In a past life, I was VP of a boutique PR agency that specialized in hospitality clients. I hated budget season. The need to achieve demonstrable results was a year-round concern, but during budget season I always felt like my clients were asking me to justify my very existence. On more than one occasion, a C-suiter who just didn’t get it made my job that much harder.
While the rise of digital content marketing has revolutionized how we do business, it hasn’t always made it easier for marketers to demonstrate the value of what we do. In fact, in some ways it’s made it more difficult. Often, getting the right-brained types who hold the purse strings to understand what we left-brainers are doing can be our biggest challenge.
Consider these content marketing stats that speak to internal attitudes and obstacles:
- A lack of internal understanding is one of the biggest challenges agencies face, according to 46 percent of marketers surveyed by U.K.-based Econsultancy.
- Measuring effectiveness is one of the biggest challenges, according to 51 percent of business-to-consumer content marketers surveyed by the Content Marketing Institute.
- A lack of buy-in from higher ups stymies 28 percent of marketers, according to the CMI survey.
- Just 23 percent of content marketers feel they are successful at tracking ROI, CMI reports.
Imagine you’re among the 77 percent who aren’t as confident about their ability to track ROI. What do you need to do or say to convince decision-makers to give you the budget you need in 2015? Here are seven secrets I’ve learned over years of justifying my existence as a marketer:
1. Set realistic expectations
Content marketing can be a powerful tool, but it can’t solve every challenge a company faces. It’s important that decision-makers understand just what the tool can and cannot do for their company, and that depends on multiple factors such as the product or service, the target audience and the marketing vehicles being used. For every initiative you undertake, make sure you clearly communicate to internal stakeholders what a reasonable, positive outcome would be.
2. Talk about things they can understand
Unless they’ve been living under a rock, your decision-makers are already using at least one content marketing device in your arsenal. Perhaps they’re addicted to Twitter or follow a fishing blog. Maybe they frequent a website that uses sponsored feature articles. Talking to them about material they’re already familiar with can help them better understand and consider new content marketing formats and goals.
3. Do things in a way they can respect
C-level executives do a lot of planning and analyzing. They’re more likely to feel comfortable with what you do if you do it in a way they can relate to. You need an established and documented content marketing plan that they can review and understand. Just 27 percent of content marketers surveyed by CMI said their organizations had a documented marketing plan. Half had a plan that wasn’t documented, and nearly a quarter either had no plan or didn’t know if they had one. It’s nearly impossible for decision-makers to understand what you’re doing if you don’t tell them clearly and concisely.
4. Provide examples of your success
Of course you’re benchmarking regularly (and we’ll talk about that more in a moment), but when a stellar example of success emerges, it’s important to share that with everyone. You can do it right away, when click rates go through the roof or a company blog goes viral – and that’s great. But keep that success on hand to trot out as a case study when budget time approaches. Be sure to not only remind decision-makers of the success, but help them understand what it meant to the company. For example, after that blog went viral, sales reported a 10 percent uptick on orders.
5. Improve your benchmarking
Remember that stat we mentioned earlier – that just 23 percent of content marketers felt they were successfully tracking ROI? Well nearly as many don’t bother to track it at all – 21 percent, according to CMI’s survey. You must benchmark throughout the year, not just at budget time. Many of the content marketing tools, platforms and service providers facilitate benchmarking, so there’s simply no excuse for not doing it at all. And there’s always room – and value – in doing it better.
6. Surround yourself with people who do get it …
… and who can help you explain it to stakeholders by showing you quantifiable results. If you’re working with a content marketing partner, make sure they understand the issues you face and give you the reporting tools you need to show your results. Over the years as Brandpoint has evolved from a MAT release creation and distribution company to a full-service content marketing partner to agencies, we’ve added reporting tools designed to help our clients demonstrate ROI. We consistently hear it’s one of the most valuable things we do.
7. Don’t take it personally
Many of the factors that can influence decisions about your marketing budget are not only beyond your control, they may not even have anything to do with marketing. A CM-savvy executive may leave and be replaced by one who’s never even been on Facebook. A poor corn crop in Iowa last summer may mean a company has to cut back somewhere, and marketing budgets are often the first to go. It’s a grim reality of marketing that keeping a client or job, or getting the budget you requested, sometimes has nothing at all to do with how well you’ve done your job.