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Marketing ROI

Content Marketing Budget Under Fire? Sell Leadership on the Long-Term Value of Brand Storytelling

5 Minute Read

In a perfect world, every business grows from one year to the next, and marketing budgets follow suit. Every marketer hopes that their efforts from the previous year will bear the fruits of a slightly larger budget in the year to come.

It’s nice to think about, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Businesses suffer through slumps, struggle to afford unexpected expenses, and endure the inevitable growing pains that come with change. If you’ve been in the marketing business long enough, you’ve likely come face-to-face with one of the industry’s toughest challenges: a marketing budget that gets cut from one year to the next.

Doing more with less is easier said than done. At the same time marketers are facing the prospect of shrinking budgets and limited resources, they’re often asked to go to bat for themselves, explaining to the powers-that-be why it’s so important that they receive their expected funding for the coming fiscal year. Certain time-honored marketing expenses may be more likely to make the cut, but oftentimes the spending on the chopping block pertains to newer and experimental initiatives.

Content marketing and brand storytelling may not be “experimental” to marketers anymore, but for executives, they can be an easy target: The ROI can be indirect, and it often requires a long time to deliver any payoff, while the relative newness of content marketing may make it more preferable to cut than more familiar expenses like paid search.

But good marketers understand the importance of continuing to invest in content. The trick is figuring out how to make that case to business leaders.

Taking Aim at High-Cost, Low-Value Marketing Practices

Before you take the stance that content marketing budgets should be spared the ax, it might be wise to set up a fall guy. Consider the circumstances from the business leader’s perspective: They likely aren’t thrilled about cutting the company’s marketing budget, but they have a budget to balance, and they’re being forced to make tough decisions.

So make the decision easier for them. Point out the growing ineffectiveness of interrupt advertising. From pop-ups to display ads to pre-roll video and more, almost every study you can find will show that the majority of consumers hate interrupt ads. The user experience is terrible, and it can create a negative brand impression just as easily as it generates a referral. As the New York Times reported earlier in 2017, the use of ad blockers among global consumers grew 30 percent in a one-year span, meaning more than 600 million devices are actively working to prevent interrupt ads from reaching their audience.

Not only does that take a significant bite out of your prospective audience, it underscores the degree to which consumers dislike interrupt ads. As Forbes points out, we’re in the midst of a years-long trend away from marketing content that demands the consumer’s attention and toward content that offers inherent value of some kind. And research from Hubspot suggests your performance metrics may be greatly inflating the value and opportunity created by interrupt ads: 34 percent of consumers said that when they click on an ad, it’s an accident.

Trimming interrupt ad spending is easy, and it can provide instant relief to a cash-strapped organization. For marketers, it also represents a chance to shift priorities toward strategies that offer better long-term value.

Making the Case to Retain Content Budgets

From the business leader’s perspective, cutting content budgets is a safe short-term solution. Why? Because the benefits of sustained brand storytelling take months to generate results, if not longer. They can slash your content marketing budget today, and one month from now, no discernible changes or problems will be evident. It will look like a smart move: They managed to save money without actually hurting the business.

But content marketers know that in the long run, that decision will do critical damage to the brand. The solution is to make the business leader aware of that threat. The best approach is to combine your own in-house anecdotes and evidence with external research that verifies the ROI potential of content and brand storytelling. Perhaps cite this study from Demand Metric showing that inbound marketing costs 62 percent less than outbound strategies while generating three times the leads. That same Demand Metric infographic argues that 82 percent of consumers are more positive and confident about a business after reading the company’s custom content.

Piggy bank

Image attribution: Fabian Blank

The disadvantage of content, where budgets are concerned, is that it requires a long-term commitment and sustained publishing to reach its ROI potential. With that in mind, emphasize the value lost by chopping content mid-campaign: Not only do you lose the ROI of future content, but you fail to build on the value of past content. This doesn’t happen with interrupt ads: You can turn these campaigns on and off with little inconvenience or lost ROI, making them ideal targets when it comes to trimming expenses. But content has a cumulative effect, and stopping or greatly reducing content production will make your past, present, and future content all less valuable and capable of driving revenues.

If anything, content should be leaned on more heavily when marketing budgets are lean. There aren’t easy ways to reduce interrupt ad campaigns without sacrificing some of their ROI, but creative approaches to brand storytelling can leverage content to create new opportunities and buoy marketing performance at a time when companies can’t spend their way to their quarterly and yearly marketing goals.

For a business looking to right its ship after a year of disappointing performances, cutting content is never the answer. Brand storytelling is the marketing strategy of the future, while expensive interrupt advertising is going the way of the dinosaurs. This isn’t news to marketers. But this knowledge won’t make a difference if you can’t pass it on to your company’s top decision-makers.

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Featured image attribution: Tim Gouw

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Jonathan Crowl specializes in digital marketing and content creation for both B2B and B2C brands, with an emphasis on startups and technology. His past and current clients include B2B brands IBM, LinkedIn, Mad Mobile, Oktopost, BrightSpot, and Waze, as well as B2C brands Porsche, Epson, and PayPal. He lives in Minneapolis.

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