No single topic hits my inbox and feeds with quite the same regularity as content marketing. Part of the reason is surely selection bias, since it’s a key topic in my research agenda. But I also think it’s one of those foundational disciplines in digital marketing that you couldn’t possibly shake even if you tried. Why? Because the content supply chain feeds multichannel audience engagement strategies. Today, it’s both a control point and a bottleneck for most digital marketing programs—in other words, it has the potential to become a rate multiplier, but it mostly acts as a rate limiter for digital marketers who lack content supply chain maturity.
So if content marketing is so important, why in the world has it declined in priority for digital marketers? In Gartner’s 2013 Digital Marketing Spending Survey, content marketing ranked second only to paid media, consuming an average of 11.6% of overall budget. But the 2014 Survey told a different story. Here, content marketing fell four places in priority, falling slightly behind mobile marketing with an average allocation of 9.3% of overall digital marketing budgets.
Why the correction? I have two explanations:
The Big Pause—content marketing, it goes without saying, is a resource intensive discipline. If 2013 was the year of exuberant experimentation, 2014 marks the attendant hangover. Today, we see marketing leaders reigning in a portion of their content marketing spending until they can reliably measure its performance, point to business impact and achieve the scale and control currently afforded by paid media.
Light Dawns on Marketing Spend—more mature content marketers have successfully instrumented their content assets for measurement, shining light on performance and allowing them to reel in the stuff that simply doesn’t work.
Both of these scenarios point to a net reduction in spending on the content supply chain. Does this mean that content marketing is a lesser discipline? Hardly. It just means that it’s growing up. There’s a substantial appetite to scale up content marketing investments, but that’s unlikely to happen until transparency, accountability, scale and control are consistently achievable.
Once that’s happens, we’ll see spending accelerate again. Who knows? Maybe earned will overtake paid once content marketing becomes a discipline that can predictably turn dimes into dollars.