ROI

How to Maximize Your 2016 Content Budget

By Erin Nelson January 12th, 2016

You need to jump from one ledge to another, but a treacherous ravine stands between your success and demise. Do you invest in the right equipment to get across, or do you settle for whatever tools are cheap and accessible? Do you approach the jump at half speed or leap with full force?

The answers seem obvious, assuming you want to live to tell the story. Yet if we relate this analogy to the content marketing world, we see a different process and outcome (you end up at the bottom of the ditch).

In our content marketing 2016 study, 73 percent of respondents said they produced more content in 2015 than in 2014. However, two-thirds devoted less than a quarter of their marketing budgets to the production, management, and distribution of this content. And 63 percent of marketers spent less than one-tenth of their budgets on content marketing technology.

What do these stats tell us? While most companies are interested in growing their content operations, the majority of them are not making the necessary investments to make that leap.

So how do you go about getting those necessary resources? We’ve created a checklist for how to ask for more money, followed by a breakdown of how you should spend that money once you get it.

Step 1: How to get buy-in

We hear you—it’s tough to get someone to invest in an activity that still involves risk. But as a marketer, it’s your job to demonstrate the positive return on a new investment. Here are some proven methods to get you there:

Tie content strategy to specific sales goals.

Since sales goals directly correspond to the bottom line, they’re much easier to link to company objectives than other departmental goals. When sales does well, the whole company celebrates with reply-all email GIFs because the bottom-line gain is clear. Marketing’s biggest challenge is to prove ROI, which is why tying content to specific sales goals is critical when trying to get a bigger budget. When content is seen as a tool to empower different portions of the sales cycle—and enterprise as a whole—important ears perk up and wallets open.

“We have to be thinking about business and sales and how we can bring something to those objectives,” said Trisha Winter, CMO of Amplifinity, in a recent BrightTalk virtual presentation. “If you don’t know what business objectives are, ask. If you’re a CMO, print them out and put them on everyone’s wall.”

Pitch brand experience.

No one is going to buy your product or enlist your services if they don’t trust who you are and what you do. While the ultimate goal of budget talks is to convince your boss (or board) that content marketing will lead to a surge in profit, your first job as a marketer is to communicate the steps it takes for the buyer to get there.

It’s virtually impossible—you will say—to establish a brand as an industry leader without producing compelling content to support that claim.

“It’s not as easy as dollar spent, dollar earned. As a CEO, what I’m interested in are broader principles. How will this impact brand? Relationship? How do I get the biggest gain?”

The proof is in audience engagement rates. Eighty-two percent of customers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content, while 60 percent are inspired to research a product after reading about it. Eighty percent of millennials—who, at over one-fourth of the U.S. population, make up the largest portion of the workforce—not only want to engage directly with brands but now expect this material.

In Winter’s BrightTalk budget discussion, Jeff Day, CEO of Bluewater, summarized it best: “It’s not as easy as dollar spent, dollar earned. As a CEO, what I’m interested in are broader principles. How will this impact brand? Relationship? How do I get the biggest gain?”

Your answer: A budget that places content at the forefront gives brands the leverage to convey leadership and serve as a valued community resource. It allows companies to differentiate themselves from competitors in a way that forms a meaningful connection to the public. As we like to say at Contently, those who tell stories rule the world.

Present tech as a way to compete in disruptive markets and empower your creative team.

Brian Solis, principal analyst for the Altimeter Group, studies the way developments in technology impact human behavior and how this, in turn, impacts our relationship to society, markets, and the companies that supply us. For Solis, “New technologies provide us with greater insights into customer behaviors and aspirations.” The tech available today, as Solis sees it, presents businesses with the opportunity to become “more human and relevant than ever.”

Yet, as Solis acknowledges on his blog, investment in technology is not just about purchasing the newest product. Choosing the right technological investment for your brand to assess audience engagement is just as important as the will to improve. The conversation about software must focus on the idea that tech platforms serve as a tool to understand audience behavior, and thus empower the creative potential of a brand’s publication team who speaks to these masses.

As Day reiterated in Winter’s BrightTalk, “Everybody has access to the same technology. It’s the creative application of technology that matters. There’s only so long you’ll be the first one doing it.”

Reinforce the compounding impact of content.

According to Curata, over half of marketers who curate content indicate doing so has enhanced brand visibility, thought leadership, SEO, website traffic, and buyer engagement. Forty-one percent say it is has increased the number and quality of sales leads. Best of all, the Aberdeen Group reported that website conversion is 6x higher for content marketing adopters.

Evidence also suggests that content marketing dollars stretch further than traditional advertising because of their impact on so many different operational layers. For example, while banner ads attract top-funnel intrigue, that traffic is rarely qualified and engagement stops after the first click. Content, on the other hand, has the ability to pull customers through the entire customer journey.

When developed as part of a larger publication strategy, content fulfills awareness (top funnel), educational (mid funnel), and conversion (bottom funnel) goals. And, when used as part of a customer retention strategy, it can increase ROI up to 15x.

Step 2: How to find money

Let’s say your content marketing pitch didn’t work. Or it did to an extent, but you didn’t get as much money as you hoped for. What should you do next?

If you’re anything like Adam Tanguay, the organic growth lead at Weebly, a web-hosting service, you prove content ROI through a traditional marketing lens. When I asked Tanguay how he was able to get Weebly to eventually invest in Contently, he showed his true hustler colors.

“The internal buy-in really stemmed from about a year of scrappy work on my own—with zero investment—to show that content pushed real, tangible value,” he said.

With no funds reserved for a content budget, Adam decided to prove the value of content by measuring it the same way he would with display or paid search. To do that, he used internal performance data that examined “last clicks” to connect signups and dollars directly to content.

Tanguay then used tracking pixels and fractional attribution to show how content value fit into the entire marketing funnel. From there, he compared the revenue he could generate with content to the cost of content marketing software. “It showed a clear positive ROI for all the content efforts,” he said.

Tanguay’s lesson is an important one since it combines the buy-in strategies mentioned above. He collected data that connected content to larger marketing and organizational goals, then showed the compounding value of content—including improved brand awareness.

“Content as a program didn’t originally start as its own revenue generating strategy,” he said. “First, it was a retention and branding tool to communicate with customers, as well as a tool for SEO.”

It was only later on that it started to become its own source of marketing ROI, while still doing the SEO and retention work. “That’s another reason why,” Tanguay said, “[Content marketing] is so incredibly valuable for our business.”

Step 3: Where to spend it

Congratulations, hustler, you finally secured a content marketing budget. Now comes the hardest part: How do you divvy up the goods?

As a content marketing technology company, it’s our job to tell you about the benefits of investing in a tech solution to empower your content strategy. But tech alone won’t do the trick. Below is a rundown of how we recommend slicing up your budget.

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Staff: 25 percent

An editorial lead should guide your content strategy. This person will direct the editorial process—managing writers and editors, administrating strategic research, and ensuring efficient collaboration between editorial, strategy, and design.

In-house writers, editors, data strategists, and designers should focus on developing more sophisticated longform pieces, e-books, whitepapers, and any other creative materials that connect your brand with the buyer throughout the customer journey. As such, the editorial department should also work intimately with the sales and marketing teams to nurture leads.

The creative staff is what fuels the content wheel. Without them, the machine stops.

Production: 30 percent

Production costs will vary depending on what content makes sense for your brand. Do you benefit most from longform stories, blog posts, or whitepapers? Are infographics or video an important storytelling tool for your industry?

By enlisting freelancers, Aimia, an international marketing firm, was able to access local writers who could capture the nuances of regional markets. Aaron Dauphinee, Aimia’s general manager, explained in a Contently interview that utilizing freelancers allowed Aimia to “move from a relatively tight individual network to forty thousand people worldwide.”

For Coca Cola, freelance writers have been the source of some of the company’s most popular blog content, such as Laura Randall’s story on Coke-themed weddings. When speaking about the success of the story, Coca Cola Journey editor Jay Moye said, “That was not an idea we can take credit for. That was Laura.”

Distribution: 20 percent

Distribution dollars instead give life and longevity to content. Paid social targeting on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter—and, to a lesser extent, distribution tools like Outbrain—are necessary today for growing an engaged audience and conducting smart business. As Contently editor-in-chief Joe Lazauskas writes, “If you’re going to spend $400 on an article, spending an extra $50 to ensure that twice as many people see that article just makes sense.”

In his research comparing organic and paid traffic, Contently co-founder Shane Snow found that it would take the average company with less than 100,000 social media followers about six years for organic clicks to pay off agency costs.

When done right, paid distribution maximizes exposure to the highest-performing individual pieces, driving brand awareness, generating leads, and key relationships with readers. In Contently’s case, optimizing our most popular articles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Outbrain led to an additional 8,000+ hours of engagement last year. Because engagement is our key metric for conversion, readers who click on these pieces are more likely to engage with other articles, subscribe to our newsletters, and become Contently customers and advocates.

Technology: 25 percent

A content marketing tech platform is the vehicle that enables the entire publishing process. As an organizational machine, it weaves together editorial calendar management, data measurement, and distribution.

Your company’s marketing will always hinge on the abilities of creative and strategic teams, but without a strong tech platform to manage workflows, collaboration, and engagement analytics, those teams will always be limited. For Genpact, global business operations service, enlisting Contently’s tech platform has allowed the company to expand its user base and make its workflows more efficient. According to Amrit Thapar, Genpact’s content leader, content marketing technology has “reduced the cycle time for a piece of content by 40 percent.”

There is no magic content budget that will definitely make ROI skyrocket 15x or to give upper management a 100 percent guarantee that your content strategy will take off without hurdles. But stacking your strategy with a solid creative and strategic staff, investing in varied production materials, budgeting for distribution, and prioritizing a content-focused tech platform will put you in a good position to make the jump and become a well-oiled content marketing machine.

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