By Brock Stechman
Everyone dreads budgeting—especially marketers.
Back in the days of traditional marketing, the annual budget was pretty much set in stone at the beginning of the year: You knew exactly how much money you’d be able to throw at media buys, print, and events for the next 12 months.
These days, marketing departments require flexible budgets to respond to evolving trends and data.
A lot can change in the course of a year.
The marketing world moves faster than ever before.
New software tools are becoming available, PR tactics are shifting, and flexible budgets are becoming necessary to properly adapt on the fly.
Budgeting for content marketing is a tricky proposition, as well.
On one hand, paying for and deploying most digital content initiatives is super simple.
For example, I could get an eBook in front of a few thousand people with no more than a credit card and a few clicks of my mouse.
Back in the day, an equivalent media placement would have required multiple parties, negotiations, contracts, art departments, and thousands of dollars allocated in your budget.
Still, some companies remain hesitant because it’s difficult to prove upfront the return-on-investment for content marketing.
Marketers can’t always predict how much money they’ll need for these strategies or how many people they’ll reach through different articles and blog posts.
That’s where flexible budgets prove useful: You can monitor different tactics and allocate resources as you see what works.
Building Success with Flexible Budgets
Use the following tips to examine your budget and prioritize effectively throughout the year:
- Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Traditional advertising can be mighty pricey, and if you’re looking for national reach, the potential for expensive failure goes up even more. Instead, spread your dollars among a variety of mediums to increase the likelihood you’ll have real results. It also creates more opportunities to test which channels and content are the most successful at connecting and resonating with your target audience(s).
- Leverage your own expertise. These days, consumers expect more from companies than just a quality product. By establishing an employee as an expert through content marketing, you build trust with consumers in an organic way that will lead them directly into your sales funnel. If you’re struggling to persuade executives on the merits of content marketing, earn buy-in from other departments. Explain how content benefits the entire company, and ask them to share their knowledge for your campaigns. Sales can become an especially powerful ally because content helps them increase inbound leads, educate prospects, and increase conversion rates.
- Follow the data breadcrumbs. Collect data on every type of campaign, particularly content marketing. Everything from Twitter engagement to conversion rates can inform where to best allocate your funds. Beware of the lure of vanity metrics when reviewing your analytics. Having thousands of Facebook fans or Twitter followers feels good, but these don’t tell you much about actual customer engagement. Focus on metrics such as repeat page views, article shares, audience comments, and conversion rates. Monitor data throughout each campaign, and compare notes with the sales department to see which campaigns are most effective.
- Find the best tools for the price. While any campaign will fail without the proper tools to reach and track your marketing goals, it’s easy to drop a lot of cash on the wrong software for the job. Start with a check of your current resources, and look for any holes in your process or data extraction. Make sure every current or prospective tool has a purpose that boils down to improving ROI, and drop anything that doesn’t mesh with that bottom line. The money you save from cutting excess can be redistributed to the other potential success points in your strategy.
- Plan for months, not years. With year-long campaigns, it’s easy to let a bad strategy get worse. By scheduling little check-ins with your strategy each month, it becomes much easier to test new avenues, spot the problem areas, and refocus on the best methods. If a single piece of content is getting a lot of traction, build a new plan around that piece’s success while it still has traction.
- Be flexible, but prioritize. Empower your team to focus on what’s working. If a branded content or thought leadership campaign shows great promise, give your marketing department the resources and flexibility to ramp up those efforts. Analytics will tell you which strategies warrant the most investment, so emphasize those most likely to earn serious ROI. But be willing to shift gears based on your ongoing data collection, and give your team the authority to run with their ideas.
Companies need to account for content marketing in their budgets.
There’s no set formula for figuring out how much should go to content versus traditional strategies.
But analytics help answer those questions and legitimize content’s place in your budget.
Discussing money isn’t most marketers’ forte, but budget discussions are always more fun when the numbers are on your side.
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