THE BLOG

Digital or Bust: Budgets Flow Towards Stronger Returns

06/17/2013 07:13 pm ET | Updated Aug 13, 2013

It's not surprising to see marketing budgets shifting towards a more digital-focus this year. What makes the increase significant is the fact that a vast majority of marketers are re-allocating budget in real-time, indicating a pervasive and dramatic shift in how the industry views investing in content.

According to a recent study by the Society of Digital Agencies and Econsultancy, 55% of global marketers, out of a total of 814 respondents, are planning to increase their digital marketing spend in 2013. Notably, 39% of these overall budgets plan on staying the same in totality. Meaning that digital is becoming a larger piece of the pie, and traditional media spend is becoming obsolete.

What does this say about the current state of digital investments when it comes to multi-media and cross-platform campaigns? A recent Gartner study, published in March, confirmed that this year will also see an increase in digital marketing budgets --11.6% of which will be attributed to content creation. Content is where the dollars are flowing because it drives the greatest engagement and ROI.

Pepsi, traditionally a digital-savvy and advertising heavy brand, ramped up their marketing spend in 2012 to focus on more digital-focused campaigns such as the brand's first-ever, global initiative "Live For Now" and the Lipton Brisk Star Wars mobile app. The investment paid off; with the ability to share on-brand, licensed content, Pepsi's monthly homepage traffic more than doubled (2.4x) within the first four months after re-launch. Social referrals increased by 2,139%, up 22.4x relative to the four months prior.

The value of content is not only relevant for B2C brands. In the case of B2B brands, content marketing has long been a tool used for demand generation, pushing leads through the sales funnel (interest to lead to potential to deal) and to maintain a solid provider-client relationship. As content marketing evolves into a more concrete discipline and the methods by which content can be distributed becomes more advanced, the tactics have only gotten more intricate and the frequency more in demand. A recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, sponsored by Brightcove, showed that 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing. Something tells me the other 9% were doing it but didn't even realize it.

GE is a great example. Their array of content sites, including ecomagination and GE Reports, demonstrate their longstanding commitment to community development and consumer engagement through content. GE Capital's latest project, Roadshow for Growth, in partnership with Slate, launched this past month, is an effort to bolster middle market economies through the publication of city-specific content on a co-branded hub. A 20-city bus tour kicks off the content marketing initiative, stopping in cities like Kansas City, Missouri, Chicago and St. Louis - all heavy middle market metropolises. By marrying online content- full text articles, video and infographics with offline events, GE is embedded in the multi-city tour, via on-site reporters who create and publish content on the ground in real-time. Their continued investment in content marketing, online community building and dialogue is indicative of the B2B sector's greater investment in original thought leadership and publishing.

To back up the fact that content marketing is a huge growth opportunity that brands are now truly investing in even further, a report entitled the "Quarterly Intelligence Briefing: Digital Trends for 2013" from Econsultancy and Adobe, showed that content marketing was a high priority for 39% of all respondents, compared to 29% in 2012, and, only 18% of marketers surveyed in 2012 considered content marketing to be the most exciting digital-related opportunity whereas, just one year later, 30% of marketers felt that way. People's mindsets are changing around how they view content and how familiar they are with its application and results in marketing.

All this to say though that where there are dollars there's not always a well-executed strategy. Just because brands are allocating a higher percentage of their overall marketing budget to content marketing, does not mean that they will actually "win" when it comes to devising a comprehensive and targeted content strategy that will simultaneously grow engagement, traffic, revenue and sales.

It will be interesting in the years to come to correlate the actual spend funneled towards producing and licensing content with the performance and social ROI that can generally be deduced from a content play. Although still in the early stages of adaptation and novelty, content marketing can truly reap benefits for brands when it comes to web traffic, pave views, unique visitors, engagement and social media impressions. In time we can also expect to see more distinctions being made within the digital marketing field so that budgets and ROI can more accurately be allocated and measured. Someday we'll truly know if this year-over-year increase in digital marketing budgets translates into the age-old saying, "the more you spend, the more you get."