“Let’s add a question about content budget,” I said after reviewing the protocol for our recent study of content operations and leadership. I thought the answers would give us insight into organizations’ financial commitment to content. Oh, was I wrong.

Instead, adding this innocuous question revealed much about the state of maturing content operations today. Let’s take a look at the study findings and what they mean for you.

Most Content Pros Don’t Know the Content Budget

More than half of the participants in our study reported not knowing their budget for content.

“Whoa,” I thought when I first saw this result. “How can this be? How can people not have a grasp on their budget for content?”

As we reviewed in-depth answers and conducted interviews, we realized that content budgets are either vague, fragmented or both. Content cuts across different business functions, such as marketing and product and technical support. Within those different functions, content and its related activities are not necessarily line items. So, unless someone or some team is tracking it, many companies and organizations are clueless about their content costs and returns.

In discussing this finding with the Content Science team, we quickly came to another question. Does knowing the content budget matter? Does it make a difference to success? Let’s discuss.

Content Pros Who Know the Budget Report More Success

We found some correlation between knowing the content budget and reporting more success. 95.6% of study participants who reported a content budget reported their content efforts were at least moderately successful, with 8.7% reporting extreme success. In comparison, only 81.4% of study participants who did not know the budget reported at least moderate success.

This discovery delights me and makes a tremendous amount of sense. After all, without understanding costs and potential returns, how can you decide any of the following confidently?

  • What tools and solutions to purchase?
  • What content roles to hire?
  • What content promotion and advertising to spend?
  • What to spend on activities such as research, measurement, strategy, creation, and more?

One aspect of leading content operations is making smart buying decisions, whether that is buying a tool/solution, information, services, advertising, or something else. Certainly, this can mean deciding not to buy. I personally have been reminded of that this year as I purchased services that fell significantly short of expectations, and I am still thinking “What if I spent that money differently? Or not at all?”

But, more often for companies with maturing content operations, I see it means pushing to buy—or to make the business case to buy—when you need to. I have seen many instances of otherwise sophisticated content leaders get squeamish at the prospect of buying power. Yet, it is difficult, if not impossible, to scale content operations without buying stuff. To paraphrase Roseanne Barr, the thing content professionals have yet to learn is nobody gives you buying power. You just take it. And one way to take it is to get a handle on the financial aspects of content so you can proactively offer business cases or easily justify buying decisions.

Let’s close by talking more about wrangling the money aspects of content.

Getting a Grip on the Money Side of Content

Achieving and articulating content success will be a struggle without mastering the money. So, how can you make progress? I’m offering a few considerations as a starting point.

Calculate Audience As an Asset

If your content is a product, such as a media property or a content marketing property (which is essentially a brand-sponsored media property), then the value of your audience is key. Your content attracts and grows an audience that can, in turn, either attract sponsors or provide opportunities to learn about the market, merchandise your products, and more. The new book, “Killing Marketing,” by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose, offers suggestions for assessing the value of your audience.

Calculate Content Effectiveness or Impact, Then ROI

If your content is serving another business function, such as…

  • Marketing (content in an advertising or email campaign, which is different from a content marketing property)
  • Sales
  • Product experience
  • Customer service
  • Technical support
  • Employee advocacy or empowerment
  • Recruiting talent

…then it’s difficult to calculate return on your content investment without understanding the effect of the content on the business function. Another way of looking at it is, “What job is this content doing? What impact does this content have on that job? How can we measure that?”

Our research has revealed three levels at which organizations evaluate content.

Most content teams track volume or quality metrics. The content teams that are thriving also measure content effectiveness and, eventually, return on investment. In fact, our recent research found that content professionals who are measuring content impact report more success.

To learn more about measuring more than quality or volume, check out these articles:

Avoid Death by Digital with a New Content Measurement Mindset

3 Tips for Mastering Content ROI

The 3 Ss: Key Success Indicators for Your Company Blog or Content Marketing Hub

Overwhelmed? Take a Cue from Zorro

If you work for a large organization or enterprise that is transforming into a digital business, you might be overwhelmed. Content is everywhere and needed for everything. In the excellent book “The Happiness Advantage,” positive psychologist Shawn Achor introduces a principle he calls The Zorro Circle.

Achor points out that Zorro did not become the swashbuckling hero wielding magic with his sword overnight. Zorro underwent rigorous training that started with sword skill challenges in a small circle. Don Diego, Zorro’s mentor, explained that Zorro’s world was that circle. When he mastered that circle, it would expand to include more challenges to develop his abilities. Circle by circle, Zorro mastered the sword and related skills, then fought to make the world a better place.

So, start with a product or business function and master the content financials there. Then move on to another. And then another. Or influence stakeholders and colleagues to master their content circles. Circle by circle, we will master the money side of content, command buying power, and mature content operations. And we will make the digital world a better place.

The Author

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, a content intelligence and strategy firm that has advised or trained hundreds of the world’s leading organizations since 2010. She also is the former head of content at MailChimp, the marketing platform recognized by Inc. as 2017 Company of the Year. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the  content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications through Content Science Academy.

Colleen has earned recognition as an instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing by a TopRank study, a Content Change Agent by Society of Technical Communication’s Intercom Magazine, and one of the Top 50 Most Influential Content Strategists by multiple organizations.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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