February 18, 2021

The following is republished with the permission of the Association of National Advertisers. Find this and similar articles on ANA Newsstand.

By John Wolfe

While content marketing is unmistakably on the rise among advertisers, it’s also causing a conundrum. Marketers love the discipline, even though they’re not sure how well it works and how much it adds to the bottom line.

It’s a paradox sparking a good deal of chatter among CMOs and marketers.

The discrepancy emerged in an ANA study conducted in partnership with The Content Council, titled “Growth and Opportunities in Content Marketing.”

The study, released last summer, defines content marketing as “the discipline of creating content, on behalf of a brand, designed with the specific strategy of influencing the intended target audience to drive quantifiable profitable results.” It includes 126 responses, of which 90 percent were from client-side marketers, with the remaining 10 percent coming from academia, nonprofits, and associations.

According to the study, spending on content marketing during a two-year period showed a 73 percent average budget increase. Spending is expected to grow 42 percent this year.

However, it also shows that almost 60 percent of respondents have reservations about a lack of actionable insights derived from current tracking methods in determining the effectiveness of content marketing. Asked which aspects of content marketing were the most frustrating, the top three responses cited were proving ROI, improving attribution, and overall measurement.

Industry observers say there are several reasons for the schism and maintain that it’s not as serious an issue as the study might suggest.

Lack of Insight

Jacqueline Loch, EVP of customer innovation at SJC Content and recent past chair of The Content Council, says content marketing and integrated advertising campaigns share the same challenge: how to measure effectiveness and ROI. “The challenge lies in a combination of areas,” she says. “These include too many platforms and too much data, as well as a lack of overall insights that come out of that data.”

Loch says any program that encompasses multiple media platforms will produce a deluge of campaign data and analytics, but that data will not necessarily provide actionable insights.

Still, Loch says the disconnect presents new opportunities for marketers. “What we are seeing is the shift in content marketing from being solely used for top-of-funnel marketing to content being used by brands in new and evolving ways,” she says. “One example of this is direct-to-consumer (DTC) e-commerce, where content is being directly used to drive sales conversion.”

Paul Tsigrikes, head of marketing and general manager of The Trust at The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s Group, agrees, and says that content marketing has become an integral part of the marketing mix for both consumer and B2B brands.

Indeed, the ANA study shows that respondents’ commitment to content marketing has grown substantially in the past two years, with 52 percent indicating a “strong commitment” — double the figure from two years prior (26 percent). Content marketing also commands a substantial portion (18 percent) of overall marketing budgets.

“The increase is driven by a need to communicate in innovative ways with both current customers and prospects,” says Tsigrikes, who previously served as VP of marketing and branded content at The Washington Post. “Content marketing enables brands to tell complex stories far better than most other communication options today. Clearly, there are enough insights into ROI that brands are doubling down on investments.”

Fueling the Customer Journey

Loch stresses that despite the survey results, numerous metrics for content marketing already exist. “There are also several ways to measure ROI, and a large part of that equation lies in the cost of production of content assets and their longevity and agility versus the cost of production of traditional campaign creative assets for broadcast, print, radio, and digital.”

The ANA study emphasized the overall benefits of building content marketing programming despite myriad challenges.

“We are all storytellers,” Tsigrikes says. “Brands need to tell their stories to compel prospects and clients to engage, trust, consider, and, ultimately, buy a product or service. Content marketing is an elegant and efficient way to do that … more so than traditional marketing channels.”

“Content marketing is complicated and is based on skillsets not typically found in most marketing teams. It requires a different skillset, as well as editors, writers, strategists, and content creators. It also requires internal buy-in within an organization and a champion.”  — Jacqueline Loch, EVP of customer innovation at SJC Content and recent past chairperson of The Content Council

Joe Pulizzi, founder emeritus at the Content Marketing Institute and author of Content Inc., says content marketing is the only type of marketing in which brands can incubate an entire business.

“Once you build a loyal audience, you can monetize that audience in 10 different ways,” Pulizzi says. “We are now seeing marketing departments drive their own revenue and profit lines, such as Red Bull, Arrow Electronics, and LEGO. You can’t do that with advertising.”

Loch adds that effective content marketing can drive sales and awareness, increase brand sentiment, perception and relevance, provide brand experience, and contribute to customer acquisition and retention.

“From the perspective of delivering ROI and value for marketing budgets, a well-mapped content strategy can deliver omnichannel assets that have longevity, agility, and that are scalable to meet the demands of the brand,” Loch says. “Content marketing can drive the customer journey and their path-to-purchase, providing a brand experience for the customer at all stages of their journey.”

Nevertheless, sources agree that the challenges in producing effective content marketing go beyond a lack of generating decent ROI.

“Content marketing is complicated and is based on skillsets not typically found in most marketing teams,” Loch says. “It requires a different skillset, as well as editors, writers, strategists, and content creators. It also requires internal buy-in within an organization and a champion.”

Playing Long Ball

Pulizzi says one of the biggest challenges is that content marketing takes significantly longer to demonstrate results than traditional marketing channels.

“The average time from start to revenue is between 12 and 18 months,” he says. “Most marketers and organizations aren’t patient enough for this to work. Programs generally get killed before they have a chance to show behavior change.”

Loch calls content marketing a “long game” that is “always on,” unlike the campaign-to-campaign nature of traditional brand advertising.

Another challenge is an apparent lack of overall content marketing strategy among many marketers. Just 35 percent of respondents said they have a clearly documented content strategy, per the ANA study, while 52 percent said they do not have one and 13 percent said they were unsure.

Pulizzi says one reason for the lack of clearly defined strategies is that marketers are overwhelmed by a plethora of communications channels.

“Marketers have so many pipes to communicate with customers today: social media, search, email, etc.,” he says. “For those channels to work you need a mentality like a publisher or media company.”

He adds, “Most marketers don’t come from a publishing background. If they were trained in marketing, they probably don’t have any idea how to create a documented content marketing strategy. Even though content marketing has been around for hundreds of years, it’s still brand new to most marketers.”


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