By Joe Pulizzi published November 30, 2011

Is Content an Asset or an Expense?

Content AssetJim Burns from Avitage recently asked me a question.

Do most marketing professionals view content marketing as an asset?

The answer is no…no almost across the board.  Marketers view spending on content marketing as an expense. This is something we as marketing professionals have to change.

First some questions.

What Is an Asset?

According to Investopedia, an asset is “a resource with economic value that …a corporation… owns or controls with the expectation that it will provide future benefit.”

Assets, like a house or a stock investment, is a purchase that can increase in value over time.

Traditionally, marketing spend has been viewed as an expense.  Take advertising for example: We create the ad and distribute it over a fixed time, then it’s over. Hopefully that expense has been transferred into some brand value or direct sales exchange, but the event itself is over.

Content marketing is different and needs to be viewed and treated differently.

Acquiring the Asset of Content

For whatever your goals, whether they be direct sales goals, lead generation goals, search engine optimization tactics or social media tactics, you are spending more money on content acquisition and distribution.  In our soon-to-be-released content marketing study, six of 10 marketing professionals are increasing their investment in content marketing (less than 5% are decreasing investment).

For that reason alone, we need to think differently about acquiring content assets.

Yes, you are not acquiring content expenses.

Thinking Like a Publisher

We are all publishers, and that means thinking differently about content.

When you invest in a video, a podcast, or a white paper, those pieces of content create value for you in a couple ways.

  1. The finished content can be engaged in over a long period of time. It has shelf life. That means the content creates value long after the investment is paid off (fitting the definition of an asset). The easiest example is for search engine optimization.  One blog post can deliver returns for years after production.
  2. Content can and should be reimagined/repurposed. You may start by investing in a video, but at the end of the year, that one video may result in 10 videos, five blog posts, two podcasts and 30 sales tools fit for different levels of buying cycle.

How Does This Thinking Help?

Thinking in these terms will help you in a couple ways:

  1. If you treat content in this way, the executives in your organization will stop treating content as that “soft, fluffy thing” that they can take or leave. Every meeting or conversation you have, use the word “asset”.  Live it.  It will start to rub off and will gain importance in the company.
  2. By thinking this way, you will be more active in marketing the asset. I heard a story recently about a company that invested $30,000 USD in a white paper and received one download.  Sounds like a marketing problem, not necessarily a content problem.  Would you plan to sell your house but not tell anyone about it?  A lot of organizations do that with their content.  Make sure it’s not you.

We need to elevate the practice of content marketing. This will help get us there.  Please do your part!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute , Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, including best-selling Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill) and the new book, Content Inc. Check out Joe's two podcasts. If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Rosy Saadeh

    I agree that content is an absolute asset in any marketing plan, but I think that online copywriters should not be one-trick ponies,either. They need to read up on organic SEO and leverage social media for their content as well.

  • Sarah Mitchell

    Hi Joe,

    I’ve been writing about content marketing as an asset for a long time – what I call asset based marketing. I know business often focuses on the expense of content but it’s depressing to think content marketers aren’t seeing content as an asset.

    What this tells me is we, as an industry, need to be doing a better job. As you say, we need to elevate the importance of content. We’ll start to see a change in attitude from the C-suite when we start:
    1) describing content as an asset
    2) explaining to business what their ‘investment’ in content will return
    3) managing content as if it were a valuable asset
    4) demonstrating measurable results produced by the content

    Once a company begins to see all the benefits attached with content marketing, it doesn’t take long for them to start treating content like an asset.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Amen Sarah. Thanks for the great comment.

  • seamus walsh

    It is shocking, unfortunately, most content/information is assigned to IT, which these days is considered utility by senior management. The CFO is looking at content under a “liability” category on a balance sheet!

    To make it worse and even more sad, the hardware can be a asset on the books, but the content/information that resides on it is in a value-limbo, hence this conversation.

    Here is a question. If the information/content suddenly disappeared, what would would senior executives say then? Asset or liability? I think, in most companies, something catastrophic has to happen before senior management start seeing the value of content as an asset.

    Thanks for raising the point Joe.

    • seamus walsh

      One clarifying point:

      1. There is no content category on a balance sheet, its cost is rolled up under general liabilities.

  • Marcus Sheridan

    Joe, loved this man, and boy do we have a lot of paradigms to change, don’t we?!

    My pool company has been approached twice in the last month buy large corporations looking to buy it. And why? Because of the content. Our content is ‘the voice’ of the industry. It dictates the rise and fall of brands, consumer opinion, and consumer action. This is the power of content and this is also why it is worth way, way more than anything tangible I’ve ever bought or owned.

    Keep up the great work bud.


    • Joe Pulizzi

      Great example Marcus. Love it!

  • Michelle Hill

    Great post Joe, as usual!

    I work for a content marketing agency in the UK and spend a lot of time creating content, day after day, providing solutions to our readers’ problems, trying to position content as the highly valuable asset that it is. Every time I write a piece, I consider it an investment of my time, knowing that it will reap rewards for our business for months to come.

    In the short time since our brand was launched (Sept) we already rank on page of Google for the term content marketing and our content has played a huge role in achieving that.

    I genuinely believe that our content is one of our biggest assets.


    • Joe Pulizzi

      Awesome Michelle!

  • Michelle Hill

    Sorry I missed out 1 when I referred to “Page 1 on google” on my previous post!

  • Liam @ How to Write

    While the digital world still rewards people and companies for poor content we will always have a hard job convincing about the importance of great content. It’s moving in the right direction though, and every new upgrade of
    google’s algorith (such as the Panda, the latest one) reinforces it. Great content is the way of the future and will be its own marketing.

  • Christina Gilman

    Great post Joe. One other thing we content marketers can stress to board rooms is: online content marketing can be measurable. For example, with stat trackers we can easily see the amount of people viewing a page of great content, and how many of those convert.

    With an e-book, we know exactly how much our list of interested customers has grown. These lists are something businesses will pay a lot of money to purchase.

    As with all marketing, measuring results is important. Content Marketing can allow for measurement.

  • Adam Partain

    I agree with Liam that as long as the digital world still rewards people and companies for poor content we will always have a hard job convincing about the importance of great content. This is so true. Good content is always the key to providing meaningful future connections.

  • Joseph Riden


    The question you posed is a management concern. Whether content is an asset or expense depends on how well it’s understood and managed. This needs to be decided based on business practicalities, not accounting practices.

    Content always starts as an expense because producing it has a cost. If it’s designed well, it becomes an asset (tool) when it starts doing it’s assigned job, like driving traffic or attracting e-list subscriptions. If it doesn’t do what was intended, it’s just an empty liability and a lesson in what not to do in content management.

    So I’d say content creation is in essence a managed investment activity. Make good decisions and be a wise manager and most of your content makes it into a portfolio of valuable investments, similar to expensive machinery used to make products that are sold.

    Take the wrong path with content and as with investing, you bleed.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post.


    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Joseph…I really like your take on this.

  • Lewis LaLanne

    Hey Joe,

    I believe “Advertising” can be an asset.

    I remember hearing the story of a retired dentist who used to travel the country in his RV. Well, he was a good marketer. He had developed an awesome direct mail campaign that worked extremely well at reactivating clients who hadn’t been in to have their yearly check up.

    So, to put a little extra money in his pocket while traveling the country, he would drop in on fellow dentist and tell them that he’d mastered the art of re-activating dental patients and tell them that he’d bring patients back into their practice for a piece of the action.

    And he did this in whatever city he chose to on his travels and did very well for himself recycling the same three letter advertising campaign. His advertising had become an asset that kept spinning off profit.

    If he wanted to take it to the next level, he could start selling this “Reactivation Tool Kit” online.

    From the content side, I’ve seen the same thing done in the Chiropractor market. There’s one marketer I know of that sells done-4-you newsletter that clients send to their patients.

    These are only a couple of many examples I’ve come across of people turn-keying their content into advertising into assets. I trust there are many more. Thank you Joe for reminding me that I need to keep my focus on leveraging my efforts.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Lewis…great take.