12 September 2023 |

Content marketing in the anxiety era

By Tracey Wallace

Every generation has had a reason to say they are living in unprecedented times, and ours is no different. One thing that is particularly top of mind for me, and seems to be for most folks I talk to, is anxiety. 

Anxiety is seemingly at an all time high. And why wouldn’t it be? 

According to Wunderman Thompson’s recent emerging trends and opportunities report (linked in the what I’m reading section), these are the top 10 worries of people today:

  1. Inflation
  2. Climate change
  3. Poverty and hunger
  4. Access to affordable health care 
  5. Mentalhealth
  6. Wars
  7. Inequality
  8. Infectious diseases and epidemics 
  9. Crime
  10. Chronic health conditions 

And 55% of us don’t see these issues getting any better. In fact, 20% of us see them getting worse over time. 

These anxieties have led to a few global trendlines. 

  • The hyperrational world: A world hyper-fixated on efficiency. Psychologist Kirk Schneider, author of Life-Enhancing Anxiety: Key to a Sane World, explains that the “efficiency-oriented life” is driving a “yearning for something deeper in our lives, a greater sense of purpose and meaning.” 
  • Attention for sale: There is an unprecedented battle our attention everywhere we turn. And worse, our own fear of boredom pushes us more and more toward content that consumes our attention. We are our own worst enemies here––to some pretty dramatic results. Almost half of the people (46%) in the Wunderman Thompson study say they “feel tired and burned out all the time,” and 67% agree that technology is making us “feel more detached from the real world.” 
  • The joy deficit: Based on the stats above, it’s no wonder there’s a global mental health crisis (compounding with COVID, physical social isolation, and self-consciousness from an always-on-camera society). Many of us are missing out on joy and awe, and are too tired to seek them out. 
  • Fraying social fabric: Our society has grown even more individualistic over the years. Social niceties are often going by the wayside. There are fewer community events to bond us (religion being one such long-standing staple in the US, for instance, that has lost popularity––and not for no reason). 

What does any of this have to do with content marketing? 

Well, because you are also in the business of attention––that of your prospects and customers. You need to engage them, help solve their problems, and stay top of mind as they make their technology decisions.

And of this is happening in their background, as much as it is yours. 

How can your content cut through this noise, and provide an unexpected experience that wins you trust? 

A decade ago, when I was still relatively new to content marketing, just publishing helpful content at all was enough to win. And I did at BigCommerce, to the tune of 1M organic sessions per month. It was easier then––I was teaching people how to run effective businesses, and showing them how to use a tool to do it. 

People then didn’t have much time either, but it was enough to present a friendly tone with tangible exaqmples and helpful how-tos. 

Today, that isn’t so much enough. Content marketing is infinietly harder than it was a decade ago. Winning in the SERPs is harder, and producing content that your audience cares about and images with is harder. And that’s because the low-hanging fruit has already been gathered, and folks have blinders on for the run-of-the-mill content. 

It’s also because all of our attention has gotten far more scarce, with more people wanting a bit of it. 

  • The amount of podcasts has grown rapidly––especially ones focused on marketing. 
  • Sequels and seasons are served never ending on a platter of streaming service options. 
  • Slack channels abound, and messaging apps sync across mobile and desktop so that we are already reachable by family, friends and colleagues––no matter what. 

It’s exhausting, and you’re beginning to see folks opting out. In fact, on LinkedIn I’ve seen more people shutting down their podcasts or their agencies to focus on their families and simply disconnect than I ever have before. 

Still, as a content marketers, as a marketer in general, you are in the business of attention. You need it to hit your goals, to win, and likely, to keep your job. 

So, what can we do? How can we make our content more meaningful, and still hit business goals? 

Well, I can tell you that AI isn’t going to solve this for us. We need to connect our content back to human emotion––and:

  • Produce awe-inspiring experiences
  • Create moments for joy and fun
  • Allow for the exploration of dystopian futures
  • Create experiences that challenge your readers
  • Bring about serendipity and surprise
  • Spotlight magic and mystery

These aren’t just my recommendations. Tehse are the findings of the Wunderman Thompson research. And I think, as we all plan for 2024, we need to be thinking through how we can tie these human needs of the era back to our content themes and formats. 

Let’s look at a couple examples. 

Future of Commerce’s content programs 

Archetypes & Visions are beautiful displays of content marketing that attempt at doing all of the recommendations above. 

These programs extended into events, including one at Art Basel, a festival that embodies many of these recommendations. 

How can your team produce even one thing goes above and beyond what is necessary, breaks through the hyperrealism and inspires awe, joy, and surprise within its content and design? 

Where are our “easter eggs”?

Developers and engineers hide easter eggs for each other all over the web. Here’s one on the Klaviyo side of the house someone found the other day:

What is the content marketing version of this? And what is it for our prospects? What can we infuse into our content programming adn marketing that challenges our readers to search for more, and brings surprise and delight when they do––connecting us not just through our work and our common problems, but by our sheer humanness to say HI?

SparkToro’s SparkTogether (purposefully not recorded)

Amanda Natividad’s email the other day, title “That time I got laid off after parental leave…”, was a quick and fantastic read. And she tied it perfectly together with SparkToro’s SparkTogether promotion––an online cofnernece that won’t be recorded. That means they won’t be able to use it for evergreen demand gen. Or for paid media by repurposing some of the content or quotes on video. 

There’s s much they won’t be able to do because they don’t record it, and yet––its a conference that speaks a differently language by merely existing in time, rather than forever on it. 

She writes:

I haven’t told this story before because it’s so damn uncomfortable. We are not the worst things (nor the best things) that have happened to us. But it’s these stories that define us. And being vulnerable, telling these stories, is how we help others. It’s how we learn from each other and grow.

This is why we host SparkTogether as a story-focused event. It’s also why we don’t record it.

We believe that offering this safe, unrecorded space for our speakers is how we can host the best digital summit possible. 

How can your brand and content do more work like this? How can you meet people where they are, and do things slightly differently, to challenge the status quo and create moments of joy and fun that serve our humanness, not just our marketing-ness? 

Fio’s webcomic about defeating churn 

Look, it’s no secret that I’m a huge Fio Dossetto fan. Her dedication to her craft, passion about content, and out-of-the-box thinking is just plain FUN. And this webcomic is proof

It was published when she was at Postmark (since acquired), and was promoted on Product Hunt, and just around the web in general. 

It’s a fun, magical learning xperience that takes readers out of the traditional blog / video / podcast––and into another form on content entirely, one not readily used in this industry, nor even this era. 

What can you do that thinks about content differently? How can you alter your presentation to stand out, not just offer a point of view? All content should offer a point of view…but in our attention-scarce world, how can you land eyeballs, engage those eyeballs, and learn those readers feeling like they experienced a bit of magic along the way?