There is very little in the world of business (or in the world, period) that has not been impacted in some way by the coronavirus pandemic that began less than a year ago. Businesses continue to react to the health crisis that has resulted in thousands of deaths, supply chain bottlenecks, a dramatic shift to a work-from-home strategy for many jobs, and the need to change existing business and marketing strategies.
In their annual survey of B2B content marketers worldwide, Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs scratched the surface of how this industry was adjusting in the first months of the pandemic, and what was anticipated through the remainder of 2020. I recently recapped the strategy and tactics portions of the survey<link to Nov. 17 blog post>, but felt that the portions addressing budget and outsourcing deserved a separate look.
Budgeting for content marketing in 2020 & 2021
At the time the survey was conducted, we were just a few months into the pandemic, and its severity and duration were uncertain. They still are. But at that time, most companies had not reduced the size of their team. In fact, one-third had increased their content marketing budget during the previous 12 months—it wasn’t clear whether that increase had occurred prior to the pandemic or in response to increased demand on content in reaching target audiences during changing and challenging times.
Only 8 percent at that time said they had decreased their content marketing budget due to economic impacts of the pandemic.
Even with the pandemic, more than half of respondents said their content marketing budget had stayed the same or would increase from original 2020 plans; and even more expected the same or increased budgets in the second half of 2020.
Another notable statistic regarding budgets: nearly one-fourth had shifted paid advertising budget to content marketing in the previous 12 months. But even with that shift, of all respondents, 35 percent don’t have a single person dedicated full-time to content marketing. Even at the largest companies, nearly one in five do not. This tells me that while content marketing is being recognized for its ability to reach audiences without paid distribution, there is still hesitance to fully trust its effectiveness and dedicate resources.
With 2021 budgeting already being worked out, now is the time to do the analysis needed to show executive boards the ROI of content marketing. (Find 6 numbers you should calculate now in our ebook: 6 Marketing Metrics Your Boss Actually Cares About.)
Outsourcing content marketing in 2020 and 2021
Regardless of budget or size of company, about half of all B2B content marketers say they look outside the company for assistance in some aspect of their content marketing program. One change the 2020 survey noted, however, was that the portion of the largest companies that outsource content marketing work dropped, from 71 percent in 2019 to 61 percent at the time of the latest survey.
That could have been budget-tightening by dropping nice-but-not-necessary projects, but the surveys weren’t clear.
Still, outsourcing content marketing efforts at some level is common, as companies seek to maximize the impact of content on their overall marketing performance.
The most commonly outsourced content marketing task, by far, is content creation. According to the survey results, 86 percent of those who outsource some aspect of their content marketing outsource content creation. The next three most-commonly outsources tasks include:
- Content distribution – 30 percent
- Editorial planning – 11 percent
- Content strategy – 10 percent
Of course, content creation outsourcing can look very different for different companies, from hiring a freelance writer for the occasional blog post to working with a dedicated video production company to create webinars or having a full-service agency on retainer to create complete campaigns from start to finish.
Challenges to outsourcing:
There may be content marketing managers who would like to outsource more work, but it can be challenging. The most often-cited challenge in the survey was finding partners with adequate topic expertise, which nearly 70 percent of content marketers said was a problem in their outsourcing efforts.
The next most cited challenges were budget (51 percent) and finding partners who understand or empathize with the audience (43 percent).
Two of these challenges—expertise and audience understanding—are key reasons to seek out agency partners with experience in your industry and who hire and assign experienced team members to your account, not those who assign content creation to the newest hires and interns. (Read up on our hiring philosophy here.)
A few of the less-noted challenges hit home with me, because they are problems JONES prides itself on overcoming for all of our clients:
- Providing adequate strategic advice (21 percent)
- Delivering on time (16 percent)
- Accessing comprehensive solutions from one partner (15 percent)
As a full-service agency, we are committed to being able to go beyond filling a single project need for our clients. We want to be true partners, involved in strategic decisions and providing access to whatever services our clients need to implement those strategies, from blog writing to thought leadership article placement, website devel opment to video production, and social media management to audits and analysis.
I understand that it may seem like more work at times to bring in outside resources, especially if you’ve had a poor experience with an agency in the past, but carefully asking the right questions and setting expectations from the beginning can help you find a partner that your content marketing program can grow with.
These blog posts provide insights into choosing the right partner agency for your company, what you should expect from a full-service agency, and what you can do on your end to foster a strong relationship that yields results:
- Choosing An Agency: Seek Industry Experience
- Agency Vs. In-House: Pros & Cons And How To Make The Most Of Outsourcing
- 8 Benefits Of Hiring a Full-Service Marketing Agency
- Choosing An Agency Partner checklist (free download)
Predicted areas of content marketing investment for 2021:
When asked to look forward into 2021 (remember, the questions were asked in summer of 2020), B2B content marketers predicted that further investments were likely coming primarily in two areas:
- Content creation (70 percent)
- Website enhancements (66 percent)
Interestingly, these two categories (value provided by content and website changes) were the two most often cited reasons for success named in the same survey.
These areas of investment make sense because:
- They are the areas that content marketers already see as providing ROI and feeding success.
- They are also ways for content marketers to continue to respond to the changes and challenges of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which is leading to more reliance on website interactions for all types of vendor-customer relationships, as well as the shift from paid advertising to content marketing in reaching audiences.
Other predictions for increased investment in 2021:
- Events (digital, in-person or hybrid) – 48 percent
- Content distribution (organic) – 46 percent (vs. 38 percent for paid distribution)
- Social media management/community building – 39 percent
Obviously, these surveys were conducted at a time when the world had hoped that the first (and possibly only) major wave of the pandemic had passed, and with no certainty about what was yet to come. As you look at your own plans for 2021, how do they compare to what you anticipated four or five months ago?
One thing we have learned from the last year in marketing: Flexibility is key. Companies have had to shift offerings, adapt to changes in the supply chain, and begin communicating with prospects and customers in completely different ways.
While outsourcing, and sending budget outside your department, may seem like the wrong idea at a time like this, I’d like to offer an argument for why this is exactly the right time to consider outsourcing, particularly to a boutique, full-service agency. A full-service firm, with experience and expertise in your industry, can hit the ground running on new projects, pull back when needed, and bring a wide range of skills to the table, without the lengthy process of searching for a candidate, hiring, onboarding, and then potentially finding that you need to quickly adapt your budget and skill sets again as things change.
How has your content marketing budget and how you resource your strategy changed in the last year? What do you anticipate in 2021?
If you expect to need the flexibility and expertise that can come from outsourcing, let’s chat. You can schedule a no-obligation consultation on my calendar here.