Marketers are investing more in content marketing than in any other digital tactic, except for digital advertising. Very soon, content-related investments will likely emerge as the largest share of digital marketing spend.

In a recent SpiceWorks survey of content marketing, one major factor was found that separated the winners from the losers: having a formal, written content marketing plan with a clearly defined budget. This may sound basic, but the numbers tell a very different story. While 72 percent of businesses claim to have a strategy for content, only 30 percent actually have it documented.

Why is having a written plan and established budget so important? Consider this: 36 percent of businesses with a documented plan feel that their efforts are very, or extremely, successful, compared with only 11 percent of those who have not documented a plan.

Getting the most return from content marketing investments requires a rigorous amount of planning. Many businesses have developed content primarily as a means to an end, a deliverable designed specifically to populate websites, social media efforts or specific promotional efforts. But content marketing is its own unique beast, and those who treat it with this perspective in mind are far more likely to succeed.

What are some of the keys to creating a successful plan?

1. Define ROI upfront.

Before investing in anything, it's always important to have a thorough understanding of what that investment should deliver, and how it will be measured. Unlike social media, most businesses cite lead generation as the primary goal of content marketing, yet the top metrics tracked today are views and website visits. Defining the right measurements and ensuring that the necessary tracking mechanisms are in place right from the beginning will result in a more precise alignment of metrics and ROI.

2. Identify a strategic positioning for your content that aligns with your brand.

Effective content marketing is essentially like running a marathon. While specific pieces may do better than others, the goal is to make a long-term impact through content that engages and influences prospects as part of the overall marketing mix. Building your content around a single, clearly defined positioning ensures that your blog posts, infographics and videos are all working in synchronicity to make sure that the whole is inevitably greater than the sum. And since much of this content will live across your array of marketing platforms, its positioning must be aligned with the positioning of your overall brand.

3. Create a content calendar.

The biggest challenge facing content marketers is having to consistently create quality content. Most companies create much of their content in-house, but few companies have dedicated Content Marketing Managers on their team to make sure internal resources that are burdened with other responsibilities are able to deliver the content they originally committed to. With so many disparate moving parts, having a well planned out content calendar is crucial to the task of productively managing all the different experts that serve as content providers, while also assuring that a diverse set of topics and contributions is consistently produced. Creating the calendar should also help determine exactly when the content needs have surpassed your organization's ability to handle it in-house.

4. Get more out of each topic.

Often, the most difficult parts of creating a large volume of content is developing a diverse set of consistently interesting points of view. Many companies begin with a certain tactic--"We need a video on Topic X"--when planning content. What you should do instead is to turn that model on its head and approach it from the inside/out--"We want to focus on Topic X; what is it about the essence of this topic that we can use to create interesting content, and how many different kinds of content can we create to get the most exposure around it?" One of the best Content Marketing books available, Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi, encourages creating up to 20 different pieces of content for every topic. That may be hard to do, but the important thing is to get as much mileage as possible from each one.

5. Maximize reach.

The whole purpose of investing in content creation is to get it seen, right? It's important to spend time to make a plan for each piece of content that will maximize the number of eyeballs that happen to gaze it's way. This may sound simple, but few marketers look outside of the original, intended home of their content to give it more lets. Actively planning to leverage content in ways both obvious and creative will maximize its effectiveness, and go a long way towards transforming your content from merely a marketing expense into an asset that works hard and powerfully well beyond its initial deployment.