Apr 14, 2021

Trends, Trust, & The Pursuit Of The Next Breakthrough

By: Josh Dougherty


Marketing is a tricky beast. To be a full-stack marketer today you must be part researcher, part psychologist, part futurist, part technologist, and part data scientist. You can say it out loud. It’s ok. There’s a lot to put your arms around.

One of the most difficult parts of this work is staying on top of trends. When new technology or tactics emerge on a daily basis, staying up on them can be impossible. Luckily, we don’t have to do it alone: high-quality trends reports are essential tools that will expose you to information and spark your creativity about what’s next.

There are three specific trend reports that I’ve found especially helpful this year:

  1. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer
  2. Influence & Co’s 2021 State of Digital Media Report
  3. Wunderman Thompson’s The Future 100 2021

Each of these reports fulfills a different role for me:

  • The Trust Barometer makes me better at understanding what’s important to the people I’m marketing to
  • The State of Digital Media Report helps informs my approach to content strategy
  • The Future 100 makes me a better futurist

In this post (and a podcast with my co-founder Polly that just went live today), I’ve shared my top takeaways from each report in hopes that it will not only give you a small assist as you seek to improve your marketing skills, but also in hopes that it will motivate you to download the reports yourself, dig in, and let the creativity flow.


Information Bankruptcy & Our Ability To Effectively Market

Close your eyes and take a moment to look past the noise of B2B marketing. Ignore the numerous channels you must consider. Stop thinking for a second about SEO. Erase from your mind the latest and greatest technology that is going to make your efforts more effective. What lies underneath all this?

Relationships. Marketing must build trust and relationship with prospects to be effective; especially if you’re selling a B2B product worth more than $50,000 and there are multiple stakeholders involved. 

If someone doesn’t trust you, they aren’t buying. 

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships” —Steven Covey

And that’s why Edelman’s Trust Barometer is so important. It gives us insights that help us understand how to build trust more effectively with prospects and customers. This year’s report was no different. Here were my main takeaways.

down-arrow_blob-iconTrust Is At An All-Time Low

Edelman titled their report “Information Bankruptcy” for a reason. The barrage of misinformation and global society’s inability to identify a shared set of facts has left people in an unprecedented state of mistrust.

Edelman reported that on their 0-100 trust index, only businesses remain as a trusted institution (only just at 61, 60 is the cut-off for being trustworthy). Nonprofits, government, and the media are all considered untrustworthy. Not just in the United States, but globally.

One of the main causes of this is the way we generally get our information and conversely, the main ways that marketers distribute their content. The report shares that advertising and social media are the two least trusted channels when it comes to receiving information. People know that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn have created echo chambers for us to hear what we want to hear and confirm our biases. But we keep going back, and our trust keeps decreasing from there.

photo-handshakeBusinesses Have A Unique Ability To Rebuild Trust

There’s a silver lining here for businesses that are looking to effectively market. You, of all organizations, have an opportunity to connect with people, and renew their faith in solid information. In fact, Edelman reported that businesses are now seen as the only institution that is both competent and ethical.

Here’s the key though. Trust isn’t something that you can sneak your way into. It requires being trustworthy. But, if you can truly help people with your marketing, back up your claims with solid data, and as much as possible not speak from your biases, you have a decent chance at being trusted.

heart_blob-iconEverything Is Personal

Another major theme of the Trust Barometer this year is that trust is significantly higher for people the more closely connected someone is to the source of information. Respondents said that they were far more likely to trust “People in my local community” or “My employer CEO” than any other government leader, religious leader, journalist, or CEO.

My takeaway from this is that marketing that can either build trust with CEOs or influence a conversation within an organization is more likely to be successful. What type of campaign will accomplish this? I can’t tell you that. This type of marketing will need to be extremely targeted, relevant and helpful, but because of that, it is likely to look very different depending on the product and the needs of your audience. 

There’s one other caveat to everything being personal. Organizations can no longer be neutral. People are looking for organizations that know what they believe and are speaking up about it. It’s essential to do this authentically, but you must do it if you trust these findings

megaphone_blob-iconTrusted Voices To Rely On

Now to some super tactical stuff. As marketers we’re always asking the question: “who in our organization or the general public will best be able to speak on our organization’s behalf. 

Overall, spokespeople saw their credibility drop during the last year. But, those receiving the highest scores were academic experts and company technical experts with 59% of respondents say that they are extremely credible as a source of information about a company.

Most of you have technical experts that you can leverage. Please do that. But also see if there are some academics who can speak on your behalf. It could go a long way, especially if you are selling a super complex project.

pathway-road_blob-iconThe Path Back

So what’s the path back to trust? No one really knows, but Edelman did share a 4-step process to build trust as a business:

  1. Lean into people’s desire to have you speak out about issues like systemic racism and sustainability
  2. Always use facts when you communicate and interact with others with empathy
  3. Provide content people can trust
  4. Collaborate with other businesses if you can.

The final word here is simple. Be trustworthy. Then live it, with feeling. 


Super Tactical Marketing Data From Influence & Co.

So, I went super long on the last report. My takeaways from the 2021 State of Digital Media Report are a lot shorter. They can be summed up in three simple bullet points:

  • Publishers want to share your content (if it’s valuable): Guest articles are still in vogue according to the 15 online publication editors they spoke to. In fact 67% of them said they publish 1-10 guest posts per week, and almost all of them said they are likely to increase their volume. That’s great news for you if you’re trying to get eyes on your content beyond the confines of your site.  
  • Video and infographics are the most sought after: If you’re still waiting to get on board with video, now’s the time to jump in. Editors want engaging and rich visual content to be able to share. This is the inevitable outcome of the web becoming more and more visual every day.
  • Deep content is what people crave: Despite the penchant for publishers wanting video and other visual content, the most shared content during the pandemic was nearly 1,000 words long. So, don’t skimp on the depth. I consider this information to be highly trustworthy because it was based on an analysis of 127,000 pieces of content.


Imagining The Future With The Future 100

The Future 100 2021 covers an amazing array of topics from culture, to travel, to work, to finance. When I first started reading it I was tempted to only look at the business and marketing trends, but then chose to dive head-first into the whole report. I find that expanding my thinking beyond my immediate discipline allows me to start making connections that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I think it will do the same for you as you begin to explore the full report yourself. But, before you do that, here are four trends I think will be worth watching in the coming year.

1. Sustainability And Data

Data is increasing at exponential rates. We certainly see the benefits of this in business with the amount of data at our fingertips. We also experience the pleasures of data as individuals when we seamlessly navigate to that next great show on Netflix. 

There’s a dark side as well. Despite data’s ability to help us work more efficiently, make better decisions, and better serve our customers, it also takes up a lot of energy. In fact. 2% of global electricity is taken up by data centers and that number could swell to 8% by 2030.

What does this all mean? Companies are going to have to start worrying about the sustainability of their data as climate change becomes a more pressing issue. I think there are two specific consequences. First, businesses will need to develop a plan for reducing the environmental footprint of their data. Second, they need to understand how to talk about sustainability and data.

2. The Rise of Mixed Reality

Events and spaces are rapidly investing in mixed reality which integrates real-world objects into a virtual world to create new environments. For B2B marketers the obvious initial applications for this are at conferences and trade shows, but those thinking a bit further out in the future should think about the experiences that they are creating by their targeted marketing campaigns and explore how they integrate in a prospect’s physical world into that experience.

3. Working Together With Other Brands 

Gen Z as well as the impact of the ongoing pandemic is driving a push for cooperation between brands like never before. As Gen Z grows up they’re seeing a world that is full of massive problems that will only be solved if people work together. From climate change, to systemic racism, to child poverty, to gridlocked politics.

These calls for collaboration can extend beyond the realm of social causes. Imagine if instead of fighting against your greatest competitor you decided to collaboratively pursue an idea that would grow both of your businesses. That would be interesting to pursue. Or, perhaps you could find a brand in a closely related field that doesn’t match you and develop a collaborative effort. This could lead to breakthroughs and growth that you hadn’t previously imagined.

4. Everyone Wants To Learn

The final trend mentioned is the learning center. As students around the world have worked from home, it has normalized online learning even further. Brands can take advantage of this if they’re willing to make truly educational content that doesn’t just sell their product, but helps people increase their skills. What will your first course be?


And that’s a wrap

If you’ve gotten to the end of this post, congratulations! It was a long one. I’ll also assume that you found the content valuable and that it sparked a few connections that you hadn’t thought of before.

Connect with me on LinkedIn if you want to talk trends or just stay up to speed on future content. Until then!


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