Strategic considerations for prioritizing digital marketing spend

Posted by Chris Woods on 25 Oct, 2016
View comments Marketing
Businesses and brands of all shapes and sizes engage in boardroom based, analytical and statistical battles when it comes to the subject of prioritizing digital marketing spend for the year ahead.

Where is the most effective area of spend? Which channels are providing the best return? Are we doing enough to build our brand awareness?

Statista reports that digital marketing spending is expected to increase to $45.39 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, up from $27.9 billion in 2014. But in the middle of this spending surge, Ebay’s annual small business survey showed that SME owners were increasingly concerned with their ability to market effectively and were concentrating hiring efforts around these key skills. Over 61% of those surveyed had clear plans to increase spend across digital channels with a large focus on search, specifically SEO despite 25% also admitting they had a less than average understanding of organic search as a channel.

Allocating budget is not an easy process. It is very much business dependant and choices must be made based on considerations such as market performance, business size, internal resources, long term ambitions and key success metrics etc.

If you’re sitting down to decide how and where to spend your budget over the next 12 months, the following considerations will help you make a solid case for digital spend attribution.

Balancing your media approach

Paid, owned and earned media types refer to the composition of a brand's marketing existence. The balance of this composition is key when deciding what an effective budget will look like. It's important to understand the value of each of these three areas in order to guide the allocation of media budget accordingly.

Paid media

Paid media represents any direct spend you make. Paid search and digital display media are primary examples of this.

Paid media often represents immediate impact at a premium cost. It’s superb for short term and high impact media placements but can only exist for as long as there is sufficient budget to support its upkeep. PPC is a good example of this. You can buy a page one spot on Google using AdWords and enjoy all of the premium exposure that brings but, you’ll only own that spot as long as you have the budget to keep buying it.

Owned media

Owned media is a result of directly investing into brand owned and controlled assets. Examples include your website, all of its related content and your social media profiles.

The advantage of investing in owned media is that the spend is entirely under brand control and can be used as required. It is often the most cost effective component of the owned, earned and paid media triangle.

Earned media

Earned media is often the result of well executed paid and owned media activity. A well received and publicized press release or highly shared piece of social media activity is a good example of earned media creating awareness. Subscription razor service, Dollar Shave Club took this approach to heart with a series of videos which went viral in 2012. The funny video walked viewers through their factory, turning what could be a boring topic into a laugh-out-loud piece of content thanks to its tongue in cheek style. The video was shared countless times and viewed over 23.5 million times. The company itself was sold to Unilever earlier this year for $1 billion.

Earned media also refers to a brand’s own marketing lists and email contacts as well as potential awareness driven by participation in events and third party recognition.

Playing smart with paid media

It’s common to jump in too heavily with paid media with the hope of gaining as much short term exposure as possible. It’s important to remember that paid media is temporary and only lasts as long as your budget can support it. There is no long term benefit unless the experience provided by that media makes a substantial impact on the market.

If you’re considering how much money to set aside for paid search, you must consider how it can be made profitable enough to become sustainable or ensure that there is a secondary benefit. A primary example of this would be if you were a new business investing in both PPC and SEO. There is a potential benefit in pushing paid search hard initially to get immediate exposure and targeted traffic. You’ll hopefully generate conversions and you’ll build up a store of keyword data.

This data can help inform your SEO efforts and make them more effective from the outset. Your PPC activity will show you which keywords perform best for example, so they can be a focus of your organic search spend.

Don’t forget to invest inward

As already alluded to, there is a general consensus that those with more modest budgets need to invest outwards in paid media campaigns and direct advertising channels. Although as you progress with these activities you would expect to learn and develop your approach, these channels will always require a chunk of your budget to actually run. Without any investment on internal resources, dependency on this outbound spend will be unlikely to let up in the short to medium term, if ever.

Focusing a portion of your digital marketing budget inward on your own properties is a smart way to continue to develop your day-to-day assets.  In fact, it’s often the key to unlocking the full potential of your outbound spend.

Content marketing

Content marketing is booming and the importance of a brand having substance behind it in the form of useful, informative, engaging content has never been as important as it is today. Direct advertising is at such a saturated level that many consumers have become numb to its lure. The brands that are winning are those with the depth of content and customer offering to warrant the audience’s time.  Think of the city guides from AirBnb and the digital magazine from GORE-TEX®.

As a smaller business, you may find that you often rely on your personal contacts and personalized service to win over new clients and strengthen customer relationships. This same ethos can be applied to your content. Investing in blogging, articles and killer onsite content that informs educates and entertains can set you apart from your shallower competitors. It’s a proven method for increasing the conversion potential for the traffic you drive to your site through paid channels, meaning your budget could well work harder for you in other areas.

UX and landing page testing

These are two areas often left till last on many marketers’ lists and that’s a crying shame. Whichever way you map out your budget, activity and predicted ROI, don’t underestimate the power of a few tiny improvements to your overall visitor action or conversion rates. This site metric is effectively a multiplier, and even a 0.1% change can make a colossal difference if you’re driving plenty of traffic via your other spend.

Invest in focus groups, deeper analytical study of the user journey taken on site and examine where potential sticking points are for your visitors. UX is an ever evolving, ever changing area of focus which should be on every digital SME’s agenda week in and week out. This is a job that’s never finished so don’t baulk at investing some of your spend in getting things right. Facebook didn’t hit 1 billion users and decide they’d nailed it, they’re still working tirelessly on layout, algorithms and tiny UX changes to make their platform slicker and more effective for their users.

Landing page testing is of particular importance, especially if you’re spending money on social advertising and paid search. Are you dedicating enough time to making sure your landing pages offer the best information and functionality you can manage? Do you have specific landing pages for specific communications and messaging or are you sending all your traffic to basic product pages? Would more time and money in this area make other activities more effective? Test, edit, test, edit and keep testing. Don’t let your approach to landing pages ever become static or you’re handicapping yourself.

There may be no simple answer or perfect formula to finding the perfect marketing channel mix and spend attribution, but keeping the above factors in mind when you divvy up your budget should help you create a balanced well-thought out approach with every cent justified.  

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