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Content marketing's chicken and egg budget problem

Content marketing's chicken and egg budget problem Rebecca Lieb

If you've been around digital marketing since the Pleistocene Epoch, which correlates roughly with the mid-1990s, you've doubtless noticed a trend. Whenever a new channel or medium appears -- and appears to have staying power -- marketers' first instinct seems always to be: throw a teenager at it.


During the Web 1.0 era, businesses were literally hiring the senior vice president's 15-year-old nephew to build the company website. After all, he knew HTML. When email was ascendant, the first email program managers were a mere notch above summer interns. Search, social media -- the operative fallacy is that these channels are for the young, and therefore only the dewiest of candidates are qualified to tackle them. The kernel of truth inside that fallacy is that newer channels are poorly understood, marketers (and the C-suite) are reluctant to allocate budget, so they take baby steps -- with babies – and staff that may have tactical proficiency but are lacking in business experience, a strategic approach, an understanding of business goals, and overall maturity.


Now that web development, email, search, and social have developed into fully-fledged disciplines, they often have their own departments, staff, and oversight. 


Content marketing? Not yet. Although without content there can be no paid, owned, or earned media, content doesn't have a formal home in most organizations. Heck, 70 percent of organizations that practice content marketing don't have a documented content strategy (according to my research, and corroborated by numerous other surveys). Without a formal strategy, there is rarely a budget, an org chart, or an infrastructure for content.


And this gives rise to another wave of amateurism. Too many organizations still subscribe to the "hire an unemployed journalist" school of content marketing. The reasoning is that this low-rent ink-stained scribe can churn out blog posts at a regular cadence, perhaps even thought-leadership pieces and some marketing copy.


I've got nothing against journalists -- having been one myself for many years -- but literacy and a flair for writing isn't enough. This "content associate" (as these positions are often called) hasn't been trained in marketing and too often doesn't understand the core business they're working for. Ideas such as personas and brand voice are alien to them. Recently, I was regaled with the story of a meal-delivery start-up whose in-house blogger not only wasn't producing copy, but flat out confessed to having little interest in food, dining, or nutrition as a topic.


Even those organizations lucky enough to land talented, interested writers aren't going the distance. Content isn't text alone. Increasingly, it's visual, and audio-visual. It requires the talents of editors, videographers, and graphic designers. If content is embedded in or reliant on apps, it can also require developers. The content price tag has just shot up considerably from that out of work journalist, hasn't it?


Business will soon leave the era of content managed by barely-past-their-teens practitioners. Content will be formalized and institutionalized. Organizations are on the verge of realizing no content equals no email, no search, no website, no social media, no PR, and no advertising. All these are channels and containers for content.


Content is growing up. Budgets and organizational structure must and will rise accordingly.


Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Rebecca Lieb has published more research on content marketing than anyone else in the field.  As a strategic adviser, her clients range from start-up to non-profits to Fortune 100 brands and regulated industries. She's worked with brands...

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