How Much Does Content Cost? It’s Not An Easy Question, And Here’s Why
How much does content marketing cost?
Tough question, right? So let’s break the question down a bit to try to simplify it.
How much does content creation cost?
There are still no easy answers, are there? Yet it’s a question marketers persist in asking, in much the same way people were asking back in the day, “How much does a website cost?” (Once, when my interrogator wouldn’t take “It depends” for an answer, in exasperation I countered with, “Well, how much does it cost to buy a house?”)
But even a website (or a house, for that matter) is much more easily quantifiable than content marketing when it comes to breaking down budgets and expenditures. It’s difficult to impossible to conduct credible research in this area due to a list of variables and mitigating factors longer than your arm.
Attempts At Quantifying Costs Aren’t All That Helpful
There’s research out there. The Content Marketing Institute, in its latest study (PDF) of content marketing budgets for small businesses, states, “On average, 30% of B2B budgets are allocated to content marketing.”
Helpful, kind of, but there’s no breakdown of that self-reported spend. What one business may be spending on a clear content marketing line item (outsourced writing or design talent, for example), another might attribute to event marketing, which has plenty of content marketing potential and traction, but is highly debatable as a line item in and of itself.
The Custom Content Council publishes research around budgets as well. Its research looks at how much its members are spending on “branded” content. This primarily translates into advertorial, which is assuming other meanings as well, e.g. native advertising, a form of converged media (content + advertising). Such nuances of meaning are barely beginning to be accepted as industry standard, so it’s unlikely they’re crystal clear to every individual survey respondent.
This isn’t to cast aspersions on anyone’s research, but to frame the discussion. Let’s consider some of the mitigating factors in the “how much does content cost” question.
Why It’s More Difficult Than One Might Think
• Salaries: The overwhelming majority of organizations don’t yet have dedicated content roles or staff, but instead source content from a wide variety of internal sources: marketing, product leads, customer service, senior leadership, etc. When considering content costs, are content contributors’ salaries broken out in terms of time spent, or the percentage of their time dedicated to content?
• Freelance Creation Fees: Unlike staff only partially dedicated to content, freelance fees are a much clearer line item. But if images are commissioned for advertising, then used in content (or vice versa), where’s the budget attribution? What about those press releases that were outsourced? Is it communications or PR, or is it content ? Even when outsourced, the lines blur around content budgets – or lack of same.
• Agency Billings: If you accept the definition of content marketing that it’s owned media and therefore precludes a media buy, you can deduct media spend from content marketing budgets straightway (Or can you? We’ll get into that below.). That leaves agency creative, which is subject to the same blurred lines as are freelance creation fees.
• Software/Hardware Are marketers including their investments in the tools of the trade in their content marketing budget breakdowns? If so, which ones? The ones around creation? Measurement? Syndication and distribution? Recent research I just published breaks down eight use case scenarios for content tools, yet I don’t know that any of these are included (or not) in content marketing budgets or costs (amortized or not).
• Paid And Earned Media If you build it, they may come. Then again, they may not. With so many marketers jumping on the content marketing bandwagon, more and more of them are finding it necessary to invest in paid (advertising ) and earned (social and PR) media to draw attention to their content efforts, at least at the beginning to foster awareness. Where do these costs fall in the budget: content, PR, social, advertising, or all or none of the above?
• Converged Media While we’re on the topic of paid, owned and earned media, it’s clear the three are intermingling to form new types of marketing and advertising. We define native advertising, for example, as content + advertising (or owned + paid media). You can immediately see where the lines blur when content is created modularly for different types of media channels, or used in converged channels that create multiple attributions.
• Events (And Other “Generated” Sources Of Content): A corporate event, a conference, a trade show, a customer showcase – these are all marketing and sales line items, but they generate content, too. It’s not unusual for a single speech, for example to be blogged, tweeted, Slideshared, YouTubed – you name it. All are forms of content marketing, yet the core intent of the content wasn’t necessarily content marketing. Another content budget grey area – and yet one more reason why the cost of content will remain highly nebulous for a good, long time to come.
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