By ELISABETH HOLBY, special to LTW

Editor’s note: Elisabeth Holby is a member of the team at , a social media marketing company in Raleigh.

RALEIGH, N.C. – In March of this year, released a study stating that in the coming year, for the first time, U.S. marketing spend on digital and online media will surpass the marketing budget allocated to print, $119.6 billion to $111.5 billion.

This move to strategic Internet marketing encompasses everything from SEO to blogs, from webinars to social media, and serves as further evidence of the budgetary trends across industries and away from traditional media and toward digital.

This trend has been building over the past few years as forward thinking companies have seen the value found in digital and invested in it, often by bringing in outside specialists. In 2007, Anheuser-Busch doubled digital spend, and in 2009, P&G increased its quarterly digital marketing budget by 18 percent, while at the same time decreasing their TV advertising by 44 percent.

More recently, in late June, Unilever’s CMO, Keith Weed, announced plans to double digital spend next year. He commented that “brands are being built when consumers engage online,” an insight increasingly shared by marketers and consistently supported by current trends. Ford has established itself as a forward thinking industry leader as well, outpacing the automotive industry with 25 percent of its marketing spend allocated to digital and social media in 2010. The industry standard is about half as much, but growing.

These industry insights are further supported across the market as a whole by a global study by Econsultancy and ExactTarget that was released in February of this year. Some highlights include:

• 46 percent of companies are increasing overall budget for marketing and 42 percent are keeping the budget level, implying that the value attached to marketing is holding strong.

• 24 percent of overall marketing spend this year will be allocated to digital and 28 percent of companies across industries are shifting a portion of their budget from traditional to digital media.

• 64 percent of companies are increasing their SEO-focused budget and 51 percent are adding a paid search marketing budget, demonstrating the preference for organic traffic driven by search as well as an understanding that online is where companies go to meet customers.

• 70 percent of companies are increasing their social media budget for Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, even those who are admittedly without capabilities to measure social media ROI.

As marketers and proponents of the value gained by implementing a strategic Internet marketing program, to us these numbers shout “Act Now!” Such growth and transition during less than perfect economic times indicates that the trend line will continue upwards in the days ahead, and it would behoove marketers to jump on board now and develop best practices that will carry their companies forward on that wave rather than leaving them wondering how they missed it.

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