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June 17, 2014 // 11:00 AM

Content Marketing Budgets Are Increasing, But Do We Know How to Spend Them?

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77d72265-7c0e-407c-aeb3-e8f0552a3e42Those who have been in content marketing since the beginning probably don't remember dealing with a budget as a top priority.

Keeping themselves on payroll? Proving content marketing should be part of their day job or perhaps their entire job? Those were the more immediate priorities.

But today, it seems like content marketers are finally being taken seriously. According to a recent eMarketer report, content marketers are not only saying sayonara to the fight for budget -- they're actually getting more budget to produce more and better results. 

But as anyone who lived through the 90s knows, mo' money mo' problems. 71% of marketers are getting an increased content marketing budget ... but it turns out we're not all too sure what exactly to do with it.

It starts with the fact that with more money comes more pressure to prove results. And unfortunately ...

Marketers are still struggling to prove content ROI.

In fact, only 24% of content marketers said they had a good ability to measure content ROI.

We've talked before about the content ROI "myth." It's not impossible to prove content ROI, but with the breadth of places and people content spans, it's no surprise it can be a tall order -- not to mention the top of the funnel is where many businesses focus their content marketing efforts, where metrics are more difficult to establish.

Add to it that there's no industry standard measurement for content success, and that most marketers have to change their definitions of success as their content marketing programs grow -- you've got yourself a real challenge deciding where to allocate a newfound budget.

If what works is still a guessing game, there's bound to be fear around making a bad investment.

Again, more money means more pressure to prove results. If you've never had budget before and are used to scraping together disparate resources to keep your program afloat, the freedom (and responsibility) that comes with a formal or increased budget can be daunting. The marketers having trouble proving content ROI will have the hardest time spending their budget, because it's hard to justify the expenses.

Even the marketers with established content ROI metrics (we're some of them) still admit to a bit of mystery when anticipating content results. Whether it's a time investment or a monetary investment in a piece of content, you can really never know for sure whether it'll work. You don't know what will go viral, what will be a big hit on social, what will get people converting -- you can guess, and you can combine equal parts art and science to try to mitigate your risk -- but you can never be 100% sure. 

So if even the content marketers comfortable establishing ROI can't be totally sure where their budget is best spent, what do we do with all this newfound money?

There may be safety in a more "full funnel" content marketing investment.

As Joe Chernov wrote on this blog the other day, if your content marketing program is heavy on the "content," light on the "marketing," this may be just the place to invest your newfound budget. Thinking about ways to invest in PPC, mobile, and dynamic content and personalization may be the lowest-hanging, untapped fruit in your content marketing program. It'll also make it easier to tie your content marketing back to revenue-based KPIs -- the ones that help justify significant future investment -- instead of the vanity metrics that content marketing programs often find themselves aligning with more closely. 

Or you could just get better at what you're already doing.

Expanding the ground you cover in terms of content format and the quality of those formats -- video, visual content, premium content, case studies -- is another route marketers could take with their new budget. Unfortunately, it's not quite as sexy to say you're using budget to make incremental improvements on something you're already doing pretty well. And while you "know" that quality content matters, quality is a hard thing to measure, so you might find yourself spending your budget on higher quality content that can't be tied back to those revenue-based KPIs.

Maybe more budget should really mean more headcount and more tools.

Depending on how much budget you're actually getting (I'm now assuming that if you've made it this far, you're in the 71% of content marketers getting more budget), you could use more headcount and better tools to solve the things many teams struggle with. It turns out, a lot of marketers' obstacles aren't things that are so concrete as to be solved with a simple transaction (like needing, say, a higher volume of content, and solving it by hiring freelancers).

For instance, 28% of marketers cite developing a content strategy as a problem. 31% need to improve quality. A full 78% need to get better at content ROI reporting. These aren't things you can just go out and buy. These are things you need a person -- and a person who knows how to use modern marketing tools and software -- to help figure out to create a more sophisticated content marketing program. (Incidentally, a lack of in-house expertise is cited as an obstacle to reaching goals by 26% of marketers, while a lack of integration is listed as an obstacle by 27%.)

With the right people using the right tools, you'll be better equipped to secure more content marketing budget again next quarter.

graph-contentmarketing-trendsIf you're still having trouble deciding how to allocate your content marketing budget, consider mirroring how your peers have been spending it. Most marketers new to content marketing invest in a writer as their first hire, but investing expenditure in visual content -- videos, infographics, data visualizations, offer layouts -- is where 82% are spending a lot of their time. (Can 82% be wrong? Don't answer that.) You'll also notice mobile and personalization making significant appearances on the list, two places you could certainly not go wrong investing some attention.

No matter what, more new content will likely remain a priority in the near term -- 35% of fortune 500 CMOs cite it as their biggest challenge in 2014. So if you're really struggling on where to spend that investment, hey, see if your boss falls in with that 35% camp. If they're giving you more budget, and they want more content, then by gravy give it to them. 

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Topics: Inbound Marketing Content Marketing

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