*Analysis:* How to spend your budget
The good, the bad, and the desirable
Unraveling your marketing spend:
If you want your team to become a lean, mean marketing machine, you need to weigh the costs of skills, processes, and technology in the context of their returns
Cutting costs without undermining marketing performance can feel like a delicate, if not impossible, balancing act. But spending less can turn out to be a catalyst for achieving better results - as long as you prioritize effectively.
When budgets are healthy, marketers can spend more on exposure across channels. Spend on message exposure is referred to by some as "working budget". and seen as desirable spending. The myriad of costs associated with producing the content that receives the exposure falls into the category of "non-working budget". This includes everything required to plan, make, and distribute assets to the given channels.
Seasoned advertiser and author of How To Buy a Gorilla, David Meikle, argues these terms are misnomers: "First off, “non-working” suggests that this money doesn’t “work”. And of course it does."
Indirect costs often inflate when processes and ways of working cause errors or inefficiencies
Meikle makes the argument for a different set of categories to frame marketing spend:
Direct investments: spend on the exposure of your messages.
This covers the cost of appearing on a given channel, a sponsored email promotion, a newspaper ad, linkbuilding for SEO, an influencer promo. Calculating the ROI on these types of investments is relatively straightforward to assess for exposure on digital channels and at events. Less so for out of home media (OOH) and print circulation.
Desirable spend goes beyond "working budget"; you need exposure and impact.
Indirect investments: spend that affects the amount of return seen from that exposure.
So these are the investments that help you to make the biggest impact on viewers when your message is in front of them, by making sure it's the right message, delivered in the right way, etc.
Analytics and insights remain the most strategically important marketing capabilities
Gartner, CMO Spend Survey 2019-2020
Indirect costs: spend that doesn't bring more exposure or more return but is needed to get the job done.
This is your undesirable spending; it has no meaningful impact on the reach or efficacy of your messages. Indirect costs often inflate when processes and ways of working cause errors or inefficiencies, which includes those born from a lack of insight or expertise.
Paying a design agency thousands for what boils down to copy, paste, repeat is not desirable; it's a process cost that doesn't move the needle and it's not an optimal way to use your agency partners
Auditing your spend
Some costs and poor investments will be straightforward to identify and cut, like the mediocre agency you've been trialing, the remarketing campaign that's not converting, or the software no one's using. But once all of the obvious cuts are made, you need to think bigger picture, rather than flinching at price tags, if you want your function to shine.
Underpinning the current execution of your marketing strategy you'll find investments with high returns, investments with mediocre returns, and zero-gain costs. When cutting spend, you want to concentrate on the latter two, but first, you need to find them. There are generally four buckets to assess: agencies, technology, people, and media spend.
Martech and ad tech have democratized capabilities that had previously been in the exclusive domain of agencies
Gartner, CMO Spend Survey 2019-2020
Nowadays, software designed to be used by generalists has democratized certain capabilities across marketing and advertising that were previously reserved by agencies, including aspects of design, development, and distribution. The agencies worth their salt are those who have since focused on delivering tangible value to their clients through specialized expertise or skill sets that require extra creativity or human touch (like brand consulting or ad copywriting) or through their network (like in PR or link building). The quality of each third-party relationship will determine whether you see high or mediocre returns from the investment you're making.
Elsewhere, agencies are employed to fill the gaps when processes or people power fall short. Paying a design agency thousands for what effectively boils down to copy, paste, repeat kind of job – that's not desirable spend; it doesn't move the needle and it's not an optimal way to use your agency partners. You just don't currently have a better, faster, cheaper way of getting that job done. This is where improvements can be made to ways of working, upskilling your people, or investing in better technology can bring down total costs of growth or market share retainment.
Being smart about how you cut costs involves evaluating how each item on your team's P&L relates to your processes and performance and making investments and cuts accordingly. This could indeed result in increased investment in one category, like technology or people, if doing so cuts away a greater net value of expenses born from inefficiencies elsewhere.
of marketers said one of their top challenges is knowing if content being created is actually influencing and engaging to audiences
Source: CMO council
Know your returns
A good place to start is making sure you understand the returns you're getting in the first place, so you can make investments based on objectives and audience insights, not assumptions. Gartner's 2019-2020 CMO Spend Survey saw analytics tie with competitive insights as the most vital capability supporting marketing strategy. Investment in analytics lets leaders achieve greater accuracy in their evaluation of activities, improve performance, and more effectively forecast results. This is a required area of investment across the marketing function if you want to know which efforts work towards your objectives, so you can predictably grow the brand and drive more revenue opportunities.
Take stock of any gaps you have in your ability to evaluate performance and understand your audience, as these are precisely the types of investments that let you improve the results and returns you see over time and prevent you from wasting money on the wrong kinds of tactics and tools.
Poorly devised and broken processes are a breeding ground for time-waste, costs, and frustration
Equipped with analytics, quantifying performance can still seem daunting given the variety of channels and metrics it's possible to track, as well as the various different goals your programs and campaigns feed into. This is where creating performance scores come in handy – a scoring out of 10 of the relative impact of an initiative on delivering the marketing strategy based on whichever metrics are plausible for the given tactics.
But when it comes to returns, the performance score of your programs, content, and campaigns only tell half the story. You need to view them in the context of their resource intensity – the time, budget, and energy that went into executing them. You might be surprised by how some of the cheapest, least scrutinized executions have delivered some of the best results due to factors like relevance and timeliness.
You don't need complete data accuracy here for this kind of plotting to be useful, so it's worth doing even with estimations.
Start with the initiatives you derive the clearest results from and take stock of the skills, time, and budget that goes into them. Speak to your teams about their experience:
- What are the biggest time sinks?
- Where are the greatest risks for delay or unbudgeted spending?
- Which parts of the process cause the most stress?
- What skills or tools would make the output better, cheaper, or faster?
- How have results been improving over the past years of executing the particular initiative? Why?
Then move on and do the same for the most costly initiatives that you aren't deriving top results from. Why are these so costly or ineffective?
Finally, investigate the initiatives you're unsure about when it comes to ROI. Why is ROI so unclear? How can you resolve that moving forward so you know that you're not wasting budget?
Take the holistic view
Poorly devised and broken processes are a breeding ground for time-wastage, costs, and frustration. If your aim is to build a marketing engine that delivers reliable and scalable revenue, even in the face of budget cuts, you need reliable and scalable ways of working. This means empowering your team to operate with greater autonomy from the interference of stakeholders elsewhere in the business, but also from the holdups and limitations caused by relying on agencies or other internal teams who have split priorities.
When your budget's been cut, it's more important than ever that you know exactly how every penny is delivering value for both your business and your customers. If in doubt, invest in your audience. Invest in understanding them better, in reaching them at the time and place that best works for them, with the information, ideas, and sentiments they care about the most. This is how your voice cuts through. And to grow your market share, you need to grow your voice. ◆
If in doubt, invest in your audience
To grow your share of the market by 0.5% you need 10% excess share of voice*
*Excess share of voice is defined as share of voice minus share of market. Source: IPA, How Share Of Voice Wins Market Share
*Recommendation #1:* Bring content production in-house
Four reasons to redistribute agency focus and embrace in-house content
According to a 2020 study by CMO Council, almost half of marketing leaders say a top-three barrier to developing impactful and effective content is having the budget to develop high-quality robust content at scale. This will only have been compounded by recent events.
Redistributing the focus of your agencies away from content production and bringing your content engine in-house is your ticket to adjusting to new budgets while opening up a new way to boost content engagement, grow team creativity, and prove content ROI. Here's how.
1. Cut costs and turnaround times
It’s easy to say that reducing outsourcing cuts costs – but what about the costs of training in-house colleagues or acquiring the necessary software to continue writing and publishing content independently?
In 2018, this was a question which Cisco’s EMEAR team was faced with. Their creative agency-led approach was creaking under growing pressure to produce content faster while reducing costs.
They were determined to take on the problem by moving their content creation in-house, and acquiring software which employees could easily use to produce and publish content themselves.
The results? Costs were cut dramatically and on top of this, turnaround times were shortened. No longer was there the risk that content would be out of date when it was finally delivered.
Cisco’s EMEAR team was able to report results from moving in-house as:
- 7 times more readers
- Turnaround times cut from weeks to days
- Content at a tenth of the cost
Finding the right tool mitigates training costs. Cisco’s Audience Campaign Manager (EMEAR), Kay Armstrong, says “We have reduced the production time of content by weeks, if not months in some cases, as this is a self-service tool."
Find out more here.
2. Increase consistency and accuracy
When you’re working with multiple agencies and freelancers, it becomes almost impossible to maintain consistency. Even the most watertight of brand guidelines have room for interpretation and this can mean that your brand identity is diluted overall. Added to this is the inability for external writers to be as familiar with, and committed to, the focuses and priorities of the business as those in-house. Instead, imagine publishing content only written by members of your in-house team, who encounter the business’ growing objectives and needs daily. This allows you to refocus your agencies on more cost-effective tasks.
Not only can in-house writers adapt quickly to changing demands, but they are also able to reach out to members in other teams for different perspectives. The output is not only going to be more consistent with the brand, but also has the potential to be more engaging, thoroughly researched, and accurate.
With in-house software, it’s also possible to update content continuously – meaning that content is not outdated once it’s published. This means that you can be sure what you’re publishing in-house is only ever up-to-date information.
3. Boost creativity and collaboration
– while working remotely
In difficult times, when colleagues are working remotely, boosting collaboration is essential to keep morale high and improve communication. This can be one of the most overlooked benefits of bringing content in-house – the ability to bring teams closer together to work on a project collaboratively.
Faith Wheller, Marketing Director at Cisco found that collaboration between teams across the world was one of their strongpoints after moving in-house. Seeing amendments from other team members, and getting feedback instantly improved quality control and teamwork.
4. Prove ROI and content impact
Outsourced content gives you limited analytics back. You might be able to see how many people downloaded a document, or visited a page – but this doesn’t necessarily give you the meaningful insights you need.
Moving in-house means you’re able to find platforms that can track your content performance. This means that you can measure your content engagement, read-time, and bounce rates to find out what your audience prefers reading, and which topics they’re uninterested in.
These insights are invaluable to the wider business as a whole. A Forrester study*, commissioned by Turtl, found that sales teams need more insights from marketing to close deals. In fact, 51% of sales teams surveyed said that marketing insights were lacking in the final stages of the sales cycle. Moving content in-house provides marketing teams with the ability to deliver these insights, and steer their content strategy towards topics their audiences are engaging with.
In difficult times, cutting costs to adapt to new budgets is a necessity. Moving content in-house not only reduces costs dramatically but benefits the business by:
- Reducing turnaround times from weeks to days
- Ensuring content is accurate and up-to-date
- Improving collaboration during remote working
- Providing much-needed insight for marketing and sales teams
- Freeing up agency resource to focus on less time-consuming tasks.
*Recommendation #2:* Go modular
Create assets for multipurpose use from the outset
Modular content. Yes, it sounds complicated. But it is, in fact, one of the ways that marketers can make their lives simpler. It’s the answer to big questions like ‘how can I keep up with increasing demand for more and more content?’, and ‘how do I make my content relevant for the needs of every prospect?’
Modular content is on the verge of becoming the latest trend in marketing, and we think it's going to be the next big thing by the end of the year. It’s probably a good idea to get clued up on it now before you’re frantically googling it in a meeting in a few months...
"employing or involving a module or modules as the basis of design or construction."
In architecture, modular design refers to creating a building from individual parts - or modules - which are built off-site and shipped on-site to be assembled. The result is a complete building, made from lots of distinct and separate parts, like this one:
In a similar way, modular content is made up of distinct, separate chunks of writing. Much like constructing a building, these chunks can be assembled to make a longer piece of content or left as shorter pieces by themselves. Content creators can combine various chunks together in different ways, resulting in new pieces of content from the modules. The important part is that a huge amount of content can be created from the same modules - making one set of information stretch as far as possible.
Modular content also encourages creators to be both precise and concise, knowing that each module needs to live a multipurpose life. This is particularly beneficial in the age of short attentions spans.
A practical example
You’ve created a long-form article on the marketing-finance rift and published it on your blog. This one piece of content is going to attract readers who want an in-depth guide, and who have the time to invest in reading longer content. But this isn't going to cut it for readers who are short on time or just looking for a quick overview.
Using the process of modular content creation, you can break down the article into the main informative sections:
- ‘Improve transparency with better data tracking’
- ‘Involve finance in strategic decision-making’
- ‘Less emotion, more behavioral economics’
These, shorter pieces, can then be targeted at subsets of your audience. Say you’re putting together a resource for the sales team for a client who is particularly interested in decision making, then a shorter chapter ‘Involve finance in strategic decision-making’ would be far more appealing than the longer article, as it is directly relevant to their particular needs.
Next, imagine that you want to create some posts for social. The smaller units of these individual chapters will be sections that can be used for social posts. Smaller modules of these can be used for Twitter posts or pulled through as quotes for wider sales collateral. With modular content, you're structuring your content in a way that makes you really milk the investment that goes into it.
Building a modular content strategy
What does it take to put together a modular content strategy? It means approaching your content planning and production very differently. One of the first questions you have to ask yourself is ‘what exactly does a module of content look like?’ A module should be something which is large enough to exist by itself, but small enough to be applicable to a variety of channels, audiences, and contexts.
Once you have a definition of what a module is for your particular strategy, you can begin to either write content by building it up from smaller modules, or by dividing existing content down into parts. For example, here are two ways of writing a white paper on ESG:
Think about what each of your target personas would want to know about ESG. Someone who works in the finance industry might want to know about the recent financial institutions who have ramped up their ESG focus. Someone with a marketing background might want to know the impact ESG has on brand identity and perception. Each of these topics could form ‘modules’ of a longer overview, and be split off into their parts when targeting a specific persona.
Completed a long-form piece of content on ESG and feel like it’s not working as hard as it could be for you? Break the content down into parts for the different stages of the funnel. A broad overview might suit prospects at the top of the funnel, and be appropriate on a blog. Towards the bottom of the funnel, a piece talking about how your product is ESG compliant, and the profitability to gain from this, might be more appropriate.
Why modular content is the future
Modular content is a super-efficient way of generating a lot of content, which can be tailored for individual use cases, audiences, and channels. We're all familiar with the increasing demand for marketing to prove ROI while producing personalized content, under tight time constraints. Modular content creation is a time-saving strategy.
Modular content has particular applications for sales teams. Think about how much better it would be to present a prospect with the parts of the content that they actually want to read, based on their profession, particular use case, and interests. Modular content means more personalized content, that sales teams can assemble themselves, without extra time needed from marketing.
Summing up in 5 points:
- Modular content is the next big thing
- Creating this type of content means building content from bite-sized chunks of information...
- Which can be ordered and curated according to the audience, channel, and use case
- It’s the way for marketers to produce loads of content without losing precious time and money
- It’s the way for sales teams to present each prospect with a personalized resource.