). The best content is written with authority on a niche subject. Whether it be marketing for SMBs, how the internet works, or where to get the best slice of pizza, your best content topic is going to be the one that you know the most about.

The idea is that creating one piece of content on one topic one time is not going to be enough to consider your business the authority on that topic. If you want to be considered an expert on the best slice of pizza in the state of Montana, well. You better get to writing a blog post and creating YouTube videos on each pizza place in the state.

Content clusters aren’t a new concept, but they are finally becoming trendy. If you’re looking to increase your presence on the search engine results page (SERP) through SEO, then you probably already know about content clusters. And believe me, they work. In case you’re looking for some examples of creating content clusters, look no further than the LOCALiQ and WordStream blogs.

2. Get Into Multimedia Content Marketing

Yeah, you’ve seen the alarms going off to pivot toward video content for YEARS. So have I, and I still like writing blog posts way more than managing a photo or video shoot. But the reality is that people want to consume your content in as many ways as you can produce it. Which includes through a smartphone or smart home device.

While that includes creating videos (with closed captions), you should also go live on social media during cool events or to answer questions about your business. Test out TikTok.

@nfl#marshawnlynch giving back ?#micdup #thanksgiving #turkey #happythanksgiving♬ original sound – NFL

I’m a big fan of the NFL on TikTok. It’s almost as good as the good old days of Vine.

Even better, you can create collaborations with complementary businesses in your niche market. Think advertising or guest hosting a podcast that speaks about how to make pizza (if we’re carrying the “best pizza in Montana” example through).

Like creating cluster content to target keywords in different contexts, optimizing content for voice search is going to bolster your appearance on the SERP. It’s also going to allow your audience to consume your content through a different medium.

3. Start Community Building

Brand communities are very on-trend this year, and it’s not just because we’re spending more time socializing through screens than normal or because it was an election year. Like juicing the topics you’re a subject matter expert on for all they’re worth and multimedia marketing, community building adds another element to your content production.

My favorite part of community building? It takes a ton of work off the shoulders of your customer support team *and* is easy content creation — because your audience is creating the content for themselves. Product teams can benefit from communities too; since customers tend to be vocal when they want more features or notice a bug to fix.

An example, you ask? Other than starting your own subreddit, quora thread, or Facebook group (yes, that counts as community building), check out Sales Hacker.

Building community is a good 2021 content marketing trend to try out -- including through a Facebook group.

Communities connect your business with a positive experience; people sharing tips and tricks of their trade, marketing themselves through you. Think of it as an online networking event, minus all the awkward conversations and adding a dash of productivity.

4. Customer Journey Mapping

While customer journey mapping isn’t a new trend, it’s certainly being played up the past few months. The importance of creating content for every stage of the funnel — from prospect to customer — is becoming more of a priority for growth-focused businesses. While getting a single blog post out per month may already seem like a lift for your team, I promise this isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

Understanding your customer journey is an important part of content marketing and will continue to be imperative for content marketing for small businesses in 2021

First, you’ll need to understand how to map your customer journey. This is a great way for sales and marketing to focus on pain points in the funnel and solve for them. Then, you’ll need to purposefully create content for each stage of the customer journey to move them further down the sales funnel.

You’re probably already doing this, even if it’s unintentional. By clearly selecting content with a goal to move the prospect through that part of the funnel, you’ll be able to optimize efficiently. You’ll also be able to identify bottlenecks and drop-offs. Most importantly, you’ll be able to know exactly what your prospect knows about your business by the time you make a sale.

Related: You can also use a content map to create more personalized content for your audience.

5. Relatable Content Writing

If you haven’t noticed, I am quite charming, even through the written word. And while I’ve almost always written the way I speak, it’s becoming more popular in venues that aren’t marketing-focused blogs. I am here for it!

You absolutely need to jump on this trend for branding improvement, at the very least. Think about your audience and how they speak in their daily lives. Are you using the same vocabulary in your copy and content writing that they use? If you are trying to convince someone to make a purchase you gotta be speaking their language, you know what I mean?

You can get any number of examples from brand ambassadors, but I’m a pretty big fan of this Apple commercial.

6. Fresh Blog Design

Is your blog in need of a facelift? Maybe your whole website is? How about your overall brand; is it feeling like the colors are too bright or the angles to your logo are too sharp? It’s time to look at the design of your content and the face of your brand.

Yes, I know this isn’t a content-focused trend necessarily. But as I witnessed and managed the revamp of multiple blogs this year, I have some opinions. And I know that design truly changes a consumer reading experience.

As always, utilize whitespace. We’ve all been trained since childhood to read black text on white paper, and blogs shouldn’t stray too far away from that. But who doesn’t like picture books? Don’t be afraid to break the margins with your inline imagery; everyone likes big pictures.

My favorite example of a great blog layout is medium.com. Check out this post from Barack Obama with black text on a white background, images that break the margins, and distinct section headers.

Finally, while memes and gifs were in vogue in 2015, 2016…in 2021, we’re looking for graphs, branded animations, pictures of humans (or pets).

One small business content marketing trend in 2021 is to use more human images and designs in your blog and on your website.

Who doesn’t love a good zoom snapshot?

7. Pandemic Pivoting

It wouldn’t be a 2020 blog post without mentioning the pandemic. It’s played out and talked out, so I’ll make this brief. Don’t be afraid to use the pandemic as an excuse to pivot or refresh. We’re all stuck at home looking for a little excitement. Your content creation could be the one thing that makes someone smile during their workday.

You can derive inspiration from the multitudes of restaurants that turned into convenience stores and offered groceries and toilet paper during the shutdown. Or the many boutiques that had to pivot to e-commerce. Or the fashion industry, who got together and decided that this is the year to lean into loungewear and tie-dye.

Don’t miss that opportunity to test the boundaries of your content marketing comfort zone. Believe it or not, people remember your successes more than your flops. So test that copy, create new content, jump on the trends train (or jump off if it doesn’t work for you).

Want more? Get 22 content marketing ideas to try any time of the year.

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