There's no debating the fact that content is not only a hot topic, but an essential part of digital strategy. Advertising effectiveness is on the decline, a trend fueled by a myriad of factors ranging from consumer control (and a subsequent unwillingness to be interrupted) to banner blindness, click fraud, and ad blocking software -- very much in the news currently thanks to Apple's new iOS 9.
As ads in paid media diminish in effectiveness, marketers are forced to confront new ways to connect with customers. This can be via owned media, i.e., pure content marketing; earned media, defined as social or PR, when sharing and/or input is requested from the audience; or forms of converged media, such as promoted posts in social or native advertising on publisher channels; or paying influencers to promote owned and earned content.
Regardless of the channel or medium, content is the one element that cannot be absent from the marketing equation. Paid, owned, earned -- without content, there's nothing. Advertising without content is empty time or space. What else is advertising, after all, than renting time or space from a publisher or broadcaster to inset a message in the form of content?
Social platforms, search, email, websites and microsites, apps, all are mere containers for content. If there's no content in these channels, it's the digital equivalent of dead air.
Where things get murky, however, is the cost of all this content. It's surprising how many in this industry see cost as a straight apples-to-apples comparison. The prevailing fallacy is if you take a dollar out of the advertising budget, and that means an extra dollar for the content budget. But it just doesn't work that way. That dollar gets reduced significantly. What trickles down to content is only maybe five to 15 cents.
Content is just plain cheaper than advertising, which is why that dollar is subject to a hefty exchange rate. Both content in earned and owned media require an investment, just as does creative (which is, let's face it, just a fancier word for content) in advertising. But strip away the cost of the media buy -- the highest-ticket item in marketing, and there's most of your budget right there.
Content isn't cheap. "Just hire a blogger" has long since ceded to videographers, developers (both web and app), graphic designers, photographers, and others skill sets more technical and specialized than basic writing ability. But absent that media buy, content will almost always, without exception, be cheaper than advertising.
Content requires tools, however. I've mapped the vast vendor landscape. However, this investment, which can be significant, isn't generally part of a budget line item for content. Instead, it's filed under marketing technology or a similar line item.
Few organizations have content departments or divisions, another reason it's so difficult to tease out those content numbers. Jobs with "content" or "editor" in the title are sharply on the rise, but they tend to hover at the manager or director level. That will change, and roles will become more senior, but not for another year or two.
Content remains more everything than it does its own thing -- in other words, until it's cordoned off into a defined discipline with a budget, a staff, and its own line items, it will remain extremely difficult to quantify what content budgets really are. From company to company, sector to sector, budget to budget, your mileage will vary.
Still, no matter how you slice it, more and more marketing dollars are pouring into content. Less into paid, more into owned and earned. And there's no end in sight to that trend.
Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor.
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